Introverts Deserve Better Office Design

10.01.2018

Melissa Pesci, AIA, LEED AP, principal and vice president at HGA

Researchers estimate that between one-third and one-half of the population is made up of introverts, yet our workplaces seem to increasingly favor extroverts. Our goal as designers is to create equity in the workplace by providing a variety of options for everyone to work more effectively.

In successful work environments, the most important feature is the implicit trust of employees. It is also important for companies to establish communication standards in order to ensure teams are aligned on the prioritization of tasks and deadlines. As long as employees still have the ability to collaborate with their colleagues, trusting employees to work from home, or in a focus room or library, promotes productivity. This style works because employees feel more comfortable in an environment they have chosen for themselves.

Embrace flexibility for introverts

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to workplace design.


Corey Gaffer Photography

It is imperative to remember not all introverts are the same. Some prefer visual privacy to focus and recharge, thus a booth or screen can provide the needed barrier for added comfort. On the other hand, our experience and research conclude that introverts and extroverts alike require audible privacy to focus, yet some prefer not to be isolated. This has led to the popular concept of library settings, where employees can easily plug-in and work silently in a shared environment. However, some introverts thrive in an isolated environment. A small focus room that is set up with multiple screens, a comfortable work surface, whiteboard and natural light will allow those people to quickly focus or work through a challenge on their own.

[Read also: 2020 Design Trends: Color, Materials + Finish]

Manage workstation distractions

Quite often, people prefer to work at their desk, especially those who have items they frequently use stored there. This can be especially challenging for introverts, leading to distractions like colleagues who are on their phones or a group of colleagues trying to collaborate nearby. Often, people signal when they are trying to focus by using headphones, but listening to music or a podcast can be equally distracting for some. We’ve seen and tried multiple design strategies to help signify to neighbors that someone is trying to focus, including user-adjustable screens—both height adjustable and removable—and signs or lights indicating the occupant would like to go undisturbed.

However, we’ve found that the solution is to work with targeted individuals to create flexible workstations that offer the appropriate amount of storage, visual privacy and posture customization. Elements that are easily modifiable allow people to curate an environment that meets their needs and maximizes individual productivity. We are also mindful of the importance of giving employees enough space between workstations.

Creating collaborative spaces with introverts in mind

Often, people prefer settings that accommodate silent, focused work. One example of this is a quiet library at RealPage’s Dallas headquarters that incorporates three different work postures: bar height tables, lounge room seating arrangements and comfortable chairs that mimic a first-class airplane seat with built-in lighting and power. The décor emulates the calm and quiet environment of a library. Because seats are organized in a myriad of forms within the room, the design creates a more inviting atmosphere and allows for more options, unlike the typical individual focus room. Therefore, the users feel included as part of a group rather than excluded, isolated or on display.

Introverted leaders tend to carefully listen to their colleagues and are more successful in one-on-one meetings in areas devoid of distractions. These distractions may include screens, technology and even people walking by. The areas do not need to be enclosed and are most successful as a comfortable nook that is tucked away in a corner. We recommend having two configurations of space. The first should include seating at a height that makes note taking or reviewing work easy, the second should include lounge height furniture for more conversational meetings.

For example, the most frequently used space in our San Francisco office is a room that can accommodate four people on a desk-height, L-shaped bench on a round table. Quite often, this is used for two- to three-person meetings and phone calls.

Although HGA chose to be completely open to encourage more collaboration, there are times when introverts and extroverts alike need to get away from their desk for more focused tasks. Often, meetings take place with only two or three people on a conference call, so additional smaller-sized meeting rooms were added to the footprint. Extra steps were taken to create a casual setting with bench seating, thereby allowing users to spread out and utilize the space to its fullest.

Research also indicates introverts are more successful when they host industry or client events in their own space, as attendees will seek them out as the key person to engage with. Designing a space that can effortlessly accommodate events could be an area that has a variety of uses as well.

About the Author

As a principal and project manager, Melissa Pesci is responsible for overall client satisfaction and support of the HGA team from start to finish. Pesci is a licensed architect who brings 12 years of experience in space planning, furniture selection and interior design. Over the course of her career, she has directed program development and strategic planning for notable organizations in technology and professional services, leading a team of skilled professionals to produce highly original, custom solutions for HGA’s clients. Visit www.HGA.com or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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