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Designing an Office That Works for Introverts

Offices have long emphasized quiet and isolated work spaces, but lately we’ve been moving more toward an open and social work environment.  On the surface, this seems like an improvement for everyone.  Work is more fun for employees in a casual space where you can chat freely with your coworkers.  The company benefits from a more efficient use of space and the new ideas that come from easier collaboration between employees.

The open office trend seems like a win-win situation, particularly if you are an extrovert, the sort of person who gets energized by talking to other people.  However, while extroverts might thrive in this collaborative and busy environment, your introverted employees are more likely to struggle to maintain their productivity and workplace satisfaction.  If you’re noticing several of your employees fighting to meet deadlines and quotas or looking constantly exhausted in the office, you may need to take a second look at your layout to make sure you have an office design that works for introverts as well as it does for extroverts.

Don't wear out your introverts with your office design.

Don’t wear out your introverts with your office design.

Why Design an Office That Works for Introverts?

The American culture strongly favors the personality traits of the extrovert, particularly in the workplace.  Extroverts tend to be more bold and outgoing, and they are more likely to be comfortable and confident in their interactions with people.  They often make a stronger impression in interviews than introverts, and their assertiveness and charisma makes them stand out within the company.  As a result, extroverted personalities likely dominate your office, and it can seem a waste to adjust your design to accommodate a few quiet introvert types.

Recharging Introvert

After all, they can just find alone time during lunch, right?

However, as both Inc. and Psychology Today argue, diversifying your work space with both personality types helps to keep your business strong and flexible.  Both types complement each other with their strengths and weaknesses, giving you a more balanced workforce to tackle any problems your company might face.  Extroverts have the communication skills and charm your company needs to win over clients and keep morale high, but introverts have the laser focus and the tendency to take more time to reflect and innovate new ideas that your company can use to stay ahead of the competition.

In an open office plan, however, your introverted employees don’t have the time and space they need to reflect and focus on their work or to come up with new ideas.  The company doesn’t benefit as much from their potential contributions.  Eventually, they may just become frustrated enough to leave for another company that gives them the environment they need to thrive.  Their innovative thinking, focused work ethic, and the balance they bring to your workforce leaves with them, potentially to a competitor.

You shouldn’t design your office entirely to benefit the introverted mindset any more than you should fully embrace the open office environment that heavily favors extroverts.  Ideally, you should aim for an office design with features to meet the needs of both personality types.

What the Introverted Employee Needs

The biggest difference between your introverted and extroverted employees is how they get and use their energy.  Extroverts get energized by talking to people, making the social open office environment ideal for them.  They can chat with their coworkers and get re-energized to dive back into their work, keeping them both happy and productive.  Introverts, on the other hand, get energized from time alone and actually have to use their energy to interact with people.  The flow of conversation and lack of privacy in an open office scenario drains them of the energy they need to focus on work.  They need the isolation of an office or cubicle to recharge and put out their best work.  A hybrid of an open office and a traditional office design can help both your introverted and extroverted employees feel satisfied in their jobs and give them the energy they need to perform well.  

If saving space is the main reason you need to use an open system, just be sure to also provide some privacy for your introverts.  Use an open office design for your main floor plan and add a few private work bays on the outskirts, away from walkways or open meeting spaces.  This way, your introverted employees can have a space to retreat to work when they have to deal with high-energy tasks.  These private work bays don’t need to be large, and you can potentially get away without doing a full cubicle if you have the space to isolate the desks from the rest of the office bustle.  Just make sure your team understands that people working in the quiet areas are not to be disturbed by anything more than an email.

Alone Time

If you have plenty of space in your office, you could make a cubicle system your main office design and just provide natural gathering spaces for extroverted employees.  Give your team the flexibility to work at their desks or in common spaces.  That way, those who need to collaborate or socialize while working can do so, and those who need to isolate and concentrate also have a place to do it.  The cubicles can also benefit your extroverted employees, who do sometimes need to work without distracting conversation, and the social work areas can help introverts who want to make more work friends or need some collaboration and feedback on a project.
Both your introverted and extroverted employees have a lot of talent to offer your company.  Embracing a balance between the two within your organization will give your company the strength and flexibility to be a powerful competitor in your field.  Use your office design to help both types thrive in their work environment, and you’ll find yourself with a happy workforce full of charisma and innovation.  

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  What have you found to be the most motivating and energizing work environment for you?  We’d love to hear your insights in the comments!

Images via Pixabay
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