Privacy crisis engulfs offices

Office-based businesses are facing an unprecedented privacy crisis with their employees, new research has revealed.

After decades of open plan offices and an unrelenting drive for shared work spaces, the number one complaint from office workers is now a lack of privacy.

Extensive new international research carried out by market researchers IPSOS and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase, shows that 85% of people are dissatisfied with their working environment and cannot concentrate. 31% even leave the office to get work completed.

More than 10,000 workers across 14 countries were questioned about their office environments and working patterns.

Key findings from the research include:

  • Office workers are losing 86 minutes per day due to distractions.
  • Too many employees are chronically disengaged at work.
  • They are unmotivated, unproductive and overly stressed.
  • They have little capacity to think and work creatively and constructively.
  • The right balance between private and collaborative working spaces can deliver a step change in employee engagement and productivity.

Bostjan Ljubic, vice president of Steelcase UK and Ireland said: “The drive for collaborative working spaces was founded on getting people working better together. It has been enormously successful and has delivered efficiency on a major scale but too much interaction and not enough privacy has reached crisis proportions, taking a heavy toll on workers’ creativity, productivity, engagement and wellbeing.

“People not only expect privacy in their private lives – they want it at the office as well. Our research has found that for people to collaborate with their colleagues more effectively they need less ‘we’ time and more ‘me’ time than they are getting today.

“Over the years we have seen office preferences shift from more enclosed spaces to more open. But in some organisations the pendulum has swung too far,” notes Ljubic, “Many people do not realise that effective collaboration actually requires individual private time.”

Workers are not, however, looking to turn back the clock to the days when they were isolated in closed individual offices.

Instead, they are desperately seeking privacy within open plan settings – where they can function effectively and complete work without being driven to distraction.

The IPSOS survey showed that 95 % of people identify having the ability to work privately is important but less than half, 41%, say they have the opportunity.

“What people are now looking for is choice and control in their workspace and that is now what is redefining privacy in the working environment”, said Ljubic.

  • Privacy and engagement are ultimately linked
  • Privacy is a universal, basic need, People need privacy also in the office
  • Privacy today is about information and stimulation control
  • Achieving the right balance between working in privacy and working together is critical for any organization

The Steelcase-IPSOS research shows that companies and organisations, committed to creating efficient, collaborative spaces, have not been considering privacy sufficiently in the design of their offices.

Steelcase contends that it is necessary to create an ‘ecosystem’ of different spaces where employees can choose the level of privacy they require.

“Many offices have limited options such as individual workstations, private offices, conference rooms and a cafe”, explains Ljubic.“However, having studied people at work in depth they need spaces for different types of work and these include formal and informal work in groups or alone. Some people find it inspiring and creative to work in a crowded, noisy environment whereas others prefer quieter spaces and quite often they want a mix of both. The workplace needs to offer a variety of public and private spaces – for We and I work.”

Nearly 70% of workers questioned in the research worked in open spaces or in a combination of individual and open space offices and the results demonstrate a strong link between employees’ satisfaction with their work environment and their level of engagement.

Engaged workers are most satisfied with their work environment (31%) while the least engaged are also the most dissatisfied (69%). The most satisfied and engaged workers says their workplace allows them to concentrate easily, work in teams without being interrupted, choose where to work within the office.

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