Introverted Work Spaces

stock-photo-interior-of-an-open-office-s-854862In Susan Cain’s TED talk “The Power of Introverts”, she says “The key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”

She goes on to talk about bias in both work and school environments toward the extroverts, specifically around the physical layout of classrooms and offices, putting introverts at a disadvantage right out of the gate.

Because I don’t have kids, I have no idea how current classrooms are arranged logistically, and I don’t have to advocate on behalf of introverted children for an environment that is best suited to them. However, the workplace layout is something I have had lots of experience with – as I’ve changed jobs many times and had many desks in many different configurations. But I’d never really thought about floor plan in relation to introversion and extroversion.

Open plans might work well for extroverts who thrive on social interaction to get things done, but for introverts, who can be easily overwhelmed by stimuli and who need alone time to recharge and stay focused, this kind of setup can have the opposite effect.
– Elan Morgan

I am aware of how important desk placement is for me, and how, when my desk is isolated or placed in any sort of remote or out-of-the-way area, my heart sinks and I anticipate loneliness and seclusion from the rest of the office.

In one office where I worked for three years, my first desk was as far away from the “heart” of the company as could possibly be. No one was ever “in the area” unless they came specifically to talk to you. There was no foot traffic. I despaired of ever being able to connect with my co-workers and resigned myself to being an outsider, even though I so wanted to be in the centre of things. Until suddenly, I was. The management wanted my desk for someone else, and they created a spot for me in a loft area and I was literally in the middle of the sales team. Then I got more connection than I bargained for, and certainly no peace and quiet.

At Christmas time we did a fundraising auction and the few people with an actual office (with a door that closed) auctioned off their space – it was one of the most popular items, but I had no interest in bidding. Clearly, I am on the far end of extroversion on the spectrum. So, it’s a bit hard for me to understand why someone would want seclusion and isolation – though an introvert might use different words to describe that space, like sanctuary or haven!

As a manager, this makes me realize I need to be cognizant of the personalities I manage. I need to be observant and inquire about what kind of workspace is ideal for each of member of my team. I may not be able to give them the physical space they might wish for, but I can make suggestions or do small things to contribute to their well-being in the office.

Elan Morgan’s article gives 5 very practical, concrete tips to help introverts create a bit of the peace and quiet they need to function in a busy, open-place work space.

This article also gives great tips for designing an office for both ends of the spectrum.

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