The open office is the dominant form of workspace design for good reason: It fosters collaboration, promotes learning, and nurtures strong culture. But what most companies fail to realize is that collaboration has a natural rhythm that requires both interaction and private contemplation. Companies have been trying for decades to find the balance between public and private workspace that best supports collaboration. In 1980 52% of U.S. employees lacked workspaces where they could concentrate without distraction. In response, high-walled cubicles took over the corporate landscape. By the late 1990s, the tide had turned, and only 23% of employees wanted more privacy, and 50% wanted more access to other people. Ever since, firms have been beefing up spaces that support collaboration and shrinking areas for individual work. But the pendulum seems to have swung too far: Once again, people feel a pressing need for privacy, not only to do heads-down work but to cope with the intensity of work today. To address these needs, according to the authors, we have to rethink our assumptions about privacy. Traditionally defined in physical terms, privacy is now about the individual's ability to control information and stimulation. In this article, the authors examine workspace design through the new lens of privacy and offer insights on how to foster teamwork and solitude.
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