In Response to Ultra-Open and Uber-Collaborative

December 10, 2014

Susan Cain's bestselling 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking has made an impact on how we understand our current workforce, recognizing that at least one-third of the people we work with are introverts. As a professed introvert living in what Cain describes as the "Extrovert Ideal" where teamwork is the answer to every problem and people skills are most highly valued, I was inspired and empowered by Cain's book. It helped me establish my role within the work environment and identify both my strengths and weaknesses. I am intrigued by the effect the book is having on workplace design. We are now prompted to question the days when designers took all of the walls down to create open plans as the birth of the World Wide Web catalyzed a world of uber collaboration. At this time, some designers began to overlook the importance of providing a variety of space types for all user personalities to have an appropriate place to meet, work, and unwind.

In response to the recent discussion about introverts in the office, Steelcase has created a series of Quiet Spaces that are meant to make introverts feel more comfortable in today's workplace, acknowledging that most often introverts work best independently, away from the distractions of the open office. Attributes of Quiet Spaces include the incorporation of natural materials, small-scale collaborative spaces, individual lighting control, visual and acoustic privacy, and several other aspects that respond to more recent user statistics showing that introverts are often hyper sensitive to their environment and that solitude is an important ingredient for innovation in their world. My personal observation is that even extremely extroverted people sometimes have a hard time concentrating in a bustling open office, so I suspect that Steelcase's Quiet Spaces will be desired spaces for all personality types.

Through all of the fads, interior designers are consistently faced with the same challenge when it comes to workplace design. How do we efficiently design offices with the right mix of public, private, open and enclosed spaces? We are now armed with more information that will help us better understand our users, and the goal is to keep up with a constantly evolving multi-generational workforce. Today we have studies to support that collective thinking is not always the right answer. We know that brainstorming is more effective when done independently because it ultimately brings a wider range of ideas to the table.

I continue to suggest Susan Cain's book to anyone, even extremely extroverted personalities because it is a valuable reference for how we all naturally play particular roles in both our personal and professional lives. If you tip toward the introverted end of the spectrum, you might be inspired to join the Quiet Revolution.