Office Space for Introverts?

imgresYou would expect the author of a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking to disapprove of a massive corporate campus with a single room capable of holding ten thousand people. And Susan Cain, whose 2012 book became a bestseller and generated huge internet buzz about the joys of being an introvert, has a bone to pick with Facebook’s pricey, upscale new office campus.

Cain theorizes that introverts, who tend to come up with their best ideas alone rather than while working in groups, make up one-third to half of America’s population, including herself. Although most American office spaces are designed with open offices, Cain has been hard at work on an alternative. Susan Cain and design company SteelCase are set to debut their design, “Quiet Spaces,” at NeoCon (not to be confused with the political ideology!), North America’s largest interior design conference.

One of Cain’s main concerns is interruptions in the workspace. Cain claims that introverts and extroverts alike will need double the usual amount of time to complete a task if distracted by chatty co-workers or a similar regular interruption.

The cubicle came into vogue in America around the 1950s, when the lack of walls in a working space was seen by many as a welcome departure from a fully enclosed office. Times have changed, and after such popular culture phenomena as Dilbert, Office Space, and Silicon Valley have satirized the cubicle-based workspace, it is easy to see why some would be excited for a return to closed offices. Cain claims that studies have linked open office workspace to increased stress and higher usage of sick leave time from employees—further signs of possible inefficiency in the cubicle design.

There are, of course, some drawbacks to Cain’s ambitious plan. The current “Quiet Spaces” model calls for a few closed offices inside a standard open office plan, which means it is still a compromise rather than a complete overhaul. (If extroverts prove to prefer open offices, perhaps this compromise is an ideal one.) Open office plans save considerable expense, as private offices carry a higher price tag than standard cubicles. Cain’s closed rooms cost from $10,000 to $25,000 each, and surely some companies will be willing to take the plunge on this new concept.

Is Cain’s quiet-centered office space design for introverts the trend of the future, or is it too radical a departure from standard office designs to catch on? Time will tell, but the research and reasoning behind the Quiet Spaces concept certainly provide food for thought.

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