Modern offices are designed for extroverts. The increasing popularity of open office layouts and hot desking systems offers ample opportunity for social interaction, catering to the most outgoing personalities. But the nonstop buzz and chatter quickly drains introverts, prompting them to seek refuge by wearing noise-canceling headphones or squirreling away in tiny call booths.
The solution: an office space that accommodates a range of personalities and social preferences. A few thoughtful tweaks could better suit the needs of all employees, enhancing not just their workday but, ultimately, their performance.
Let’s look at how employee needs vary based on their levels of introversion or extroversion and how you can design your office space to support these needs.
Introverted and Extroverted Employees Have Different Needs
The primary difference between introverts and extroverts is how they recharge.
Introverts need solitude to replenish their energy levels and feel depleted when forced past their social limits. The open office can be daunting for introverts because there’s often nowhere to retreat to when they crave a more serene setting. Over time, this can limit job performance. Many introverts produce their best work when alone, often feeling more focused and creative than they feel in groups. Failing to provide introverts with a more comfortable working environment can hamper focus, creativity, and efficiency.
Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized by group settings and feel depleted by too much alone time. Bouncing ideas off each other, collaborating to solve a problem, or simply engaging in casual chitchat—these are activities extroverts relish. This is why many extroverts tend to feel more comfortable with open office layouts or hot desking systems, both of which encourage plenty of social interaction.
The modern office must be able to meet the starkly different needs of both introverted and extroverted employees to ensure everyone can work comfortably and be at their best. Below are a few ways to ditch the one-size-fits-all approach in favor of a more thoughtfully designed space.
Creating Serene Spaces for Introverted Employees
You may think remote work is the best way to accommodate your introverted employees, but a recent study found that many introverts want the option to come into the office at least part of the time—they want an opportunity to socialize but not an obligation to.
Rather than completely isolating introverted employees, create a space that enables them to socialize when they need to connect and retreat when they need to recharge.
When it comes to communal spaces, dedicated quiet areas can work wonders for introverts. Consider designating a corner of the office as the “library”—a space reserved for quiet, focused work. Bonus points if this area can be at least partially cordoned off or equipped with acoustic panels to minimize noise travel.
Communications leader Melanie King highlights how even short retreats can help introverts thrive in open office environments:
"Early on in my career, I thought I was a failure for my inability to thrive in an open-plan office. I saw others around me working collaboratively and feeling energized in open spaces while I was losing productivity and, some days, my sanity. Fortunately, a company I had been with for a few years moved into a newer, bigger office space equipped with features that helped ease my open office anxiety. There were furnished offices—with doors—that could be reserved for blocks of time, as well as smaller rooms with a comfy chair or 2 and a small table designed for taking calls or holding 1:1 meetings. Making use of these spaces for a few hours of solitude each day allowed me to recharge my social battery, get focused work done, and, most importantly, preserve my sanity."
Introverted employees crave serenity, so locating their desks in low-traffic areas can provide them with a little reprieve from the more bustling areas of the office. When mapping out desk charts, place extroverted employees near main hallways or break rooms and tuck away introverted employees in quiet corners or near less-traveled side hallways.
Finally, don’t forget to leverage furniture: Decorative elements like screened panels or tall plants can enhance the overall look of the office while creating a more intimate feel and lessening noise travel and visual distractions.
Supporting Moments of Connection for Extroverted Employees
If you’ve got an open office layout, making a few modifications can reduce overall noise and distraction while still helping extroverted employees thrive.
We know extroverts enjoy working as a group, but group work can be loud and disruptive to those nearby, especially if a few collaborators are particularly animated. Plants, rugs, acoustic panels, tapestries, and small dividers can be used to reduce sound travel while still maintaining the large, expansive feel of an open office. Glass walls are another smart choice: They visually extend a space while cutting down on noise and providing some privacy.
You can also reduce noise and distraction by arranging communal areas dedicated to collaborative work. Grouping a few couches or chairs with a whiteboard, projector screen, and activity table makes it easy for teammates to gather and work through projects together. Invite employees to socialize in these communal spaces rather than collecting in hallways or at individual workstations, which could be distracting to employees who are working autonomously.
If you’re using a hot desking system, arrange hot desks by creating neighborhoods, which are areas dedicated to specific job functions, activity types, or even project teams. Employees with similar needs or workstyles can easily group together, enabling teammates to connect or chat throughout the day without disturbing those who prefer to work without interruption.
Thoughtful Office Design = Happier, Higher-Performing Employees
The benefits of better office design far surpass social preferences: When employees feel comfortable and supported throughout the workday, they have better relationships, higher job satisfaction, and improved focus and efficiency. And a thoughtfully designed office sends a clear message that you care about your employees and want to help them thrive.
If you need a little help getting started with your office design plans, National Business Furniture can help. We offer complimentary design services to help you with everything from seating arrangements to furniture selection. Talk with our team today.