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by Rachel Potter

The latest trend in new office space is an open layout to accommodate technology, encourage collaboration and teamwork, and to save energy and space. For the team-oriented Millennials who are entering the workforce today in significant numbers, open offices are a further extension of the environments they are used to: school classrooms and shared university spaces including dorms, labs, and coffee houses. And for extroverts, who comprise up to three-quarters of the population, shared space is energizing. Extroverts thrive in environments with plenty of stimulation – visual, auditory, human contact – it’s all good. Talking to other people gives them ideas, interruptions revitalize them, and multitasking comes naturally. While every type of office arrangement has its pros and cons, open offices cater specifically to extroverts and their needs.But for introverts, who require quiet and solitude to work more productively, open office spaces can be off-putting. Introverts’ brains are wired differently. They actually use different parts of their brain more than extroverts do and are stimulated, rather than bored, by solitary activities. Introverts prefer to focus all of their energy on the one task at hand and are annoyed by interruption. A blank wall is all they need to bounce ideas off of, and putting them in a room full of loud(er) people will reduce their efficiency. Of course, introverts and extroverts exist on a spectrum. Mildly introverted people may not mind working in collaborative office space, but the more introverted one is, the more likely they are to feel that common space culture is biased against them and their work needs.

Given the many positives about shared space for businesses, not the least of which is the lessened need for leased and heated (or cooled) space, how can employers work to accommodate the needs of their more introverted employees?

First, business owners should consider the possibility of allowing their workers to work from home.It’s likely introverted employees are already avoiding the office during peak hours or taking advantage of flex time to work outside of the office.

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If telecommuting is not a viable option, another possibility is adding private shared space alongside the open office design. Clearly communicate to employees that this space is public,to avoid the office’s introverts staking claim and planting crops. Private office space, after all, has caché, and even extroverted employees, who would spend all their time working in common space, find it appealing to have. One option offered by local full service interiors firm, Custer, is the new Steelcase V.I.A. (Vertical Intelligent Architecture) wall system. These fully integrated walls create open/closed spaces that are attractive, offer privacy, and can be used as temporary office space by whoever requires it.

If redesigning the space isn’t possible, use conference rooms or other spaces more creatively. Many of these rooms go unused much of the time and could be set aside for individual introverts or even small groups of employees who require quieter settings.

Finally, ask for input from employees as to how they think business space could be better arranged for greater productivity. Custer stresses the need for brainstorming sessions in the programming phase, the first of the design process. Invite introverts to submit their ideas privately or in writing to make sure everyone has a chance to weigh in. And periodically check with employees to see how the space changes are working for them. Many adaptations are possible to fix problems or alter stressful arrangements and don’t have to be expensive.

Business owners know how important productivity and efficiency is. An effective arrangement of space is crucial to giving employees what they need to work well, by themselves and with others. Office space optimization doesn’t have to be complicated and can increase retention of valuable employees and decrease common problems like absenteeism. And if even one introverted employee can be made happier, the world is a better place.