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How to Get Privacy in Open Office Settings





Open offices are becoming increasingly popular for businesses in a variety of industries. The more open layout can facilitate easier collaboration and break down barriers between team members. But the layout isn’t necessarily the greatest for those times when you need some privacy for a phone call or a project that requires quiet concentration.

However, there are things you can do to add a bit of privacy to your open office environment. Mark Benhar of Benhar Office Interiors offers some tips for doing so in the list below.

Create Rules

The first step in creating some privacy in your open office is to establish some rules or boundaries for your team. The actual rules might look different for every business. But just make sure that your whole team is on the same page when it comes to giving each other privacy. This could mean having certain hours or spaces set aside for private work, or even setting up signs or other signals for when some team members need privacy.

Set Times for Individual Work

While your team as a whole may thrive when given the opportunity to collaborate, there are still some tasks that are better accomplished with quiet concentration. One way to offer that opportunity to your team is to set hours for people to stay at their desks or not approach other team members with questions or requests.

Designate Quiet Spaces

Alternatively, you may benefit from offering different spaces that are reserved for quiet or individual work. If you have small meeting rooms, they could be perfect for phone meetings or employees who need to work alone for a period of time. If you don’t have any of those spaces, a corner cube or partitioned-off space could work.

Designate Collaboration Spaces

In addition, you can set up spaces that are meant specifically for employees who are looking to collaborate or seek feedback from others. This can allow your other team members the opportunity to work at least semi quietly and privately at their own desks.

Consider Adding Background Noise

When people get to talking or collaborating in an open office, it can sometimes be a distraction for the others around them. But if you offer some constant background noise throughout the day, such as instrumental music, it can cover up some of the sound from those conversations and allow people who are having conversations to do so without disrupting the whole office.

Have Signs that Indicate the Need for Privacy

If you don’t want to set specific hours for people to work quietly at their desks, you can still encourage your team members to set those hours for themselves. If someone is working on a project and doesn’t want to be interrupted, have them put a sign on or around their desk so that others know not to approach them during that time.

Use Moveable Furniture

Even something as simple as moveable furniture can allow for greater privacy in an open office. When people are working on a project together, they can move their chairs to one area where they’re unlikely to disturb others. And quiet workers can find an unused corner if there are distractions in other parts of the office.

Set Up Privacy Screens

You can even offer your team the opportunity to set up their own private spaces with moveable screens that can section off parts of your office.

Benhar said in an email to Small Business Trends, “One of the most cost effective ways to add privacy to an open office without a major renovation is to add a stand-alone product that can easily add visual or acoustical privacy – depending on what your workers’ needs may be.”

Choose Furniture with Privacy Features

Furniture can offer another way of creating private space in an open environment. Benhar has a few different products that he regularly recommends to clients.

He said, “Allermuir created a product called Haven, a single seat armchair with a high headrest to provide visual privacy and some acoustical privacy as well. Vitra’s Alcove Sofa boasts a comfortable seat and high, flexible side and back panels to create a niche of privacy and retreat in an office – perfect for a private, two-person meeting or a phone call.”

Separate Spaces with Plants

If you don’t like the idea of totally sectioning off parts of your office, there are more subtle ways to add privacy. Tall plants or even desk plants, for instance, can create a sort of separation between working spaces without completely closing them off.

Add Tall Decorative Items

You can also consider adding other decorative items to define different spaces. Pictures, lighting and other decorations can create a sort of privacy for individual work spaces when placed strategically.

Utilize Sound Insulation

While many of these products offer visual privacy, sound can also be an issue. However, you can buy screens, furniture and even plants that also offer sound insulation benefits.

Invest in Some Headphones

But when it comes to canceling out all the sounds of an open office, sometimes you can’t beat a good pair of headphones. Using them can cancel out distracting sounds while also letting others know that you’re busy.

Enjoy the Benefits

Now that you know some ways to get privacy in an open office setting, you can do so when appropriate. But it’s also important to note the benefits of having that open office environment in the first place. Don’t completely close yourself off and miss out on the good parts.

Benhar notes, “It allows employees the opportunity to collaborate easily, have impromptu exchanges, and its informality may give employees the confidence to easily approach workers at different levels in their careers.”

Private Call Photo via Shutterstock

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Annie Pilon - Staff Writer


Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found on her personal blog Wattlebird, and exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

7 Reactions

  1. Seems like an awful lot of work when you could have just used an office layout with more offices and privacy.

    • Annie Pilon

      I think for a lot of people it’s about options. An open office might work most of the time but then there are some situations where it doesn’t – so these are some solutions to sort of give people the best of both worlds.

  2. Aira Bongco

    I am not really a fan of Open offices but I guess it cannot be helped especially if you need to work on a smaller location or budget. But I am all for quiet spaces. We need spaces to recharge to be able to do our work well.

    • Annie Pilon

      I agree – I think they can work depending on the team and the type of work you do. But no matter what there are going to be some situations where you need a bit of privacy now and again.

  3. Companies are passing cost of furniture and /or rental to the employee. The empoyee having to fend for themselves. It is impractical I.e. collaborate 100 % of the time you are In the office. Cubes are just fine. Watch a few years later we will be back to the cubes layout.

    • Annie Pilon

      It seems like some businesses are already heading in that direction. I think the idea of an open office seemed so great at the start that too many businesses decided to try it out without really considering if it would work for their particular team. There isn’t one layout that’s going to work for every single business. You have to find one that’s right for you (particularly one with furniture for your employees!)

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