The emergence of the Delta variant has managed to buy employers, designers and office building owners extra time to consider how best to eventually bring office workers back to the workplace. Those considering every aspect of the matter may have pondered how to lure employees who loved working at home, not because they didn’t like to commute but because they are introverts who function best in social isolation.
And that cohort, it turns out, represents the majority of the population.
According to The Myers & Briggs Foundation, which encourages the development and use of tools to understand psychological type, 43.2% of the global sample distribution embraces extroversion. The remaining 56.8% can be identified as introverts.
The ramifications for employers are profound. If they are to entice everyone, or almost everyone, back into the office most days, it’s key to lessen the anxiety surrounding the return for the majority of office workers who happen to be introverts.
Among office design experts addressing this issue is Ann Hoffman, director of workplace strategies at architecture and design firm FCA. Known for her passion in pinpointing opportunities to enhance worker experiences, Hoffman has been huddling with companies nationwide to help assure a seamless return to the office.
In the following strategies, it’s clear she has given abundant thought to making things comfortable for those who might be described as reticent or demure. The following are among solutions Hoffman believes could address that goal.
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Smaller breakout spaces. There’s a saying about introverts: When they speak, listen. They’re not talking to flap their gums. They really have something to say. More compact breakout rooms, as opposed to larger spaces, give those who might be hesitant to raise their arguments in a crowded room a more relaxed setting to speak their minds.
Heads-down work areas. In the years leading up to the pandemic, tall cubicles gave way to open offices. Those wide-open spaces were fine for extroverts and collaboration. But introverts did not find them particularly comforting. Need for privacy has been exposed by the pandemic. Implementing heads-down work areas can provide the haven introverts need to feel more at ease back in the workplace.
Calming color palettes. Many office workers have become accustomed to home comforts during the course of Covid. Leveraging colors in the office to help deliver a sense of serenity and health to workers can be important. To help ease the anxiety of re-entering offices, Hoffman says, architects and designers should use home design as their inspiration, integrating that homey feel into the office space.
Other designers have also given consideration to the question of how introverts and extroverts function within an office setting.
Anne Gibson, national practice leader with NELSON Worldwide, urges organizations to shift their philosophy from Activity-Based Work (ABW) to Behavioral-Based Work. Doing so would empower workers to choose how to work to enable their best performance. “The future of office design should also support non-work-related activities that might appeal to introverts,” Gibson says. Settings “such as meditation space, makers rooms, outdoor seating or nap pods . . . signal that the office is about reconnecting for everyone, not just those who thrive in high-energy social settings.”
While workplace design before Covid stressed the facilitation of collaboration through design, the future will need more emphasis on “focus spaces” for the large percentage of the employee base that’s thrived in the pandemic’s quieter surroundings. So says Ryan McNulty, principal with MBH Architects. “We’re also examining new creative versions of unassigned seating so that those employees who want to flex between on-site and remote work can do that without generating a need for double infrastructure,” he says. “As architects, we’re always aware of an environment’s effect on human behavior. It’s good to hear this dialogue happening more outside of the industry.”