The office furniture company Steelcase teamed up with Susan Cain, author of the bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, to create a series of five spaces that address the need for more focus and privacy at work.

The collection, called Susan Cain Quiet Spaces, comes right in the middle of a long-established era in which open, non-hierarchical workplaces are the norm at any startup.

Private offices and cubicles are, increasingly, seen as the nostalgic stuff of Mad Men. But everyone knows how frustrating it is to take a phone call that requires privacy or to get serious creative work done amidst the distractions that naturally pop up in an open-plan office.

“In the past we would talk about the benefits of collaboration, visibility, and the ability to show people work in progress,” explains Steelcase’s application design manager Vanessa Bradley. “There is a message here about balance.”

The five spaces offered by Steelcase vary from 48 to 100 square feet; the larger spaces are collaborative.

The space names evoke the nature of the experience: Be Me, Studio, Mind Share, Flow, Green Room. Each sits somewhere on the sensory scale between a Zen garden and a writing studio.

According to Cain, the spaces are intended to offer respite--they are places to relax, meditate, nap, or focus. “They are cozy and inviting," she says. “Unlike the private office of yesteryear, workers flow freely in and out of these shared spaces.”

If Susan Cain Quiet Spaces sounds like a surefire way for the workplace to devolve into catnaps and downward dogs, Cain and Bradley stress that introversion is good for business, and cite the positive effects that meditation has on productivity. “The more employee well-being is nurtured, the better their work,” Cain asserts.

Co.Design

Steelcase And Susan Cain Design Offices For Introverts

Downward dogs and meditation aside, these five "Susan Cain Quiet Spaces" offer productivity-enhancing focus and privacy at work.

Introverts of the workplace are having a moment. The office furniture company Steelcase teamed up with Susan Cain, author of the bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, to create a series of five spaces that address the need for more focus and privacy at work.

The collection, called Susan Cain Quiet Spaces, comes right in the middle of a long-established era in which open, non-hierarchical workplaces are the norm at any startup. Private offices and cubicles are, increasingly, seen as the nostalgic stuff of Mad Men. But everyone knows how frustrating it is to take a phone call that requires privacy or to get serious creative work done amidst the distractions that naturally pop up in an open-plan office. "In the past we would talk about the benefits of collaboration, visibility, and the ability to show people work in progress," explains Steelcase’s application design manager Vanessa Bradley. "There is a message here about balance."

The company grounds its designs in two workplace surveys that looked at privacy and well-being. Of the 39,000 North American workers polled in the survey, 95% of workers reported the need for quiet spaces that allow for confidential conversations. This could be calling your doctor or a spot for a conference call with a key client.

Susan Cain looks at the contemporary office and offers a critique. "It is an impoverished way of looking at space," she says pointedly. "I felt very strongly that there is a whole emotional range of human experience that is not included in the workplace."

The five spaces offered by Steelcase vary from 48 to 100 square feet; the larger spaces are collaborative. The space names evoke the nature of the experience: Be Me, Studio, Mind Share, Flow, Green Room. Each sits somewhere on the sensory scale between a Zen garden and a writing studio. Surprisingly, perhaps, for an office furniture company, Steelcase is less concerned with the bottom line of efficiency or productivity, and instead describes the collection in somewhat New Age terminology. But how do you translate such concept-driven terms as "well-being," "authenticity," "mindfulness," "vitality," and "belonging" into design?

According to Cain, the spaces are intended to offer respite—they are places to relax, meditate, nap, or focus. "They are cozy and inviting," she says. "Unlike the private office of yesteryear, workers flow freely in and out of these shared spaces." The Be Me, for instance, offers alone time via controllable and sound-masking wall finishes. It comes with the company’s Lagunitas lounger and room for a yoga mat. Suggested finishes in all the rooms are tactile; the company will work with clients to develop a materials palette that blends into the overall officescape.

The two-person Mind Share is geared to intimate conversation and, in the words of Steelcase, "entrusted confidence." It comes with dimmable lights, a big table, integrated digital screens, and whiteboards for brainstorming. "People are afraid to talk about intimacy in the workplace because of the implications. But we need to make space for it," says Cain. "One of the problems with open-plan offices is that people are less likely to make friends because they feel like they will be overheard, but friendship requires the exchange of confidences."

If Susan Cain Quiet Spaces sounds like a surefire way for the workplace to devolve into catnaps and downward dogs, Cain and Bradley stress that introversion is good for business, and cite the positive effects that meditation has on productivity. "The more employee well-being is nurtured, the better their work," Cain asserts.

[Image: Office worker via Shutterstock]

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7 Comments

  • g.moss

    The company I work for have small conference/private rooms similar to these. I don't know about the quality of the SteelCase cubes, but what we have at work are the WORST. The cubes are separated by a drywall, and their front face/entry is glass. You can hear EVERYTHING in the neighboring room from telephone dialing to throat clearing.

    Considering today's shiny, reflective computer screens, if you are a programmer or designer (not to mention an introvert on top of that), an environment with so much light is a total nightmare due to all the glare and reflection you will see on the monitor.

    Unfrosted glass walls will reflect any light back onto the computer screen and or into your eyes. Sorry, as an introvert with too much sensitivity, I don't like these cube designs at all.

    Also, hardwood-like flooring and rolling chairs don't play well together. Can you imagine rolling every which way at the smallest move while trying to concentrate at the same time?

  • We had the opportunity to test out various office chairs from multiple vendors recently. Steelcase chairs express the comfort and ergonomics of their filing cases.

  • I see proofreading continues to fall by the wayside, even for respected sites. In the third paragraph, "quiet" succumbs to the common typo mistake of "quite." Ironically, the word is the very title of Susan Cain's book--arguably a highly important word in this article.

  • Carmen Jeanne

    It is such a bore to point out spelling errors. Did you have a comment other than that one? Yeah, for you you caught it, is that your mission?