“Alexa, what is the name of that famous tower in France?”
Most of us seem to have accepted the fact that we have very little privacy left. Whether I am telling a friend a story about how I would love to go to France someday, and open Instagram and see tons of adds for vacations to Europe. Or, I am over at someone’s house (who I have never met) for a party and the next morning Facebook is suggesting that I may want to friend that person. We are becoming numb to the fact that everything around us is listening and looking at what we are doing. It may be an inevitable result of having technology so intertwined into our reality.
We allow devices in our homes that are constantly listening to all of our conversations. We do it because Alexa can play our favorite music or order more paper towels without us having to do anything. In other words, we do it because it gives us more time and flexibility with our lifestyle. We trade something that most people find a little creepy for the benefit of more time and flexibility. It seems many in our society have decided that the trade off at home is worth it… but what about privacy in the workplace? Do we have a choice about who gets to see and hear us at work?
The Flexibility V. Privacy Issue for Companies
Office spaces today are getting more and more open and less private. Some say this is to help collaboration between employees; others say it helps save money by fitting more people into a smaller space. Whatever the reasons, the reality for most workers in an office is a life of no privacy and an abundance of distractions. This problem has driven many businesses to allow for more remote work and flexible hours. In a perfect world, we would all work from a remote location with total focus and privacy. The problem comes when we also need to collaborate and work physically together. The balance of collaboration and teamwork along with focused individual tasks can be a challenge for even the most forward-thinking organizations.
I have 2 young children. They go to school some days and are home other days. While I would love to have more time and focus working at home, it is impossible for me to do my job effectively from that environment. Thankfully, my kids love me and want to spend time with me, but I can barely check my email without them climbing all over me. But if I go to the Speech Privacy Systems’ office to work and cannot focus or feel exposed, is that any better?
Most people understand that in our world, we have to make compromises. If we are able to find the sweet spot between totally open/flexible and private/confidential, then we can provide employees with the best possible environment for success.
Blame the Millennials
As a millennial (or Xennial), we are often blamed for everything that causes change or disruption in the workforce. A few years ago it seemed that many employers were reluctant to hire younger workers because of all the perceived changes they would have to make to their organization. But, quickly rising to the top of everyone’s list is how to attract and then keep millennials in their company. This shift is very apparent in how companies are designing and creating office space. We partner with many furniture designers who are constantly trying to make new office designs functional yet attractive for younger workers.
If you were to google “office workers” you will likely find images like the one above. Wide open spaces with lots of folks in skinny jeans, working together as if no one actually has a space they can call “their own.” Working as a team is one of the more fun aspects of my job at SPS, but if I did not have a place to go focus on my work when the collaboration was finished, I would go crazy.
The paradox with all of this is that millennials do want privacy, but they also want to share everything about their lives with almost everyone. It has taken some thought for me to understand why we are comfortable sharing everything on our social media sites but not comfortable with the person next to us seeing what we are ordering from Amazon. I think it has to do with the fact that when we share personal info, we control what we share. When others can see without our control, we feel exposed. The ever-changing workplace will continue to morph into whatever is next, but if we can help give employees more control over what and how they share their privacy, we will hopefully help give everyone more tools to be both successful and comfortable.
Privacy in All Its Many Forms
So how does someone give more power to their employees to control their own privacy? The answer could be a long list of potential improvements or changes, or it could simply be one small change that makes the difference. Like almost anything, what works for some doesn’t work for others. Here is a brief list of possible things I’ve seen make an impact in how people gain more privacy in their work environment.
- Desk Dividers (moveable is even better for more flexibility)
- Demountable Walls to break up the space
- Privacy screen protectors that black out the screen from onlookers
- Sound Masking to add background covering sound to mask conversations
- Mobile screens that can create temporary divisions
- Flexible work hours that allow employees to get off-site for more focused work
- Employer-provided mobile devices (cell phones, tablets or laptops)
- Phone Booths within the office for private calls
- Huddle Rooms – small team rooms for people to meet and not distract everyone else
- Frosted glass or screens over glass walls so people are less distracted with movement
While the world will always be changing and never perfect, we can always be ready to improve and adapt to get the full potential out of our employees. Privacy is still something that most people want in their lives, even if we give up some of it for convenience. It is good to always remember that the more control you can give to your employees to be who they need/want to be, the more likely they will be to give you more of themselves.
What do you think: is privacy something you still want when you come to work? Leave a comment if you have an opinion.