Susan Cain’s best-selling Quiet is well-researched, thoughtful and detailed in its understanding of workplace dynamics. In the four years since the book’s publication, writers have used Quiet to advance arguments about how best to plan office space.
Just this month, The Economist posted an essay about the dominance of extroversion in corporate culture and New York magazine reported on new research from Australia about weak social ties within shared workplaces. Both articles cited Cain’s book in support of advocating for the return of the private office.
Open plan vs. balanced offices
No question: Quiet leveled many criticisms about “the open plan” and called attention to the reality that places to recharge are absent in a lot of workplaces. But in the book, Cain explicitly argues for a balanced workplace:
We need to create settings in which people are free to circulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions, and to disappear into their private workspaces when they want to focus or simply be alone.
Does the phrase “their private workspaces” mean dedicated offices? Or can it include space designed to support concentration that happens to be open to everyone? We consistently recommend that workplaces share collaborative spaces and quiet, private spaces—the full mix of which serves introverts and extroverts alike.
Workplaces of the future will have it all.
Today’s most progressive workplaces tend toward activity-based work with distinct zones to support the varied activities that make up workdays. Clear design cues distinguish each setting, and every employee has equal opportunity both to engage in those kaleidoscopic interactions and to access spaces for being alone with their thoughts.