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Be Me: A single-user space where introverts can be themselves Flow: An upright chair and traditional task-height surface for individual deep-focus work Mindshare: Two office chairs and a slightly larger table for working in pairs Studio: A space for single user to rest and rejuvenate Green Room: The lounge-room design provides a relaxed environment for small-team working
09 Jun 2014

Steelcase harnessed the power of the introvert to launch a series of new products aimed at the office world's retiring types.

For many businesses, it's become the norm for employees to work offsite when deadlines are biting or there's a particularly important project to deliver. This seems to suggest that workplaces aren't especially conducive to work – a strange irony.

According to a worldwide study by Steelcase, 90% of office workers say they need quiet, private places in the workplace; and over 40% say they don't have them. The US furniture manufacturer holds that the rise and rise of open-plan offices is largely responsible for this.

"Over the years we've seen office preferences shift back and forth," says Steelcase's Chris Congdon, "but we think the pendulum has swung too far this time."

The company was already carrying out research on privacy and productivity in the workplace, when its CEO Jim Keane attended former Wall Street lawyer Susan Cain's TED talk. Cain was sharing insights from her best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

Her basic premise is that companies often fail to provide suitable workplaces for introverts, who she defines as those who work best in private, quiet spaces and are more sensitive to external stimuli. This group, she says, accounts for a third to half of all workers, and is regularly overlooked at school and in the office, and less likely to get promoted than more extroverted colleagues.

Despite this, she cites research by Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, which shows introverts tend to get better results and often make better managers, as they are better at listening and letting employees run with ideas without being overbearing.

Cain's talk struck a chord with Keane, who identifies himself as an introvert, and resulted in a collaboration with Steelcase to develop office products that tallied with her ideas. The result of this partnership is five 'quiet spaces' that were launched in the US at this year's NeoCon.

The spaces – Be me, Flow, Studio, Green Room, Mindshare – are designed to allow people to work in isolation or small groups, and to provide comfortable and comforting environments where people can relax and revive. According to Steelcase, 31% of full time employees do most of their work away from their employers' location. This is because they are looking to eliminate distraction, but also seek physical and emotional comfort and familiarity that is often found more at home than in the office.

Opaque or semi-opaque glass walls incorporate vertical-intelligent-architecture (VIA) technology that significantly dampens acoustics, and a special sealant is used as a sound barrier on any joints or crevices. Additionally, a green/red lighting system outside the door lets other people know when the spaces are occupied to avoid interruptions. 

Steelcase doesn't have a UK launch date as yet for the Susan Cain Quiet Spaces; however it is expected to be sometime next year. The quiet spaces are the first in a whole range of Steelcase products that have been designed to meet the needs of introverts.

Susan Cain's TED talk on The power of introverts

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