Let's not forget introverts when it comes to workplace design

Recent design trends favor extroverts who enjoy collaboration. HDR's Lynn Mignola says that designers need to accommodate introverts, people who recharge with solitude, as well.

June 14, 2016 |
HDR Insights

Images courtesy HDR

Recently I’ve been working on a project for a group of people who spend their days staring at and analyzing pixels on a computer screen. I’d categorize over 60 percent of them as introverts.

How do I know? Because I am one.

Most people think of being an introvert as an “affliction,” or a condition which needs to be changed. It simply isn’t that at all. The stereotype is that introverts are socially awkward loners who hate being with people. While that has been said about me by more than one person, those attributes of my personality are more about me being shy and insecure, and a perfectionist, than they are about me being an introvert.

Introversion and extroversion are actually about energy. Extroverts get their energy from social situations; introverts get their energy from solitude and quiet. About 50 percent of people are classified extroverts, about 30 percent are introverts, and about 20 percent are ambiverts (those who have taken on qualities of their non-dominant trait in order to survive). Realistically, it is a sliding scale–no one can be considered a total extrovert or introvert.

I come from a large family and we have a lot of get-togethers – everyone talking and laughing. The parties are fun, but after an hour or two I need to check out and go somewhere with just me and my thoughts. Five, maybe ten minutes–just enough time for me to catch my breath so that I can dive back into all of that noise and chatter again. 

The same applies for work situations. Workplace design hasn’t caught up to these simple, but important needs. Having a client comprised predominantly of introverts has made me think more about how we design workspaces. 

In architecture, we tend to design space around extroverts. We are just now recognizing that we have  left the needs of introverts behind--an important segment of the workforce. If being an introvert is not a “condition” which needs to be changed, why wouldn’t we want to design space to accommodate these individuals?

Collaboration and interaction has been all the rage for the past 20 years or so–open up spaces, add funky seating areas, and spontaneous (and fruitful) discussions will ensue, right?

Yes, for some, but for introverts, all of that interaction can be physically and mentally draining.

The openness of the primary workspace; the open and visible collaboration areas; the constant movement of coworkers circulating throughout the space; and the clamor of conversations that can divert attention from our work–it’s enough to drive any introvert to become a teleworker. Ah… the bliss of my own space to think.

In whatever space we design we need to make sure that we also create spaces for introverts to help them to optimize their work experience and succeed:

  • Spaces with minimal visual distraction
  • Private spaces for quiet thinking
  • Enclosed spaces for small groups (two-three people) to engage and work together
  • Spaces located away from all of the distraction and conversations of extroverts
  • Inspiring spaces where introverts can reenergize

These spaces will be used and appreciated, not just by us introverts, but by the entire workforce. Let’s start designing workplaces for 100 percent of the people, 100 percent of the time.

About the Author: Lynn, a Strategic Facilities Planner for HDR based in Princeton, N.J., is passionate about synthesizing and organizing information in a graphic way to help our clients make better business decisions and to help our designers create better solutions. After graduating from Parsons School of Design, Lynn was an interior designer for many years before she realized that she only truly enjoyed the early part of the design process—planning. It didn’t take her long to find a position at HDR doing just that.

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Our blogs are written by our employees at HDR. While we are most well-known for delivering architecture and engineering services—for adding beauty and structure to communities through high performance buildings and smart infrastructure, we provide much more than that. We create an unshakable foundation for progress because our multidisciplinary teams also include scientists, economists, builders, analysts and artists. Our thought leader bloggers represent offices from around the world and write about ideas, experiences and insights into our practice and the greater design community. Come visit us at Insights @hdrinc.com.

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