Privacy at Work | Privacy in Offices

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Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

Privacy at Work | Privacy in Offices

When it comes to offices and office spaces, organizations are trying to find a balance between public and private workspace in order to encourage COLLABORATION.
But public spaces are often criticized as they assault our PRIVACY. Besides, public spaces are nowadays often not efficiently executed and as a result raise feelings of dissatisfaction and the need for privacy.
Congdon, Flynn and Redman (2014) researched the issue of privacy so as to come up with strategies to find a more efficient balance between public and private workspaces.
First of all, they split up privacy into 2 dimensions.

TWO DIMENSIONS OF PRIVACY
  1. INFORMATION CONTROL: The desire of employees to control and protect personal information. This implies a constant question of revealing or hiding the information obtained. For example, social media have forged a large factor that forces people to conceal personal information.
  2. STIMULATION CONTROL: The distractions that hamper our ability to concentrate. The need for controlling stimulation requires a range of different workspace types that are different in their degree of privacy so as to balance the social and the private.
CULTURE AND PRIVACY
Even if privacy is universally desired, the degree of privacy and the way that privacy is experienced differs across cultures. Not only does the way that privacy is perceived differs among national and local cultures, even within local cultures there are also differences in the ways that privacy is experienced, for example across organizational cultures.

FIVE WAYS IN WHICH EMPLOYEES ACHIEVE PRIVACY
The research revealed that there are 5 ways in which certain employees achieve information control and stimulation control they desire:
  1. STRATEGIC ANONYMITY: Searching for privacy in the middle of a crowd. Those people like the hum of activities in cafes or other busy public spaces. The 'strategic’ part lies in the fact that employees choose the time to make themselves anonymous.
  2. SELECTIVE EXPOSURE: Consciously deciding what personal information to reveal to which people; as a result the boundaries between private and public information are constantly changing.
  3. ENTRUSTED CONFIDENCE: The privacy in which people are not alone, but rather have private conversations in which they can share their issues, which is kept private from the rest of the organization. Examples are performance reviews.
  4. INTENTIONAL SHIELDING: The methods used by people to protect themselves from being watched. For example hiding individual thoughts.
  5. PURPOSEFUL SOLITUDE: Intentional separation from a group or public space so as to express your feelings; concentrate or doing personal things.
Based on these five generic strategies to achieve information and stimulation control, organizations have to take the next step: comprehending the needs for privacy at work. Such understanding is needed to choose the right office and privacy strategy with respect to private and public spaces.

WHAT ARE EFFECTIVE PRIVACY STRATEGIES?
  1. PROTOCOLS: Organizations can establish rules and protocols that define decent behaviors concerning privacy boundaries. It is important that those protocols – and reasons for those particular protocols – are communicated clearly, so that everyone comprehends what their rights and responsibilities are.
  2. SIGNALING: Organizations can also use signaling, which is based on rules about privacy developed by the employees themselves. Those rules and devices, however, will only be accepted in organizational cultures that respect the individual desire for privacy. Thus, organizations need to clearly express their understanding for privacy needs.
  3. STRATEGIC SPACE PLANNING: Design approaches to respond to employees’ privacy needs in workspaces. Organizations can choose from two different models:
    - The Distributed Model, in which individual and group spaces are blended so that employees easily change between modes of work.
    - The Zone Model, which clearly defines spaces as being private or public.
  4. AN ECOSYSTEM OF SPACES: The most successful way – according to the article – is the provision of a wide set of spaces so that people are able to choose where and how they desire to work. In this way, people can choose according to their own individual privacy needs at any point in time.
Source: Congdon, C. "Balancing ‘We’ and ‘Me’", HBR Oct. 2014

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