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Modern Office Designs that Maintain Privacy

April 23, 2018

The need for individual offices for focus work isn’t going away despite a renewed focus on open office design. Create shared workspaces that still allow occupants the workplace privacy they crave.

Modern office design tends to focus on open-office layouts that support gatherings and impromptu meetings, but the need for individual focus work isn’t going away. Building in spaces where occupants can make quiet phone calls, complete heads-down work with ease and maintain some measure of workplace privacy goes a long way toward ensuring workplace satisfaction.

“A lot of design is going into agile workspaces with different zones,” says Janice Fellows, senior associate and design director for Ted Moudis Associates. Fellows worked on a neighborhood-style quadrant layout for Wilton Brands that coded zones in four classic Wilton colors to assist with wayfinding.

“That means creating different occupied areas, vignettes and settings within the larger space with lounge accessories and furnishings, along with private environments,” Fellows adds. “Acoustics are a big element, so with open environments, we’re adding sound masking, sound-absorbing panels and softer furnishings to absorb some of the sound.”

Tangram Interiors’ redesign of its own space focuses on these principles. The previous workspace was designed 10 years prior, “when most resident workers still had desktop computers, an overabundance of paperwork and filing, and desktop phones,” says Marisa Anderson, marketing manager for Tangram Interiors. “Employees in complementary departments – and sometimes even in the same department – were not placed near each other, which caused communication barriers. Finally, old or culled furniture products were no longer telling a cutting-edge story. All of this added up to an urgent need to reorganize and redesign our workspaces.”

After moving everyone to one floor, the Tangram team focused on creating an outstanding space that everyone could enjoy together. In addition to collaborative spaces designed to spark team creativity, the office includes plenty of nooks and seating options for one or two people.

Related: Reach Consensus for Interior Design with Creative Engagement

Bursts of bright color for furnishings, flooring and finishes assist with wayfinding and contribute to a cheerier environment for all space types. You can do the same with measures like these.

3 Tips for Modern Office Design

  • Demountable walls are an easy way to “create a different aesthetic, divide spaces or manage sound,” Anderson notes.

  • Update the lighting in all workspaces as soon as possible, suggests Patrick Planeta, Principal of Planeta Design Group. “Finding a particular lighting fixture you love can not only provide a better-lit environment to work in, but can also become a focal piece of art.”

  • Be smart about flooring choices, especially if you share a high-rise with other people. Even if you have a good handle on acoustics on your own floor, it’s easy to forget that people on neighboring floors can hear you walking around with subpar flooring choices. “It is best to think of a floor’s long-term durability and how much noise it may create,” Planeta says.


The Tampa Bay Business Journal’s renovation focused on an open design that facilitated interaction among reporters. The single closed office reserved for the editor has glass walls on all four sides. “Instead of having a swing door, the entire corner of the office slides open on both sides so that the editor is interconnected with the rest of the office environment,” explains Leith Oatman, senior vice president for Gresham, Smith and Partners.


With the pre-renovation space at luxury textile company Matouk, employees were segregated with very minimal integration. A goal of the renovation was to integrate employees. Previously isolated departments have been brought together via the open-office layout, providing numerous opportunities for employees to connect. Visual and physical connections between the manufacturing floor, administrative spaces and retail area showcase the production process for staff and customers.


Meeting nooks at AAA’s Northern California headquarters are inspired by 1970s rest area designs. The backdrop of each includes commissioned photography depicting the Northern California, Nevada and Utah region that the office serves. “The photography was made into window film that is further activated by the natural light throughout the space and the employees as they collaborate within the rooms or pass by outside of them,” says Melissa Pesci, principal and vice president at HGA Architects and Engineers.​


Lack of room for growth and a long, narrow space at an investment firm were challenges Planeta Design Group had to work around. To work around that while creating an open office layout and keeping certain functions together, the group incorporated technology and furniture placement to ensure the firm operated as one space and remained collaborative.​


Sit-stand desks and FluidStance motion boards promote standing and good posture to reduce back pain for Retail Design Collaborative and Studio One Eleven employees, explains Michael Bohn, senior principal at Studio One Eleven. “Work stations are custom-designed to allow enough privacy and space for each individual,” Bohn says.​


Housed within a large, deep square-shaped floor plan, the work spaces at One Kings Lane were organized in a way to maximize natural light. This was achieved through the color scheme and partition configuration helping draw daylight deeper into the space. The central core consists of a mix of private offices and conference rooms ranging in sizes for various staff meetings.

Read also: Why Standards are Important for Office Interior Design

Additionally, five smaller “phone booths”— each uniquely themed and styled with custom built-in booths — provide either a private sanctuary or a cozy space for quick meetings accommodating up to three people.​


Kyle Busch’s #18 car adds a bright burst of color to the open-plan workspace at NASCAR’s New York City office. The Daytona, FL-based racing organization opted for a vibrant, but minimal color palette for its 16 open plan workspaces and nine private offices with views of Central Park.​


For the Boston office of professional services firm Arup, it was important to cater to different workstyles. “We learned early that quiet ‘heads down’ work would be as critical for some Arup employees as collaboration and interaction would be for others,” says Karen Bala, senior architect at Dyer Brown. “This drove our decisions to enhance solo work by putting some distance between workstations and collaborative spaces.”​


Tangram consolidated workstations from two floors to one, and updated them for more modern work habits. Beyond permanent stations for residents, touchdown stations were added for its transient staff. Quiet and/or conference rooms are now no more than 30 feet away from every workstation to give employees the opportunity to take a private phone call, focus on heads-down work or hold an impromptu meeting.​


Elements of nature aren’t limited to the green wall in the town hall and cafe area at Alphasights, an information services company. Open workstation zones feature wooden planters and columns cladded in wood to add a bold pop of green against the crisp black and white atmosphere.​


One of the main issues Fresenius wanted to solve was a lack of access to natural light for employees. The new designs include reduced-height panels in workstations, and the company moved employees closer to exterior windows when possible, Sara Ross, director of corporate services at Dyer Brown, explains.​


Enclosed phone booths, like this one at the Retail Design Collaborative and Studio One Eleven headquarters, are a convenient solution to open office noise complaints. In addition to the phone booth, the office also features several quiet breakout offices for focus work.


Informatica’s office maintains individual workspaces while still prioritizing an energetic and team atmosphere by providing privacy for employees that need to concentrate, as well as areas where groups of any size can meet to work.

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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