100 Percent Design: Let's Not Forget the Introverts!

Blogger: Lynn Mignola, Strategic Facilities Planner | Princeton, NJ, USA
June 03, 2016

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.

Photo credits
80606722_ WomenMediating Jupiter images –Thinkstock.jpg

200543811_Working_Stockbyte – Thinkstock.jpg

Reader Comments (7)

Love this and the ideas for designing workspaces you included. Thanks for sharing!

Truly excellent post.  Keep writing, I think your topics are awesome.

YES!! As a self-proclaimed introvert, noise is a huge distraction for me. The recent trend to move towards an open concept office definitely has its benefits (more interaction and shared spaces for collaboration and thought development), but to an introvert, may seem overwhelming and difficult to work in. Thank you for sharing this perspective!

Great post, Lynn!  Did you see this most recent news that came out about extroverts? Research is indicating that they get exhausted by other people too after a certain amount of time - so some of the solutions you are proposing might be used across the spectrum of introversion to extroversion at different points in time :) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/people-are-exhausting-even-for-extroverts_us_5761c43de4b09c926cfe1ab3

Add to the negative aspects: stress (for some). Open plan type environs can be difficult to focus, producing stress as a result of raised amount of ambient distractions and the inability to find places without interruptions to achieve focus for work. Finding blocks of time to get in the zone and produce our best work, efficiently, can be harder in open plan for some personality types, while some seem to find it necessary to concentrate. Some people seem to work well with background noise or maybe don't even need large chunks of time to focus on tasks, others like me, not so. I find myself having to carve time out after regular work hours when the distraction and white noises of good, but unrelated collaboration have dispersed. I think when office design is at its best it considers not only function and fashion but how the people inside it need to work. Is collaboration and dialog key to the production or creativity of the office output? In this scenario open concepts work quite well and maybe there are a few private places for when you need to get away. Or is concentration and focus necessary? Here more private spaces are required which help shut out distractions. We can still have offices that are cool as long as those planning them still recognize the diversity of people styles and their work needs for collaboration and/or isolation to focus.

Thank you for this article. With the corporate move now resolved and the space defined, I imagine the final design of the floors and spaces will begin in earnest.  I hope that those designers will read this article and take it to heart. Everything the article and commenters said are interesting and valid points.  Keep in mind that an extrovert lives to engage in the humanity around it because that is their fuel.  Therefore, an open concept would provide an overabundance of opportunity for distractions and "communications" that would not otherwise be there with a more enclosed space (cubes with walls).  So, the argument that an open concept helps an extrovert to produce work at a higher level does not  always pan out.  It seems like an open concept work space design actually helps a very small segment of the HDR working population, both in temperament and task.  The pitch for "collaboration" is getting weaker and weaker legs as research as well as real life experience from our friends employed in open concept work places appears to give voice to the disgruntled.  I wish the design team the very best of luck for the final design of the corporate building headquarters.

Thanks for your kind words. The key is balancing all of the needs - designing a workspace to satisfy all is hard. One point that should be made is that "cubes with walls" have their pitfalls, too. Higher panels give people the illusion of privacy so they tend to talk as if they were alone (loudly and in a potentially unfiltered manner). They also require someone to be on the doorstep before they can see that whoever they are stopping by to see is on the phone or busy - thereby interrupting/distracting them.

Post a New Comment