Personal Boundaries and the Evolving Workplace

As we witness the almost immeasurable success of the world’s leading tech companies we also observe innovation and experimentation in the design of the modern workplace.

The new style is usually very sleek, and the amenities are plentiful, but dedicated personal space is at a minimum.

The immediate response is to say “So what?”. With all of the evolution in technology that allows us to basically work from anywhere why would we use up so much valuable real estate by giving everyone their own private space.

And there are plenty of people who don’t have dedicated space today. There are people who work construction, load trucks, and work the fast food counter.

But there is another issue in play and that is the loss of personal boundaries. Boundaries are the things that enable us to draw a line between where I end and you begin. And one of the major ways that this is accomplished is through the use of personal space.

Everyone is different. Some people don’t mind not having very much space of their own and the space between their face and the monitor may be enough. Others need more and having four half-walls around them is vital to nurturing their personal identity.

Current office layout strategies don’t really allow for that kind of variability as the amount of office space you have is reflective of your rank within the company. It is seen as a status symbol of sorts.

I suspect that even within these modern workplaces there will be issues with employees well-being directly related to the lack of personal space. Yes having these large open spaces can create a very collaborative environment, but it also may affect the performance and mental health of others.

How about introducing choice into the situation? A choice with minor financial implications. If you require nothing but a chair and a flat surface, and are quite willing to work in a different location everyday, your salary will be X. But if you require 4 half-walls your salary will be (X – $2000). Or if you need a closed in room it will be(X-$4000).

Real estate does cost a corporation money and we want to balance that by giving people the work environment they need. But we don’t want to bribe people into accepting a work space that they really can’t stand.



Photograph courtesy of


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