Providing quiet spaces in the wide open workplace
As cubicles and wall-less offices proliferate, companies are adding special rooms, lounges, even gardens where employees can take a pause.
JUST ABOUT EVERY DAY, Stephany Arnold finds time to tend to her crop: juicy yellow tomatoes, spicy peppers, sweet basil, crunchy carrots.
Arnold doesn’t need to leave work to care for the plants. In fact, her herbs and vegetables are in a garden operated by her employer, Tufts Health Plan. For Arnold, a program coordinator for medical policy, the garden offers a welcome break in her workday, a chance to quietly water her plants and pluck weeds instead of sitting at a desk in front of a computer. “It’s very therapeutic,” Arnold says. “It gives me my five minutes or ten minutes away from my desk. When I get back, I’m focused.”
When Tufts actuary Audrey Wang needs a quick escape, she visits the aptly named “quiet room,” a space where Wang and others can meditate or just sit silently for a few minutes. The room has comfy floor cushions, coloring books and crayons, and it’s sparsely decorated with small plants and photos of leafy green trees. “Sometimes you just need time for yourself to relax a little bit,” Wang says.
Watertown-based Tufts is among many companies now offering quiet spaces where employees can step away from their desks for a few minutes and recharge. Such spaces are especially welcome in open offices, where workers sit in close quarters and noise carries easily. The garden and the quiet room at Tufts, which opened in recent years, have been popular with a small, enthusiastic, and growing group of employees. “The more people hear about it, the more they’re willing to try it,” says Lydia Greene, Tufts’s chief human resources officer. “Pretty soon we will need a bigger room.”
At MassChallenge’s incubator space for startups in Boston’s Seaport District, entrepreneurs who need a bit of privacy or a break from work can visit one of the office’s many phone booths or head to one of the picnic tables outside, which stretch down to the waterfront.
As firms eliminate private offices to foster collaboration, many companies are realizing they need to add similar perks, says Todd Dundon, a principal at the Boston office of architecture and design firm Gensler. Dundon took the lead on the firm’s design of Partners HealthCare’s new corporate office, which eventually will house about 4,200 employees. Partners moved to an open-office layout, but its new building in Somerville’s Assembly Row includes wellness rooms, lounge areas, outdoor balconies, a rooftop garden — and more than 500 small rooms where employees can sit individually or in intimate groups. Those spaces were designed to accommodate people who need to work privately or step away from their tasks.
The right combination of quiet and collaboration can help employers draw a talented workforce, Dundon says. “Companies are getting more sophisticated and understand the need to provide spaces that attract and retain talent. . . . The key is choice and providing the right balance.”