“Technology has further challenged our sense of personal sovereignty.” That quote, taken from a study conducted by Steelcase and published by the Harvard Business Review, really struck a chord with me. Technology can be a wonderful connector. It can cross continents and oceans in a single bound. It facilitates communication and collaboration in the workplace that people used to dream of. Being raised in the age of the internet, my fellow Millenials and I tend to look only at the benefits. But there are a number of workers who see constant and instant contact as a violation of their privacy.
What is Privacy today? At one time, privacy was merely a physically defined term. But with the strides of technology, we must adapt the word. Steelcase defines privacy with two distinct dimensions. The first, Information Control, which they describe as employees’ “constant battle to protect and manage access to their personal information”, is a crucial part of joining an enterprise social network. Some employees don’t want to share their phone number or personal email for the sake of mobile connectivity. And within the office environment, they don’t want to have to worry about a colleague looking at something private on their screen.
The second is Stimulation Control, which refers to “the noises and other distractions that break concentration or inhibit the ability to focus.” Technology affords people the ability to listen to music at work, watch videos, etc. But what one employee sees as “soothing white noise”, another might see as a grating distraction.
Define privacy in your company. The bottom line is, these days your company needs privacy protocol. These guidelines “can be companywide or specific to certain departments, times, or places.” But don’t assume that every employee in your company has the same definition of privacy, and decide what privacy means within the values of your company. It’s also not just something you can set and forget. Like other company guidelines, communications concerning privacy are necessary to sustain the initiatives.
Set up signals. Hotels have Do Not Disturb signs. Should offices employ a similar tactic? Not quite, yet. There are many ways people can say “I’d like to be alone”. Some people like to hide behind their computer monitor or put on their headphones. But employees shouldn’t be afraid that these signals will simply be ignored because they aren’t physical barriers. Steelcase suggests allowing employees to set up their own “boundaries” and encouraging other employees to respect them.
Make your tech “opt-in”. This one wasn’t included in the Steelcase study, but Tribe’s research and client work has showed us that this is crucial to technology’s success in you company. Whether it’s mobile connectivity, an Enterprise Social Network or a simple mailing list, it’s important to set up multiple ways to recieve and access information. Then, you can allow your employees to use the channels that work for them. This way, employees do not feel their privacy is being violated and they can get all the information they need.