A recent Wall Street Journal article showcased the tension for executives between the desire for openness and transparency and the need for privacy. Executives, including Steelcase CEO Jim Keane, are seeking to promote creativity and collaboration while still finding ways to focus and seek respite during parts of the day. These needs are shaping new ways of working and new kinds of leadership spaces. But, the conversation doesn’t stop there. The article sparked dozens of comments, some people asking why only leaders should be afforded the opportunity to get away from the distractions of the open plan?

Steelcase research suggests that while executives do face unique challenges at work, their needs have parallels to those of many people within their organization. Two separate research projects on leaders and employee engagement offer valuable learnings about how best to support people at all levels within an organization.


Where leaders work isn’t the only part of the office that’s evolving. People at all levels of the organization are seeking workplaces that allow them to choose where and how they can get their best work done, including places for privacy and focus. The Steelcase Global Report: Engagement and the Global Workplace surveyed more than 12,000 employees in 20 countries. It found that more than one-third of workers are disengaged and the most engaged employees were those who were also the most satisfied with their work environment. For those described as highly disengaged employees:

  • Only 14 percent can choose where to work in the office based on the task (88 percent of highly engaged people said the same)
  • Only 15 percent can concentrate easily (98 percent of highly engaged people said the same)
  • Only 13 percent can work in teams without being interrupted (94 percent of highly engaged people said the same)

Additional research has bolstered the findings that the workplace can make a difference in engagement. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace reports 75 percent of people experience frequent noise while working and 42 percent would change jobs to have privacy when they need it.

To read more of Rebecca Charbauski’s article for Steelcase 360, click here!