Take a moment to get up from your desk, if you aren’t already standing, and have a look around. If you see rows of desks, you’re in an open-plan office. And if you’re an introvert—one of those quiet, retiring types—you’re stuck in the ninth circle of hell. Most employers opt for open spaces in the name of collaboration and creative thinking, in spite of recent studies suggesting that the setup generates more energy-sapping distractions than electrifying ideas.
Susan Cain developed some of that research for her 2012 New York Times bestseller, Quiet, in which she championed the value of introverts in a culture that prizes gregarious extroverts. The book struck a chord in many readers but failed to turn the tide the rankling bullpen offices where the bulk of Americans still work. Now she is working with the Michigan furniture manufacturer Steelcase to reshape office life. The collaboration will design a new collection of discrete spaces for introverts seeking refuge from the constant buzz of their colleagues.