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Workplace Privacy: How Closely Should We Monitor?

Open office designs became popular to break the traditional barrier between management and employee. The idea of open space is to increase collaboration among work groups and allow for more flexible work environments. But have we gone too far?

We all value privacy in our daily lives. There are times that work calls for concentration that just can’t be achieved in open office environments. On occasion, we all need to make that personal phone call – or speak to a spouse in a way that we just don’t want others to overhear. Like anything in business, there has to be a balance. Do we need to resort to microchipping our employees? Probably not. But depending on the situation (and the employee), business owners and managers might want to consider how much privacy to give employees – and when to take control.

If you are required to work in an open environment, consider taking some charge of your own time – and allow employees the permission to do the same. Many open work environments today provide for private spaces that can be reserved as needed. Encourage employees to reserve this space a few hours each week at a minimum. Establish boundaries of when and how to ask for time from others, understanding that your needs may not always meet the needs of the business unit at the moment you want them met.

And as we talk about privacy in the workplace, we must always consider our legal obligations. You should always notify employees of what you will – and might – monitor. The equipment is yours and you have the right to look at anything you feel is relevant. At the same time, you may choose to monitor web access and instant message that are being sent. An overview of privacy rights should be considered and employee communication on the topic provided to ensure that the rights of the company are protected at all times.

Employees need privacy, but that doesn’t mean we have to go back to the old fashioned way of closed-door meetings and assigning offices to senior managers. Consider ways to embrace a flexible environment which balances camaraderie and communication with the business need to manage talent and information.

Lori Kleiman is an HR expert who presents to business people and groups. Click here to see a video of Lori in action. If you’d like to have Lori keynote one of her HR presentations at your upcoming event, click here, or email Lori directly at lori@hrtopics.com!

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