Open concepts, glass walls, and the freedom to move about the work environment are some of the hallmarks of modern day work spaces. Long gone (for some) are enclosed spaces, hallways upon hallways of doors and offices, and heavy wooden furniture. In the recent multibillion-dollar evaluation of WeWork and other collaborative workspaces, the trend towards a more humanistic and creative minded workspace is a concept here to stay.

While these spaces may prove wonders for productivity and be in appropriate Zen-like fashion, they prove most challenging for one’s personal safety. The modern-day threats of violence in the workplace are often not thought about in the design of these workspaces.

Imagine if you will working in a collaborative environment at a “picnic style” bench. Next to you are two other creative freelancers feverishly working away. The two begin brushing up against each other in the tight space, perhaps one nudges the other when he gets up to use the restroom. As the day continues, the tension mounts as one now accuses the other of looking at their screen and wanting to steal their work. The tension eventually comes to a tipping point where the two begin a shoving match. As this violence now comes your direction, you find yourself stuck between the fixed bench seat and the tabletop. Trying to remove yourself from the situation (and your laptop), the argument boils to one grabbing a nearby potted plant and begins to throw it at the freelancer sitting next to you.

As you can see, what started out as a simple agitation can quickly escalate. And now still partly stuck in your seating area, you’re faced with what was once an esthetically placed potted plant now becoming a strategically used improvised weapon threatening you and your laptop. This scenario, along with any number of others from domestic violence, active shooters, and criminals being pursued by authorities can, and have found themselves into these types of workspaces.

Unlike those workspaces of old where one could hide and lock themselves in an office never to be seen, those same people are now finding themselves exposed in glass surrounded offices and some even without doors. Which poses the question, how am I (you) suppose to protect yourself in an open concept work environment?

All too often this question is asked AFTER an incident has occurred, and usually far after the design process. Which leaves most spaces having to be retrofitted or redesigned with personal safety in mind. The most common recommendations in these spaces are:

  • Application of shatter resistant laminates to windows
  • Application of “frost” to portions of windows for privacy
  • Installation of privacy curtains or blinds
  • Installation of doors, door locks, or access control
  • Installation or repositioning of surveillance cameras
  • Redesigned floor space
  • Repositioning or removal of decorative items

While we can never fully prevent incidents that jeopardize personal safety, we can smartly and efficiently design our workspaces to be safer, keeping in mind local fire ordnances, ADA requirements, and of course esthetically pleasing.