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Introverts Rejoice! The Rise of the Fifth Work Mode

Cozy hideouts such as this one support an emerging work mode that's proving critical to helping workers recharge their batteries: Rejuvenate. Image © Garrett Rowland

When Gensler published the US and UK Workplace Research Studies in 2008, the findings helped quantify the power of people and place to drive profit in knowledge economy companies. The findings indicated that top-performing companies design workplaces capable of supporting all four work modes: Focus, Collaborate, Learn, and Socialize. They also found that knowledge workers are constantly shifting in and out of each of these work modes throughout the business day. Activity-based work settings, or the ability to select an environment that matches your work mode rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach, has now become a widely accepted tenet of workplace design.

Today, in an effort to inspire innovation, companies are prioritizing collaboration over the other work modes. Innovation is seen as critical to maintaining competitive, and companies are banking on the idea that creating environments that encourage serendipitous encounters between people with dissimilar ideas will generate new collaborations. In turn, these new collaborations will lead to innovative ideas that will come to add value. And while these collaborations are yielding positive results, the more recent 2013 Gensler Workplace Research shows that workers are also struggling to work effectively in overly collaborative environments. This is in large part because the emphasis on collaboration, as explored in Gervais Tompkin’s blog post on the topic, can detract from our ability to focus.

So where does this leave the introvert, the one-third to one-half of the population whose energy levels replenish during periods of quiet reflection, yet drain when confronted by an overabundance of interaction? How can an introvert survive (and thrive) in the workplace and effectively balance the four work modes? The Collaborate and Socialize work modes are based almost entirely upon group interaction. Even the Learn work mode is a highly social activity filled with classroom instruction and hands-on learning through group projects. That leaves the introvert with the Focus work mode as the only means of escape even within a balanced workplace.

Focused work requires intense concentration, but the human brain’s amygdala makes us hardwired for “fight or flight.” It ensures we don’t concentrate so much on any one task that we fail to see the sabre toothed tiger that’s ready to pounce. Visual distractions, audible interruptions, and ever present (and demanding!) mobile technologies make it incredibly difficult for us to maintain our focus. In short, it takes a lot of effort, intention, and energy to perform focused work, and frequent breaks from this focus can help us perform at our peak. For extroverts, the Socialize work mode provides a welcome relief from intense focus. But for the introvert, a different kind of break from focus is required to help recharge the batteries—one that is centered on reflection and retreat.

Thus the introduction of the fifth work mode: Rejuvenate—that time in our day when we can allow our brains some much-needed downtime to refresh and recharge. Global trends indicate that the lines between our personal and professional lives are blurred to the point of imperception and will only continue to bleed into one another. We find ourselves not only moving between the four work modes each day, but also moving seamlessly between Live, Work, and Play as we struggle to juggle our work lives, personal lives, and our connections to the broader community. Now more than ever it’s important to find the time and space to retreat and rejuvenate within corporate settings.

Here in India, the need for Rejuvenate is further amplified by several factors. In our observations of workplaces in several major metros, we’ve found that many employees are stretching the business day to allow for international collaborations across multiple time zones. With such long days, downtime is necessary to avoid burn-out. Others state that overcrowded cities full of congestion and noise encourage people to seek solitude and healing in the forms of yoga and meditation.

Fortunately for all of us, the Rejuvenate work mode does not discriminate. Whether introvert or extrovert, Indian or non-Indian, we can all reap the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of rejuvenation. Here are three easy techniques to incorporate this fifth work mode of Rejuvenate into existing workspaces.

Rejuvenation can take place indoors or outside, and rejuvenation spaces can be juxtaposed with spaces that support collaboration and/or focus. Image © Andres Garcia Lachner

Rejuvenate Mentally

Secluded retreats in low-traffic areas are sometimes designated as distraction-free, focused-work zones. Adapting these nooks into cozy and comfortable hideouts can provide opportunities for mental breaks. Introducing semi-reclined lounge furniture, hammocks, or other soft cushions can encourage relaxed postures.

Rejuvenate Physically

Rest spaces where employees can sit or lay down in a quiet room allow our bodies a chance to recuperate and demonstrate a corporate commitment to health and wellness initiatives. One-on-one meeting rooms can easily be converted into single-occupant yoga studios, meditation rooms, or nap spaces, and provide opportunities to re-center our bodies as well as our minds.

Rejuvenate Emotionally

Providing connections to nature, peace, and tranquility can help calm the mind and reduce our stress levels. Indoor or outdoor walking trails, zen rock gardens, shallow reflecting pools, and meditation paths all provide opportunities for emotional rejuvenation. An otherwise unused refuge terrace or fire break floor can become a meditation path by painting a walking trail pattern onto the concrete.

We’re interested in hearing how you rejuvenate. Where are your favorite places to refresh? To what extent does your employer allow you to rejuvenate during the day? Let us know via Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section below.

Penny Lewis is a Workplace Studio Director, a native Texan (but a “global citizen”), and since 2013, a resident of Bangalore, India. She believes in questioning and challenging the ways things are as a means of discovering the way things should be. In addition to commercial interior design and writing, she is passionate about travel, solving puzzles, and making a difference in the lives of others. Contact her at penny_lewis@gensler.com.