Ask Lifehacker: Can I Polarise My Office For Privacy?

Hi Lifehacker, I work in a school, and my office is in between two classrooms, and separating those classrooms from my office are walls which are almost entirely made up of large windows. This means that every time i do anything interesting (YouTube or the like) at work, I get a whole class of children shouting at me and getting distracted.

I was wearing 3D glasses at work the other day, and I discovered that the light from LCD screens are polarised. That got me thinking - if I could somehow replace the windows behind me with correctly polarised glass windows, I could have complete LCD privacy.

Do you, or do any readers, know if this would work, and if so, if it is financially feasible? I was thinking perhaps i could get sheets of transparent polarised plastic, and cover my windows with that? Or am I crazy? Thanks, Scott

Picture by caliperstudio

Hi Scott,

On the specific question of polarising glass, I'm going to plead ignorance, and ask our much-better-informed readership if they've got any thoughts or experience. However, it seems to me that a possible solution to the same dilemma would be to follow an older Lifehacker idea and use acrylic glaze to improve your privacy, making the windows transparent enough to admit light but glazed enough to keep your PC screen from prying eyes.

It'll involve a bit more legwork, but it will almost certainly be cheaper than getting glass cut to size, and it will work with any equipment you have in place — not just a specific model of monitor. (A really cheap variant of the same idea is to use liquid soap, but that's a rubbish idea in a school environment, really.)

If anyone's got some thoughts on Scott's idea, share them in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker


    I work in a variety of school sites, and its probably safer having the windows clear from a child protection point of view: if someone can walk past and see you at all times, it makes it harder for accusations of misconduct. Unfortunately thats the way society is going, so you are better to protect yourself.

    I know its not the answer you want to hear, but if its not appropriate for a kid to see over your shoulder, then you probably shouldn't be viewing it in a school environment in the first place.

      That's a terrible and short sighted comment.

      There are plenty of things I don't want random kids to get into, such as my bank details, my home address or my personal family affairs just to start with. Things more related to work that you don't want random kids getting into include their grades (before release), the exam questions, other student's private details, all which are legitimate.

      With regard to the OP I did ask once how much applying 3M frosting to windows cost, and its something like 60AUD per square meter. Not sure if that translates to polarizing film.

      ASITG, I work at school, and you make a great point. The school I work it is grounds for instant dismissal if you're ever alone with a student in an area that is impossible to observe. Not that the school think staff will do anything but the wording is "To protect the schools reputation from false allegations being made against members of staff"

    Hi, from what I know about polarisation is that it works at certain angles, so if the kids have a large range of viewing angle, you will get varying results depending the angle. Another options and quite possibly cheaper is 'clear-focus'. It is a adhesive backed material which you can print on. You may have seen it on bus windows. You can see out, but not in very easily.

    I know this is not about polarising the windows, but have you ever thought about just making your screen unviewable to prying eyes.
    This is a filter which slides over your computer screen, and unless you are directly of the screen, it is impossible to see it. Its a possible cheap option.

      As per james' comments, 3m sell this sort of stuff that might solve the problem.

      Otherwise, depending on the distance, people cant read the text on a screen anyway - even with 20/20 vision

    Hopefully what I am thinking of is still available - there used to be rolls of transparent tinted contact you could apply like wallpaper to windows without having to replace them - although it would help to have a professional apply it to avoid the chances of bubbles and wrinkles appearing.

    Perhaps I'm missing something, but why not get one of those polarised screens that sits in front of the LCD screen itself? Pretty sure they're sold as privacy filters.

    Viewed anything other than directly head on, the screen will look black. Way cheaper than replacing an entire wall with polarised glass.

    buy a diffuser screen that sits in front of the monitor. Unless you are directly in front of the monitor you cannot see what is on the screen.
    A lot cheaper than doing all the windows.

    Yo ASITG, I have thought about CP issues. I actually chose the office i have atm for that specific reason. I often need to spend 20 minutes helping out a single student, and with my office i don’t need to worry about people getting the wrong idea, because 2 teachers can see me at any given time.

    The beauty of the polarisation solution is that it means anybody outside my office, teachers and students alike, can see everything i do, but can’t see anything on any of the screens i have.

    And “A” is correct. I often have personal date (personal to me or to others) open on my displays, and that’s another reason for privacy.

    Also think about how awesome it would look. From my office you can see 3-5 screens with various content on them, and you walk into the next room, and you can see my whole office as clear as day, and me hunched over what appears to be a blank screen. That would be so trippy.

    Probably not what you're looking for, and most likely rather expensive, but oh well.

    How tall are the kids. Maybe just frost the lower section so casual prying eyes can't see anything. Common for offices with glass partitions. Likely get it in a spray can.

      as per jokemeister's comment. Just tape paper onto the wall tall enough that the kids cant see in, but teachers can. They did that at my school, except i was 6 foot 4 so it didnt really hold me back.

    I really have to agree with other readers that a 3M privacy filter is the only answer that makes sense. I do get the coolness factor, but it would just be so expensive. One thought is that LCD TVs and monitors obviously have exactly what you need in them. So if it were just for the cool effect you could always take a broken one apart. the film is buried in there someone. You could become an avid buyer of broken LCD screens on ebay!
    3M privacy filters...

    Here's the sort of thing you're talking about, "switchable privacy glass".

    I don't think it's going to be very cheap. Nor a good idea for the possible harassment problems others have stated.

    Guess this answers that:

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