Background The need for collaborative shared workspaces fostered the design of various types of space configurations (e.g., open-plan and activity-based workspaces). More recently, researchers have shown that mid-air augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) displays can also be used as a complement or alternative to traditional physical spaces, by reducing the distractions of shared environments. However, AR pervasive displays have the opportunity to impact workspace design even further and in ways that were not considered in prior works. In this paper we aim to explore the design opportunities that peripheral mid-air AR displays offer to support easy environmental switching in a shared open-plan workspace. Methods We used a modified version of a speed-dating method with text-based scenarios and interviews. We generated five scenarios that are derived from the context of a shared workspace: high-level concentration, low-level concentration, 1-to-1 communication, group communication, inspiration and relaxation. We therefore recruited 18 volunteers who identify themselves as interaction designers who work in an office. All inverviews were conducted individually, in person or via a video chat if the participant was located abroad. Results Participants defined mid-air AR displays to be used as flexible barriers, indirect communication channels, background ambient displays, and mediators to the external environment. Participants demanded an integrated spatial change except for certain properties such as height and transparency. These choices are related to the participants' intention to reduce the unnecessary complexity. Conclusions In this paper, we explored possible usages of mid-air AR displays for environmental switching in a shared open-plan workspace with the concept of a virtual partition from the users’ viewpoint. Our study not only discussed overcoming disturbance in a workspace, but also approached supporting activity changes including interaction with coworkers that often happen in a shared workspace. We believe that this study can help space and interaction designers to understand how they can apply peripheral mid-air AR displays in a shared workspace. This will lead users to have customized workspaces that better fit their own workstyles.