One of the most interesting trends of recent years is the popularity of the self-contained meeting pod or phone booth. I would go so far as to say they have been the biggest innovation in office furniture we have seen in a very long time. They have gone from being a rather odd concept pre-pandemic to now being a staple of the workplace.
I first came across phone pods at Orgatec 2015 on a stand run by a small company called Framery. I remember a corner stand with a few booths nestled around the edge. Intrigued, I stood looking at them for a moment, feeling a little self-conscious about climbing into one. But realising hesitation was getting me nowhere, I took a seat in a single-person model and closed the door. The noise of the exhibition just stopped. Instant quiet. The airflow was good thanks to the in-built fans and the lighting was just right for working. Most of all it was really, really quiet inside. The seating position was a little upright and I could have made use of a larger work surface, but it did meet all the needs for a VC call or a short period of concentrated work
I distinctly remember feeling a little reluctant to get out and back into the hustle and bustle of the stand, but I also remember feeling a little odd sitting in it. Rather like I was in a grownup Wendy House, or should I say Wendy Office, but there was no doubting the potential of the product.
The pandemic period helped with the acceptance of this new concept of free-standing phone booths inside the office. Nobody really wanted to sit in groups in the open office anymore, and the sense of enclosure was somehow oddly comforting. It certainly outweighed the negative feeling that everyone was watching you sit in a glass box like a corporate version of David Blaine (in 2003 Blaine spent 44 days in a glass box suspended from a crane in London as a piece of performance art).
Always looking for something a little different and exciting for the workplace, we put a couple in the Paris HQ, thinking they would create a little buzz and interest among the R&D teams. What we actually created was a HUGE demand for more of them, from everyone across the organisation.
The benefits to the occupants are now obvious, a quiet self-contained workspace with power, network, light and air. It’s a respite from the open plan and somewhere to take or make a call without disturbing colleagues or taking up a larger room with just one person.
The benefits for the workplace manager are just as impressive and more far-reaching.
Imagine what it takes to build small phone booths in your workplace. Acoustically secure walls running slab to slab. Acoustic laminated glass for the front wall, and a framed door from the same glass. Acoustically baffled airflow in and out, or even independent aircon in the form of a split system per room. Power, network and lighting all have to be installed, as do furniture and internal acoustic treatments. Once you have paid for all that, you’ll have to pay again to remove it all on exiting the lease or renovating the space, and then there are all the messy accounting allowances and write-downs to consider.
But with a pod, you take delivery, plug it in and you are up and running, then if you move office or just redesign the space, they are easy to relocate and get up and running again. For the accountants among you, it’s “Plant and Machinery” with simple allowances and write-downs.
This flexibility led to us to ask the designers at K2 Space to incorporate them directly into our floorplans. It saved time and effort and stopped them looking like afterthoughts. We also began to experiment with vinyl artwork on them, to blend them in or make them stand out, depending on the location.
There are now many brands on the market, but I confess I still have a preference for Framery pods. The latest model of the single-person pod is a little bigger and has a large sit-stand desk and room for a standard chair. It also has a couple of cool touches, such as an LCD panel that asks you if you are about to do a video call and, if the answer is yes, turns on a lamp set at face height. It also has variable lighting and ventilation to allow greater control of the internal environment.
The sheer functionality and value for money that pods, such as the Framery One, have brought to the office convinces me they will not be a short-term fad. They have already outlasted David Blaine.