Unlike modern day work pods, typical offices of the past were designed to support long periods of sedentary tasks. Walk in, sit down, work throughout the day, then leave.
Stricter company hierarchies were in place, and available technologies were appropriate for isolated workstations as opposed to web-connected networks of employees. So what happened?
Well, times changed. For one, by 2010 70% of offices were open planned or had little to no partitions. But that gave way to all kinds of workplace distractions. Individual work pods are now the third design stage of the office productivity evolution.
Work Pods & The Quest for Open Office Flexibility
The goal for successful office design is to effectively support increasingly flexible behavior. And this means the flexibility afforded to us by the evolving technologies we can use to work.
Flexibility means the opportunity to meet, or to be alone, and to be transient. We can be increasingly effective workers while totally mobile, and most of today’s mobile workers actually spend less than 60% of their days in physical office spaces.
Additionally, as technological options have progressed, we often only need to focus on our screens. Paperless work environments remove much of the need for desk space, and wireless devices open up the configuration options for standing, moving, and sitting.
Flat surfaces are required for heavier design work, and for ergonomically acceptable long-term typing. Power strips should be accessible in close proximity to enable fluid and uninterrupted flows.
But has this been achieved by the open office design movement?
Open office design aims to foster collaboration with ideation spaces, standing tables, and expansive coffee areas to talk in. It’s true that recent years have seen a mania for ‘benching’ people out into the open and examining how this affects overall productivity through heightened opportunity for supervise.
There is a flexible math in play too, as many offices plan for desk space numbers that are lower than the actual employee headcount.
This is to incentivize a constantly rotating ebb and flow of meetings, meaning there are never enough people needing to sit down and work at their own stations.
However, the issue is that this approach is a zero sum game. It fails to recognize differing work styles, and promotes only one. It’s admirably human in the sense it wishes to bring us together and economize our movements, but it doesn’t cater to the moments when people need to escape and regroup mentally.
Venerable research has unearthed plenty of reasons why. Simply ramping up collaboration does not equate to a productivity boom.
In fact, one study points to a 15% drop in productivity, and a 32% drop in employee registered sentiment of well-being. Open offices accumulate 86 minutes of lost time per employee due to daily distractions, stressing workers enough that 31% of them need to leave completely to complete tasks elsewhere.
There’s evidence that sick days increase in open offices as well - up to 62% more sick days in fact.
Bundle people together for extended periods of time, and guess what happens? Inadvertent coughing, sneezing, mutually touched work surfaces and increased contact.
Add in forced internal air systems that recycle unhealthy air, and it’s easy to see how all that team member love can be harmful.
Also, from a social perspective, open offices put people on display, making them perform real-time in group scenarios. The more extroverted colleagues naturally excel under such conditions, whereas colleagues who prefer reflection and the methodical approach may be washed out.
The result is the opposite of collaboration, as the open office fails to consider the diversity of personalities that need to be given their own room to breathe.
It builds barriers by openly highlighting the differences between respective employees, and keeps the communal pot at a persistent simmer so that tensions rise.
Individual Work Pods Relieve Those Looking for Peace & Quiet
Projects kick off with plenty of ‘huddles' - and you always need to regroup and reorient along the way. However, this doesn’t mean you need folks to function in a consistently socialized environment. They need options, and by ‘options,’ we are not talking about just headphones and a cubicle.
A tranquil environment is something we have the option to create for ourselves at home, so why not also have that ability at the office?
The traditional outlet for peaceful contemplation was the window office. This is similar to the effectiveness of white noise while working in a cafe.
You hear the people around you, but anonymity permits personal focus. It’s a healthy form of zoning out that sheds distraction.
The growing trend of remote workers also offers some pointers. Its been met with success for boldly distributed companies, but it fails to take hold in others. Despite the arsenal of networking tools at our disposal, sometimes having the team in a single physical workplace is the most effective choice.
What remote working does accomplish is to give employees the latitude to figure out how to get into their flow, to be comfortable, and to focus on tasks without hierarchical or team distractions.
It’s these lessons that should be imported to the context of the physical office so workers can determine how to best apply their talents to the progress of a company.
In short, provide a quiet office space that lets people work how they need to. And whether your office space is already very openly planned or not, providing ancillary spaces for individual or small group use can deliver major benefits.
The Work Pod Solution
Work pods located on existing floor plates provide a singular benefit that can be seen from two viewpoints:
- They create a dedicated refuge for isolated tasks
- They remove acoustic interference and safeguard the overall office tranquility
This means you can jump inside to seal off from the interference of colleagues and laser down on your critical work, or you can take that loud but necessary phone call away from your colleagues and increase the general peace.
Noise, to a point, equals distraction. Hearing distinct conversations pulls us away from our tasks if the content is of interest.
The average open office buzz amounts to somewhere between 40-60 decibels. Zenbooth provides isolation booths that seal off the user, filter the air, and reduce that noise by 40 dB.
Office pods are also a logical evolution to an existing office plan, more a furnishing addition than a completely new interior. Move them around, increase the number as the requirements grow, and create islands of focus within the overall energy of a company.
For startup ventures with limited space, to larger workspaces that cannot simply restructure to accommodate too much change in design, work pods are an effective use of space and resources that provide choice for employees.
Building Work Pods for the People
Whatever service your company performs, it requires that work gets DONE. It’s a simple truth often overshadowed by much of the obsessive focus around pushing for more collaboration.
While working together is important, this doesn’t mean we need to design solely for collaboration. It’s not a full-time task, it’s a measure of the overall time spent at work.
Creating product and worth for your venture overwhelmingly means singular personal focus. Good old concentration when the grey matter spins and production happens.
Whatever your current workspace design, including dedicated spaces in which people can remove themselves from distraction is practical, productive, and socially healthy.