Hate the open office? Then enter the ‘phone booth’
As Generation Z starts entering the workforce, office interior designers are creating flexible workspaces that offer the privacy young workers demand.
Design experts say privacy is important to this young generation of workers in order to escape the noisiness that has enveloped the open office, so they are drawing inspiration from a surprising place: the phone booth, an obsolete space most members of Gen Z have probably never entered.
Tall and narrow “phone booths” are making their way into offices to insulate sound and provide a quiet space where employees can step away for a phone call or to focus on work. Most models have one glass side, but others are all glass, providing a fishbowl-like experience. There’s no built-in phone, but there is a countertop, seat, power outlets, a light and ventilation.
The open-office concept was heralded as a way to lower costs and promote interaction and collaboration among employees throughout organizations. But a study last year by Harvard University researchers found, among other things, that workers miss their privacy.
Young workers make up an increasingly large section of the labor force as baby boomers continue to retire. According to consulting firm BridgeWorks, Gen Z is estimated to account for 63 million people in the U.S., and the eldest of this group are starting to trickle in the workforce. As more young people start working, furniture makers are coming up with products to help employers attract young talent.
Dozens of vendors showed off office phone booths recently at NeoCon, the annual commercial interior design show at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.
“It’s really difficult to find privacy or quiet in the open floor plan,” said Brian Chen, co-founder and CEO of Room, a designer of phone booths. “We are definitely noticing that companies are seeing a big mistake in putting all sorts of different activities in one single floor plan, and that is a recipe for people being stressed or unhappy in the office.”
Room has sold its phone booth offices to more than 1,500 businesses since launching in May 2018. The company, which sells its phone booths for about $3,500 each, expects annual sales to reach $30 million this year, Room spokeswoman Morgan Albrecht said.
Phone booths give employees the option of stepping into someplace quiet without walking too far from their desk, said Jonathan Webb, vice president of workplace strategy at KI Furnishing Knowledge, another phone booth manufacturer at NeoCon.