Hate the open of­fice? Then en­ter the ‘phone booth’

Lodi News-Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Ab­del Jimenez

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.

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