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Monday, July 8, 2019

Going into the Closet

I strongly dislike the open office concept. Okay, I actually hate it. I’ve tried it. I even had a modified version of it with a business I started in the 1980s. One of the company employees had an office. Me.

You can easily find people who make the case for and against the open office design. The strongest advocates are usually the companies that sell divider panels. I wonder how many of THEIR people work in cubicles?

I like Bill Burr’s line: “You know what a cubicle basically says? It basically says, like, 'You know what? We don't think you're smart enough for an office, but we don't want you to look at anybody.’”

Maybe some jobs thrive in an open office. These people feed off of others' creativity and enthusiasm. For me, the most distracted I’ve ever been in the office is one without borders. I’d almost prefer a small closet. Even without windows.

The Gen Z crowd is learning about this need for privacy. Check out this recent Chicago Tribune story, “Hate the open office? Think it’s too loud? Enter the ‘phone booth.’” Gen Z folk are those born between 1996 and 2010.

Workspace designers have learned that these younger workers prefer a little order in their private world. The Trib reports, “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.”

Okay, so these designers didn’t exactly do away with open offices. Instead, they’ve chosen to insulate sound and offer employees a quiet space for a phone call or more work-related focus. Welcome to…the “phone booth.”

These private spaces are tall. They are narrow. You might like the design with glass only on one side. Or, if you prefer a fishbowl-like experience, go with the all-glass model.

How about amenities? There is a place to sit, and a countertop. Fortunately, ventilation is built in along with power outlets and a light. There is no built-in phone. but who needs one in the smartphone era? And unless you’re Superman, do not change clothes in the “phone booth.” Why scare off your coworkers?

Chicago’s Merchandise Mart recently gave interested parties a chance to test drive a few models at the annual commercial interior design show, NeoCon. (No, this is not some new conservative movement.) NeoCon’s claim to fame is “the commercial design industry’s launch pad for innovation—offering ideas and introductions that shape the built environment today and into the future.”

One of the vendors, Brian Chen, is co-founder and CEO of one of the phone booth design companies named Room. Says he, “We are definitely noticing that companies are seeing a big mistake in putting all sorts of different activities in one single floor plan. That is a recipe for people being stressed or unhappy in the office.”

Room started operations in the spring of 2018. To date, more than 1,500 companies have invested in their phone booth designs, which sell for about $3,500 a piece. They project sales of around $30 million in 2019. Let’s just say the market temperature for Room phone booths is getting “hot.” Okay, let’s not.

If I were working in a place with a “phone booth,” I might be prone to reserve the space for my spiritual quiet time. Forget doing that in the noisy part of the open office.

Jesus himself needed quiet time. Apparently, a lot of it. He purposed to steal away time from the incessant crowds. The Gospel writer Luke records, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16, NIV)

The phone booth is not a perfect solution for privacy. Especially if you’re claustrophobic. Or have other “hang-ups.” (Did I really say that??)

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Watch for a new YouTube program and podcast with Mark Elfstrand beginning in late summer.

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