The recent coronavirus pandemic has spurred businesses to think more critically about their office layouts. Many employees have been working from home because their open office floor plans were not conducive to preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
However, even without health concerns, open workplace environments have many other downfalls – downfalls that usually outweigh their benefits. Fortunately, there's a simple solution that addresses many of these problems: the office pod.
Quiet Work Pods
Open office floor plans took off during the 1980s and afterwards, although they've actually been around for hundreds of years, like in bookkeeping and newsrooms. It was thought that open workspaces facilitated creativity and the flow of information between employees. But those benefits came with a price.
One of the worst disadvantages of open offices is the noise and distractions that are inherent in their design. Even with cubical dividers, users can't help but overhear work conversations and the sounds of office machinery. In some cases, fellow employees listen to music, watch videos, and engage in personal chats on their mobile phones.
Noisy offices can make businesses sound unprofessional to clients on the other end of a phone call. In-person meetings disrupt everyone around them, but it doesn't always make sense to sign out a large conference room for just a few people.
Likewise, visual distractions can be equally problematic. Employees getting up and down from their desks, people coming from the elevator, and visitors passing by all pose interruptions throughout the typical workday.
These might sound like trivial nuisances, but workplace distractions are actually much more serious than they first seem. According to a study done by Humboldt University in Berlin, it can take workers up to 23 minutes to refocus on a task once they are distracted from it. If an employee is interrupted from their work dozens of times per day, that time to refocus represents lost productivity and a hit to the business's bottom line.
Furthermore, many employees report that noisy and distracting work environments cause them considerable stress. This ultimately results in more sick days for employees in noisy workplaces. It also makes employee retention and recruitment more challenging, even among younger job candidates who allegedly prefer these modern open offices.
Along with excess noise, lack of privacy tops the list of concerns for employees using open offices. Some workers simply don't like the “goldfish bowl” feeling of an open floor plan and prefer not to conduct their every task with dozens of people watching them. Others find it intimidating when it comes to making a private phone call to the doctor's office or to their spouse.
Managers often bemoan the lack of privacy that comes with an open office floor plan. While it makes supervising a large group of employees easier, it creates confidentiality problems with management meetings, employee reviews, and other conversations that should remain discreet.
As mentioned in the introduction, health issues are another downside to open office layouts. Although worries about COVID-19 are the most recent example of how open offices can be troublesome, winter cold and flu season during regular years make open work environments breeding grounds for shared germs.
Coughing and sneezing, we now know, can expel viruses many feet away. And of course the noise of someone nearby with a cold is yet another distraction workers don't need.
Luckily, there is an easy solution to the problems listed above: office pods. These phone booth-like mini rooms can be set up quickly to create discrete spaces within an open office. They can become permanent offices for managers, a place where employees can do quiet work, a small conference room, or extra space for other workplace needs.
The most obvious use for an office pod is to create a relaxation room, whether for a full day's work or a short phone call. Users of these handy pods enjoy their flexibility. Some companies use a sign-out system, while others have them assigned for various tasks.
Office pods are ideal for telephone conversations with clients, high-concentration assignments, meetings with consultants, and any work that involves videos, such as employee onboarding and training. They make great small conference rooms, and when installed in multiples can handle several meetings simultaneously.
Office pods also satisfy the need for workplace privacy. Managers can meet among themselves without employees overhearing and give performance reviews in a confidential setting. Client meetings or conversations with accountants and auditors stay private as well.
Some businesses use office pods for non-work privacy. Because of their enclosed design, they make wonderful spots for meditation, nursing moms, or even nap spaces. There's no end to what businesses can do with them.
Many companies are adding pods to replace cubicles as their employees come back to the office after working at home. Long-term experts see a move away from open offices prompted by the pandemic, but instant transformation isn't always feasible. An office pod is a happy medium for companies exploring new health-based layouts.
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