Why pods are a mainstay of the modern office

Demand for workplace pods is increasing as organisations look to offer privacy in the open-plan office

In today’s open-plan offices, finding a quiet spot to meet a deadline or make a sensitive phone call is getting a little easier as more workplaces install pods.

These pods are essentially small cabins or semi-private booths where employees can hold meetings in small groups or find some space to work away from the office hubbub for an hour or so.

“Open-plan offices are designed for collaboration and to encourage movement of people, but there is growing need for noise levels to be addressed,” says Anthony Walsh, Senior Director, Interior Workspace Design, JLL Australia. “Workplace pods provide a place of quiet and privacy.”

As such, many open-plan offices are punctuated with pods across floors, whether they’re designed as telephone boxes painted in a company’s brand colours or even as cable cars or treehouses – whatever fits in with a company’s brand image and office environment.

Convenience in a pod

Part of the attraction of workplace pods is their simplicity. Companies can order a ready-made structure fitted with furnishings, power outlets and lighting, and have it installed anywhere in the office.

ANZ bank installed pods at its headquarters in Melbourne, Australia. The pods were custom designed and developed by the bank as a way to experiment with flexible spaces for workers without having to undertake disruptive building works to install or relocate them.

 “Pods have become mainstream because they are moveable, convenient and affordable. They allow companies to create places of focus for their workers without the expense of a wholesale design, build and fit out,” says Walsh.

Equally, pods can also work as space dividers as more companies experiment with introducing flexible workspace within their existing office set-up.

For example, a few pods could be used to section off breakout zones, which have been shown to improve productivity and job satisfaction by providing employees with different locations to work or relax in line with their workplaces habits and preferences.

Plus, if an occupier wants to change their office layout to meet changing workplace needs, pods, like many other types of office furniture, can be moved around in the redesign, says Raymond Chu, Senior Pitch Designer at European design and build company, Tétris.

They can also be taken along when companies change buildings.

“What we might see in the future is offices where each section or workspace is like a Lego brick that can be moved around or joined with other modules to change the layout of the office, or the function of an area,” Chu says.

And it’s not just the space inside that can add value to the office; workplace pods can also be lined with exterior insulation to absorb noise from the office at large, lowering overall acoustic levels across the space and helping tackle the sound and privacy concerns with open workspaces.

Not for all day use

With many employees jostling for personal space within open-open offices, pods can be in high demand.

Though employees may be tempted to use workplace pods as their own private office, many one-person pods are designed to be used for under an hour. They tend to lack built-in ventilation, while those that do might support a couple hours’ use, says Walsh.

“Manufacturers try to design workplace pods so that people aren’t tempted to stay there all day. They need to be comfortable enough so people can complete the tasks they need to do as efficiently as possible, without being so comfortable they encourage people to linger.”

Interior features that discourage long usage include perches for leaning instead of sitting, and narrow surfaces to prop laptops or tablets intended for video conferencing rather than computer work.

Because of their small size – about one meter square and two meters high – one-person pods usually have glass walls, which not only offer occupants a view of the office, helping reduce claustrophobia, but also makes them visible to other employees.

“This would ideally encourage employees to observe common courtesy and avoid long periods of work in the pods. Sensors are another increasingly common feature helping companies to monitor how and when pods are being used.

“Companies want to get the most of out of their space and their employees,” concludes Walsh. “Pods definitely have a role to play in helping today’s workspaces strike the right balance between community and privacy.”