How can we use Booths and Barriers to future proof our workspaces and encourage employees to return to the office?
Why Booths and Barriers?
Inevitably the returning office workforce will need to feel safe at work.
Barriers, in the form of screens or partitions, help to provide that safety – they can easily be added to existing workplaces, providing a higher degree of separation than would otherwise be possible, particularly with desk ‘clusters’.
Booths are a means of providing space for co-working and meetings in a reasonably controlled manner – and what is the point of having a place of work if people can’t interact?
Importantly, booths and barriers both provide a means of defining clear circulation routes, helping to define areas of trusted interaction, and mitigating unnecessary physical interaction with the wider office population – See our Pandemic-Resistant Office Concept for further details.
Full-height partitioning can achieve such separation, but it can be expensive and disruptive to move, potentially involving modifications to air-conditioning and lighting systems.
So in a time of change and uncertainty, booths and barriers provide a way of addressing short-term concerns, with the flexibility to adapt to changing workplace needs with minimal cost and disruption.
Booths come in all shapes and sizes, from soundproof phone boxes, floor to ceiling glass meeting rooms to semi shielded booths which can be for more social areas of the office – all providing a certain level of visual and acoustic privacy.
We feel they work best to break up open plan spaces close to open plan desking, but they can also be utilized in canteens, breakout areas and otherwise difficult-to-use areas.
We have seen a continuing high demand for phone/meeting booths - largely because people like them! The conflict between space-efficiency and privacy has long been an issue in open-plan workspace, and booths provide a means of mitigating that problem.
Today, many booths can be supplied with integrated booking systems, further enhancing their contribution to overall efficiency.
Here are a few key benefits we believe Booths can contribute to a better working environment - they:
- Are a clear destination for employees to go to break away from their desks.
- Provide privacy and concentration space for those who need it, increasing productivity.
- Can be used to break up spaces, create zones and offer additional meeting spaces.
- Generally take up less space than formal partitioned rooms.
- Are flexible and responsive to future layout changes.
- Can be taken with you when you move office; an environmentally sound proposition.
- Combat excess noise.
Any phone booths and work pods that have a door should include air ventilation systems that guarantee a high rate of fresh-air exchange. In the post-COVID workplace we would also to see an option for self-cleaning after use, perhaps utilising an anti-viral aerosol.
A booth can only re-circulate the air already present in the office, but the general principle of good fresh air supply remains:
"Simply put, the more fresh, outside air inside a building, the better. Bringing in this air dilutes any contaminant in a building, whether a virus or a something else, and reduces the exposure of anyone inside," says Prof Shelly Miller of the University of Colorado Boulder.
A high air-exchange rate will probably become a more important selection criterion than acoustic isolation performance; and the flexibility to ventilate by either drawing in fresh air or blowing out used air will be appreciated by purists.
What are the best booths/pods on the market?...
Having observed the success of early entrants, more manufacturers are bringing quality booths to market. With this increasing competition we are beginning to observe a combination of more features and competitive pricing.
Here are some examples, but please contact us for the latest information.
Mute - Space Family
The Mute Space family of booths and pods offer a high quality plug and play system. It’s quick and easy to install and even easier to move. They offer silent and effective ventialtion with an exceptionally high level of sound instualtion.
The mute family comes in an array of different sizes, from single phone booths for individual work and phone calls to 4 and 6 person collaboration & conference booths.
Notable features include:
- Video conferencing VC solutions in all pods
- Optional castors for simple relocation
- Control panel to adjust lighting and ventilation.
- Acoustic rating approx. 38DbA at voice frequencies as shown on the graph.
Spacestor Railway Booths
Spacestor offer a wide range of acoustic products which can be incorporated into any workplace, and offer high levels of privacy, acoustics and technology. What sets these booths apart is the fact they can be fully customized to fit your space. The railway system is a great way to utilize space, whether up against a wall, in a corner or in an open plan area these booths can fit anywhere.
Railway systems can be used as touchdown areas for quick meetings or even to have lunch. With so many options for fabrics, tables, technology and lighting you can really customize these booths to fit your surroundings and meet your specific working requirements.
‘Our workspaces are increasingly becoming places to collaborate and socialise, so the need for meeting spaces is ever-growing. The Railway Carriage has been developed to meet this exact need. Acting both as an ideas hub for collaboration as well as a relaxed, focus space for concentration, this meeting booth has a sleeker aesthetic with a stronger, more modular design.’
Framery 2Q Pod
The Framery 2Q pod offers the customer a variety of interior options to design a unique and comfortable space to meet the demands of the ever-changing office environment. With the option of custom fabrics, different furniture options and integrated technology, the 2Q Lounge interior layout provides a more casual environment for company meetings, a calm space to retreat to during the workday, or an area for socialization.
The 2Q comes with a light dimmer to create different atmospheres, and with adjustable airflow to ensure fresh air is being circulated. These pods are fully enclosed with sound control laminated glass and offer a laminate or birchwood varnished trim to finish. They offer one of the highest levels of noise reduction and privacy on the market today. ‘The speech level reduction (DS,A) of Framery 2Q is 29 dB measured according to ISO 23351-1. Pods with this level of sound insulation can be placed close to workstations in an office and people working outside them will not be able to overhear discussions inside.’
Lastly, what sets the framer pod apart is its eco-efficiency - Framery products are mainly made of birch plywood. All plywood used in Framery products is produced either in Finland or neighboring countries, while all suppliers are required to have FSC or PEFC certification. A majority of the materials used are recycled or recyclable. The acoustic foam and the interior felt used in the products are up to 60–70 % recycled. A significant part of all steel, aluminium and glass is recycled material.
Government guidance on viral transmission suggests that we should be aiming for a minimum 2 metre ‘head-distance’ in the workplace, yet this is very hard to achieve when the majority of offices are based on desk ‘clusters’.
In particular, face-to-face distances can be as low as 1600mm, and no-one want to be the recipient of a cough or sneeze in our current situation!
Although there is some debate regarding the efficacy of screens, there can be little doubt that they make people feel better about being ‘in the office’.
We have now supplied thousands of screens; here’s what we’ve learned.
For most screens, it’s really important to get the brackets right. If they attach to desktops, make sure you have clearances to fit the brackets at the back, and have a look underneath to see if there are any structures or support beams that will get in the way. Also ensure that you know the thickness of your worktops – most supplied in the UK are 25mm, but there are exceptions.
If you are considering mounting acrylic screen on top of existing fabric screens, again it is imperative to know the depth of your existing screens (typically 25-33mm) and to ensure that the existing screens have a structural frame suited to support the new brackets and screens. If in doubt, please contact us for advice.
Better still, consider self-supporting screens that don’t require brackets at all. One of our favourites is Burland’s three-sided Pro-Tech, which is extremely stable and can be easily placed in position and removed or relocated as required.
This screen appears to be more expensive that others at first glance, but as you will see in this diagram, only one screen is required per two positions in a typical desk cluster.
There are far too many suppliers to include in this roundup, and at different times manufacturers have experienced delays in production due to shortages of Acrylic materials. We stay up-to-date with what’s happening so our best advice is to please contact us for the most up-to-date information.
...and if you’re serious about returning to work and creating a working environment that will protect your people in the long-term – and keep them working even if there’s another pandemic – click here to see our Pandemic-Resistant Office concept.