Morgan Kastner was halfway through filing her end-of-the-quarter marketing reports when she got up from her low-partitioned workstation to schedule a doctor’s appointment.
Kastner, marketing coordinator for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, generally likes the open-office concept in BRAC’s renovated Laurel Street headquarters—except during the occasional instance when she has to make a personal call.
“I don’t like disturbing other people when I’m working, and I’m a little self-conscious when I take phone calls,” she says. “I prefer to be away from everyone.”
But rather than step outside, Kastner simply walks a few dozen feet and steps into one of the two phoneless phone booth near her second-floor desk. If occupied, she treks downstairs to the first-floor booths. On a good day, she’ll secure a coveted spot in one of the three, if only for a few fleeting minutes.
Her workplace is just one of several in Baton Rouge that have incorporated the booths into their office designs in recent years. Nationally, phoneless phone booths—sometimes called “booths” or “pods”—are increasingly popping up in open-air offices, becoming to the workplace what stainless steel appliances are to houses on the market: practically essential.
The trendy enclosures offer employees some vestige of privacy in increasingly open—and loud—workspaces. The Wall Street Journal has called them “the last escape from your open-office-plan nightmare,” and the workforce seems to agree. Check out any website selling one of these soundproof booths and you’ll see what a steal $3,500 is for one booth.
Baton Rougeans say they aren’t quite over the open-office layout yet. But as privacy becomes more sacred in the workplace, the booths are rising in popularity—and are nearly always occupied.
Not too long ago, employers prayed to the office design gods, seeking a solution for skyrocketing real estate costs and an apparent lack of camaraderie among employees. Enter the open-office concept.
It’s the layout on shining display at the Walk-On’s Enterprises headquarters in the Southgate Village Shopping Center, which, in addition to a half-sized basketball court, features a pool table, a full-sized bar and, of course, two phoneless phone booths. Throughout the office are groups of employees working in close proximity; open-door policies are both encouraged and followed.
“The phone booths are physically quiet and mentally quiet. It’s a sanctuary to sit and just be with your work.”
—ABIGAYLE BREWER, creative coordinator, Walk-On’s
Walk-On’s Creative Coordinator Abigayle Brewer shares her workspace with five people. Like Kastner, Brewer normally loves the collaborative feel of the space, where visitors like to tour and music plays throughout the day.
But when she craves a couple hours of quiet to vet potential vendors, hop on a conference call or sit in solitude for uninterrupted creative time, she dips into one of booths and gets to work in one of the swivel chairs.
“The phone booths are physically quiet and mentally quiet,” Brewer says. “It’s a sanctuary to sit and just be with your work.”
With more than 30 coworkers and no process for booking a pod, you’d think problems with securing a pod would be rampant. But personal belongings, except for the occasional empty water bottle, are seldom left behind.
And Walk-On’s employees say they’ve never had an issue getting into one, even though one is seemingly always taken—probably because there are two, Brewer says.
Thanks to the high employee demand, it’s rare for a company or organization to buy just one. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation, for example, has had six phoneless phone booths in its North Street headquarters since moving there in 2016.
“Because we have no offices, the phone booths are used by employees … for holding small meetings,” says BRAF Communications Director Mukul Verma. “People who visit here also use them as temporary offices.”
The future of office design
Phoneless phone booths are the just latest innovation in workers’ quest for privacy. Even companies that haven’t installed them yet are resorting to private meeting rooms and other areas for workers to escape, says Anita Byrne, a business management consultant with Baton Rouge-based SSA Consultants.
Byrne says she sees clients trying to balance open-concept floor plans, which promote collaboration and interaction, with a need for more private spaces, whether it’s for “sensitive conversations or more focused, concentrated work as individuals or small teams.”
They’ve gone about this in a few ways. One of Byrne’s clients recently installed a couple booths, but several others have repurposed their existing office spaces to accommodate peace and quiet.
So advanced is the trend that it’s even making its way to coworking spaces in Baton Rouge, once heralded as the creme de la creme in office design.
Cat Miguez, a producer at Launch Media, notices this within the Creative Bloc coworking space where she works. She’s gotten used to drowning out conversations from the three to four people who work near her, but that doesn’t stop her from making a dash to the private conference room or another quiet area whenever she sees it’s available.
“We also have office suites that offer a bit more privacy,” Miguez says. “If I see a laptop in one of those areas, I assume it’s being occupied so I’ll find somewhere else to do what I need to do.”
While there are perks to the open-office layout, Byrne says the escape factor is increasingly being considered in many future office design plans irrespective of industry.
“There is growing recognition that including some dedicated space—phone booths or small team rooms—is an enhancement to the open-concept design, giving people truly flexible space.”