Imagine a world in which you can rent a pop-up office pod in the city the same way you would rent a Citi Bike. Your train has been delayed, or you find yourself with three hours to spare between client meetings, so you pull up your phone, locate the nearest work pod on your app, and bang out some emails. This world doesn’t exist yet, but one designer in London is betting it can.
Like much of the workforce in 2020, designer and entrepreneur Walter Craven was working from his dining table when the idea for a private work pod came to him. Just over a year later, his pods were displayed during the London Design Festival. Designed to cater to a range of activities, from writing emails and making calls to recording podcasts, the work pods can be deployed in a wide array of spaces, such as train stations, hotel lobbies, and even existing offices. For the concept to work, Craven’s company, Make.Work.Space, would need to deploy the pods en masse. But as we continue to seek alternatives to working from home, or the office, or even a loud coffee shop, a single pod in the right place, at the right time, sounds like a good start.
The concept is simple. Using a custom-built app that is currently being developed, you would locate a pod and book it for a certain amount of time. Once inside, you would use the app to control the LED lighting and the temperature and log into the WiFi—all for about 7 to 12 pounds an hour (the exact rate hasn’t been set). That translates to roughly $9 to $16 to sit in a private space and have an uninterrupted hour-long meeting. Pricier than a Starbucks coffee, but undoubtedly more pleasant.
According to an Owl Labs study, 16% of companies globally are fully remote, and freelance platform Upwork estimates that one in four Americans will work remotely by 2025. Today, some of us are working from home, while others have gone back to the office, but Craven sees potential in the so-called third place. “People are on the go,” he says during a phone call. (I can hear the background noise from the coffee shop he is in.) “There’s got to be an in-between.”
The pods are made of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and low-carbon mild steel, while the inside is lined with acoustic panels. A glass panel in the middle lets natural light in, while the tapered corner of the pod, where the seating is, remains opaque for privacy. The pods are “cozy and roomy at the same time,” Craven says. They come with a swivel desk, storage under the padded seat, and a second flip-down chair for a friend or colleague. A set of speakers is integrated into the structure, as well as a wall-mounted LCD screen, plus a retractable camera and mic. Between uses, UV lighting will disinfect the pods and a ventilation system will change the air out multiple times per hour. “It’s for work, but it’s not always about work,” Craven says. (There is always a chance that the pods could be used for, how should I put this, questionable activities, but hopefully the window will be a deterrent.)
For now, only two pods have been built while Craven scrambles to find the right manufacturer. In the meantime, he’s in conversations with decision-makers in several boroughs from Camden to Westminster, as well as Transport for London (TFL). His team is looking at public spaces and major train stations like Victoria Station or St. Pancras International. Craven is hoping to install 20 pods at Coal Drops Yard, a private shopping development near the St. Pancras station.
The cost of one unit hasn’t been decided, but Craven says it will hover around 20,000 pounds (about $26,000), although they will also be available for rent. At this rate, the pods may be an easier sell to deep-pocketed companies than government-owned transportation agencies like TFL. In fact, the first two pods will soon make their way to a private members’ club in West London as well as a coworking space elsewhere.
Phone booths and similar meeting pods have been used in offices for a long time—especially in the context of loud open-plan settings—but Craven is adamant there is a place for them in cities, too. He dreams of a city replete with pods that could double as charging stations for electric scooters, with room to spare for public art. “I don’t want these to be stand-alone escape pods,” he says. “I want them to be integrated.”