Pods are redefining the workplace culture in Hong Kong

City’s shift towards open-plan offices and large collaborative working spaces has created a need for staff to have access to smaller, private spaces

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 June, 2016, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 June, 2016, 6:00pm

The thing with open-plan offices is that they’re so – well, open. There’s no longer any door closing for some me-time in this era of over-sharing. If you’ve ever longed for a cosy snug to crawl into during the daily grind, office designers have good news: work lounging pods are becoming a trend.

Australian design firm Bowen Interiors flagged it last year. “Giving employees an area they can sit quietly in a lounging pod and tune out from distractions is becoming a trend,” the Melbourne and Brisbane-based firm wrote in its 2016 forecast. “We expect to see more of these this year, offering an ergonomic seating solution, adjustable lighting, and privacy screens so individuals can maximise their own productivity in a quiet setting.”

John Phillips, director at Bowen Interiors, says the shift towards open-plan offices and large collaborative working spaces creates a need for staff to have access to smaller, private spaces. “The pod is a comfortable, informal space where employees can work independently or hold small impromptu meetings. They provide the right amount of privacy, whilst maintaining the atmosphere of an open plan office.”

Sleep pods take power naps to a new dimension

In the case of Google’s Sydney office, staff can curl up into cocoon-shaped lounging pods as part of a series of “wellness spaces” scattered throughout. Project designer Angela Ferguson says they allow staff to take a mental break from the demands of working life. “We have found that if people meditate or rest for about 20 minutes – typically when the afternoon slump hits around 2-3pm – they can have more energy and more engagement with what they need to do for the rest of the day,” said Ferguson, managing director at futurespace studio in Sydney.

The move towards open plan offices has created a densification of the space, where people find there is a lack of privacy
Robert Wall, managing director, JEB Greater China

These spaces are also about generating ideas, she added. “The best ideas can occur away from the ‘everyday’. A nap pod or wellness space gives people an opportunity to think differently about a problem or issue they may be facing, as well as provide some headspace to allow new ideas or thought patterns to occur.”

Some companies even provide capsules for snoozing. US company MetroNaps has installed its nap-inducing EnergyPods in the workplaces of Google, Samsung and PwC – “even NASA”, according to Christopher Lindholst, co-founder and CEO at MetroNaps. Regionally, SAP in Singapore has them, along with Virgin Active in Thailand, Singapore and Australia, he added.

“The benefits for the workforce are enhanced productivity and long-term wellbeing, since napping has been shown to have health benefits,” Lindholst said. “People are also tending to get less sleep at night: naps don’t replace nighttime sleep but they are helpful in reducing fatigue.” EnergyPods relax the body with their gravity neutral seating and gentle vibration, while the mind is lulled by a combination of coloured lighting and specially composed music. “We cannot induce sleep directly but we can create an environment that is so relaxing, you have trouble staying awake,” said Lindholst.

The shopper: Glamourpods makes accessorising easy

There may be scant opportunity for sleeping on the job in Hong Kong workplaces, but Robert Wall, managing director of JEB Greater China, a global supplier of architectural products, says the concept of pods has many uses, apart from napping.

“The move towards open plan offices has created a densification of the space, where people find there is a lack of privacy,” Wall said. “Many businesses now are seeing that they need to give back to their staff. If they’re taking away individual desks and personal privacy in the workplace, they’ve got to provide some common area privacy.”

This is being done in a number of different forms, ranging from high-backed sofas, positioned face to face, to freestanding mini-meeting rooms, to a soundproof “cone of silence” for times when confidentiality is required. JEB’s Hong Kong headquarters has a mixture of them all, arranged throughout the open-plan office.

JEB manufactures its own design, the Kiosk, a compact, customisable pre-fabricated quiet space for sensitive conversations or teleconferences. It also represents other manufacturers including Framery Acoustics from Finland, and QB Office from the UK, both of which make a freestanding phone booth-type pod.

JEB also works with furniture companies such as Boss Design of the UK, Bene of Austria and Swiss company Vitra providing high-backed chairs and sofas to form a cosy conversation nook.

Hailing from Australia, Wall says his homeland is leading the charge in terms of workplace design. “We haven’t had a recession in Australia, so companies have money to spend,” he said.

“The second thing is that Australians inherently don’t like going to work,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek. “This whole industry has been turbo-charged because companies are trying to get staff to turn up to work and be efficient by creating an awesome work experience. So that people think, you know what? I may not like my job, but I love the place that I work. This is what’s driving all of these new workplace tools.”