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Pods – panacea or problem?

This week, I’d like to share some notes following the Workplace Design Show at the Business Design Centre a couple of weeks ago. A couple of trends stood out.


The first is the rise of the pod – panacea or problem?


According to the CBRE, employees on the hunt for a quiet corner to take refuge from the sensory overload of the office and actually get down to some work rank access to focused working space like a pod higher than a private office – The £30 billion Opportunity: Why Office Pods Are the Future of Work.


Office providers are keen to oblige, as a pod works out over 33% cheaper than building an on-site meeting room is up to 33.5% rising to 65% saving in New York City.


No wonder the cubicle and partition sector is on the march, worth over $6,308 million in 2023 and set to rise to over $9,619 million in 2031 – Cubicles and Partition Market.


I counted over 12 stands boasting variations on a phone booth with impressive demonstrations of sound insulation inside and out.


But although at first glance they seem to offer a quick, cheap and flexible solution to the problem of finding a quiet corner to focus in a busy office, most of the solo pods I saw looked unappealing to me, let alone for a neurodiverse and ageing workforce, elegantly described in PAS 6463:2022.


Classified as a ‘room being used for lectures, meetings and similar purposes’, the pod is excluded from the Health and Safety Executive requirements for a minimum of 11sq meters per person How much space am I entitled to at work?  As an estimated 12.5% of us suffer from Claustrophobia. at the best of times, these solo boxes that average just 10m2 and just over 2 meters high are likely to increase rather than reduce levels of stress for many.


The sheer physical task of getting into these stylish solo boxes with full-height glazed doors with invisible handles and a threshold step is a challenge for anyone outside the ‘norm’: taller, smaller, wider, heavier or pregnant people, those with vision, upper body, mobility or balance concerns.

These issues are compounded by the ergonomics of the interior space itself: the shelf or ledge provided for your laptop are often narrow and fixed, with such a short distance from the front wall to the back that it is impossible to create a comfortable distance between your eyes and the screen, let alone the keyboard or a mouse leaving even the most able-bodied of us peering down into a screen with shoulders hunched and notebook balanced on our knees.


When it comes to the lighting, pods are not specifically mentioned in the lighting standards EN12464-1 which recommend 500 lux on the task for general office work. The standard goes beyond brightness to specify distribution, contrast, colour rendering and glare. Trilux offers an excellent guide – PHOTOMETRIC REQUIREMENTS ACCORDING TO EN 12464-1.


All the models I saw with delivered sub-domestic light levels with no personal control beyond a PIR sensor, one notable exception. Most used a single linear, mini-spotlights or circular fitting from above, casting unflattering shadows and flare on a video call and distracting reflections on a screen, compounded by the glazed side walls and potential glare from windows with no options for shading beyond curtains in some models.


These fall well short of BSI PAS 6463:2022 that recommends shades to control daylight and outside views, providing variety of artificial lights and personal control including dimmers and colour tuning.


Worryingly, pods aren’t covered in the emergency lighting standards either s (BSI 5266-1:2016 to be read in conjunction with BS EN 1838 and BS EN 50172). Even a toilet cubicle over 8m2 should be considered for emergency lighting provision, with standby lighting controlled with a separate power supply. 299Lighting offers an excellent overview of the regulations in their blog here – Workplace Lighting Rugulations.


This exception leaves other loopholes too as WeWork found to their cost as they urgently withdrew over 2,300 pods due to elevated levels of formaldehyde in 2018 – WeWork shuts 2,300 office phone booths over health scare.


Pods may look cool – and offer a cheap solution – but they may not be the silver (silent) bullet and may even turn out to be a false economy.



Lighten up your commute

The commute to work is one reason many of us are reluctant to return to the office. 

But most employers want to see us back for at least two days per week – 83% of businesses want employees back in the office, only 20% are prepared to do so, survey reveals.


According to CityAM, Wednesday is the most popular day for Londoners to go to the office, with 73% of workers braving the commute. Do you feel stressed and itchy-eyed before you even start?

Here are three simple tips that might help!

1. Listen to a webinar or podcast instead of scrolling.

Your eyes zoom around the screen all the time. The movement and vibration interrupts the flow so the tiny muscles around the eye have to hold on tight to keep the image steady in your brain. That’s stressful – you might feel sick or dizzy too.

2. Sip water instead of a coffee or energy drink

Your eyes need water to feel comfortable and relaxed. Caffeine takes water out of the system, making that itchy dry-eye feeling worse.

3. Take a deep breath while waiting for the bus or stuck at the lights.

Your eyes are one of the most blood-rich organs in your body. A deep breath increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, reducing inflammation, intraocular pressure and overall health – Benefits of meditation and breathing exercises in vision loss patients.



Tomorrow is National Confession Day


One reason to go into the office could be to have the kind of conversation you simply can’t have on a video call.  Perhaps you’re worried someone will find you out – or simply want to clear the air. But professional lie-catchers are only slightly better than chance (54%) at getting it right, and that they’re more accurate when they watch a recording of the video than when they’re in the room – The Psychology of Confessions: A Review of the Literature and Issues.


It just might pay to fess up anyway as shady deals take a heavy toll on your physical and mental health – Why people cheat: The psychology of dishonesty.

We all know the classic image of the accused sitting under the glare of the interrogator’s spotlight. But when it comes to choosing the setting for your own confession – or encouraging some one else to spill the beans, the right lighting just might help.

One study compared bright (1,000 lux) with normal domestic (100 lux) and found we’re more likely to ‘do the right thing’ as we feel more exposed to judgement by others. But this doesn’t apply to those with a more individualistic personality type – Effects of Ambient Illuminance on Explicit and Implicit Altruism: The Mediation Roles of Perceived Anonymity and Satisfaction with LightAnother found the campfire effect of a soft warm light: we tend to believe others have more positive intent and choose collaborative conflict resolution over avoidance strategies. Exposure to warm-white light is as good as a small unexpected gift when it comes to increasing our willingness to give time as unpaid volunteers. In addition, in the absence of a gift, subjects volunteered more time under low than under high illuminance –Effects of indoor lighting (illuminance and spectral distribution) on the performance of cognitive tasks and interpersonal behaviors: The potential mediating role of positive affectFinally, classic studies suggest we tend to cheat more under cover of darkness, although these findings are contested – Darkness promotes dishonesty in a coin toss task: A pre-registered conceptual replication of Experiment 1 of Zhong, Bohns, and Gino (2010).


So if you’re planning to come clean, take a look at the lights before you start!


Music to your eyes

An estimated one million adults took up a musical instrument during lockdown –One million people took up a musical instrument during lockdown, as fans crave a return to gigs, with around one in ten of us playing for pleasure – Share of adults who played a musical instrument in the last year in England from 2005/06 to 2016/17*.


Playing an instrument as a child improves cognitive function in later life – Music in childhood boosts brains in later lifeAnd it’s never too late to learn as music boosts brain health into old age as this ongoing study at Exeter shows – Playing an instrument linked to better brain health in older adultsBut practicing is tough – and even professional musicians suffer from crippling nerves before a performance.


Daylight and outside views in helped to calm the nerves and created an experience of a more pleasant, open, warm and bright space. In contrast, the absence of daylight and no outside views not only had a negative impact on environmental ratings, but also significantly increased saccadic eye movements, linked with anxiety.

So if you – or your little one  – is struggling to get on with those scales, find a window and practice there – Pre-occupancy evaluation of a virtual music school classroom: Influence of color and type of lighting on music performers.

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