In Spring 2017, 43-year-old Endrus Arge was forced to take time off from the office furniture company that he had founded almost two decades earlier due to illness.
While confined to his home, Arge began brainstorming ideas for improving the traditional office environment. He'd always noticed the lack of flexibility that office spaces provided, particularly when it came to meeting spaces: a better alternative to static rooms, Arge thought, would be to have modular, soundproof meeting 'pods' that could sit within any open-plan office and offer privacy and convenience to those who needed it.
This idea eventually became Silen Space. "A few days later after sketching the idea, I walked into the office, introduced it to our team, which further accelerated the idea," says Arge.
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After a year of research and development, Silen launched its first meeting pod in autumn 2018. Its pods were quickly noticed at international fairs – at one of the first ones it attended, they were approached by a company that eventually became the Silen distributor in the United States.
At another in Stockholm, some well-dressed people approached a Silen salesman and asked him whether he could leave the pod he was sat in so they could measure the soundproofing. It turned out they were the representatives of Spotify, and returned the next day to buy all the sample pods Silen had at the fair.
Fast forward to today, and Silen's pods can be found in the offices of Spotify, Airbus, Amazon, Bolt, Coca-Cola, EY, Lego, Maersk, P&G, Porsche and Volkswagen, among others.
The Estonian company currently has four office pods in its product line-up, the smallest designed for single-person use and the largest consisting of three modules that can hold a meeting for 12 people.
One of Silen's key design goals is ensuring privacy and security while working in public spaces. The pods are transparent only from the inside, so passing strangers cannot peer in. The soundproofing also sets Silen apart from its competitors, with the company claiming that noise levels inside its pods are up to 43 dB lower than those outside.
Arge believes Silen's modular meeting rooms are well-positioned to take on the challenges highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created demand for radical new approaches to working patterns and more time spent working outside of traditional offices.
Instead of trudging into an office every morning, Arge believes in the emergence of hybrid-style workspaces that allow people to work from anywhere. In his view, people will start using meeting pods and workstations wherever they are: in cafeterias, restaurants, shopping malls, and other public spaces.
Each Silen pod has an air circulation system, splashproof electrical sockets, and automatically controlled LED lights. Modules can be attached or detached depending on how big a meeting space is required, and rolled from one location to another based on where it's needed thanks to built-in wheels.
"The big question is: what does a future office look like in five or 10 years? Video calls bring people together without the need of commuting between home and office. Simultaneously, people want social interaction. Nobody wants to work in a home office 24/7/365," Arge says.
"People are more mobile than ever before, and would like to have great environments for focusing wherever they are at the moment the focus is needed."
Silen is hoping to have thousands of its pods installed in public places by the end of next year, and is starting with Tallinn, Estonia, in the coming months.
The company will launch an online marketplace this summer that will allow property owners and renters in busy business districts and transportation hubs in Europe and the US to have pods installed in their premises. Members of the public will be able to hire booths out via a digital interface and then access them using their smartphones. Customers can use the pod for as long as booked or is needed, and then pay for the time spent upon leaving.
"It literally works the same way as Uber Rent or Bolt Drive – the only difference is that instead of renting a car, you rent a pleasant, private, and silent room with WiFi and a plug wherever you are," says Arge.
Arge is cautious about integrating other electronic solutions into the pod systems, as they may become obsolete too fast. Instead, he believes the real innovation lies in acoustics, design, material, ventilation and modularity.
"We've seen our competitors trying to integrate different electronic devices or smart solutions into the meeting pods during the last years. We think a little differently," he says.
"Customers use the pods mostly with their own devices, [meaning] our meeting rooms are still good to use in 15 or 20 years. What would a person think about a meeting room with a fax machine in 2021 that could not even be used because its software didn't interact with other devices?"