Once all the rage, the open-plan office appears to have fallen out of favor in recent times, with studies showing they contribute to a higher number of sick days and decreased productivity due to constant disruptions.
According to a Bloomberg report last year, staff at some open-plan offices have resorted to using red and green cups to signal whether they can or cannot be disturbed.
On the other hand, the open-office concept has been zealously embraced in Silicon Valley to support greater collaboration, which can boost productivity as long as the endless interruptions don't have the opposite effect.
With this goal in mind, MIT's Self-Assembly Lab, in partnership with Google, has come up with an answer that lets an office retain its open design but also incorporates temporary private spaces. Appealingly, the solution, a retractable shell fixed to the ceiling, doesn't require any expensive or complex electromechanical systems.
The Self-Assembly Lab calls the system Transformable Meeting Spaces. As FastCompany reports, the retractable shell is constructed from 36 fiberglass rods that are woven together to form a movable skeleton.
A counterweight placed at the centre of the dropdown structure can be gently pulled down to form a 10ft-wide and 8ft-tall enclosure that fits six to eight people. A felt lining on the inside of the rods also muffles noise from outside. Once a meeting has wrapped up, the walls can simply be pushed up like a curtain, returning the office to its usual open-plan form.
The meeting spaces concept was hatched after a conversation between Self-Assembly Labs co-director Skylar Tibbits and Drew Wenzel, a civil and environmental engineer from Google's campus development team, according to FastCompany.
It's not clear whether Google provided any funding for the project and the company hasn't actually installed one of the pods in any of its offices.
However, the tech giant is helping the lab research materials and real-world applications for the technique. It is also interested in how the lab's experiments could help add flexibility to existing office space, of which it has plenty across 70 offices in over 40 countries, and quirky furniture that could mesh well the contraption.
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