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RIP eavesdropping. Employees are now hiding out in privacy booths or empty conference rooms, turning workplaces into quiet zones. ‘It’s weird.’

Thu, Jan 18, 2024 9:54amGrey Clock 4 min

When David Witting prepared digital-marketing agency Dept@’s Boston-area offices for employees’ return in 2022, he ordered trendy couches, chairs and high tables, envisioning lively collaboration and banter.

Yet when his co-workers arrived, many skipped the furniture and gravitated toward the private booths scattered in the office. Since then he’s jettisoned some of the furniture, and added more booths.

“People are coming in to do occasional big meetings, but really the rest of the time, they want a quiet private spot to get on a Zoom call,” said Witting, a partner at the company. “It’s weird.”

As Covid-19’s remote-work surge fades, some workplaces are quieter and odder than ever. Employees have returned only to park themselves in deserted conference rooms or sound-muffling chambers. Colleagues grumble about booth-hogging co-workers, and some companies have started enforcing time limits on them.

The pods, some resembling old-school telephone booths, have emerged as one of the hottest segments in the $24 billion North American office-furniture industry. Manufacturers such as Room, Nook and Framery say business has been brisk. But some workers and managers say more booths means less eavesdropping, less gossiping, less camaraderie and less fun.

“It’s strange,” said William Blaze, a technology recruiter and consultant, referring to colleagues who end up occupying booths for much of their workdays. Blaze, who lives in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., observed the phenomenon while working at tech companies from 2021 to 2023, as well as at a client’s Manhattan co-working office where he now works two days a week.

“It seems that the goal of returning to office has been to create a rowdy buzz,” said Blaze. “We’re not seeing that.”

Janet Pogue McLaurin, global director of workplace research at architecture and design firm Gensler, said workplace privacy has never been more important. Many of the firm’s clients, which include big companies such as Amazon, have more than doubled their booths and other private or semiprivate areas since the pandemic.

“This is a huge trend,” she said.

Demand for privacy has office architects and landlords scrambling to rearrange layouts. Open-plan offices, often dreaded by employees, are now being peppered with pods and booths that scream “do not disturb.”

Jamie Hodari, chief executive of global co-working company Industrious, said some workers are monopolising private areas in office spaces that were designed for professionals to connect with other professionals. “We see a lot more people linger for two hours post-phone call or a Zoom call because they like having a little space to themselves.”

Booth-inclined office workers say their needs have changed post-Covid, and they have a harder time concentrating among noise and distractions.

At CrowdComms, a U.K.-based maker of event technology, managing director Matthew Allen got used to working in near-silence at the office during the pandemic. When colleagues returned, their phone calls—even at normal volume—annoyed him so much he bought a sound-dampening booth.

Though it was ostensibly for the entire office, he soon moved in.

“It’s quite selfish,” said Allen, who has added a trio of plants. “I think it has very much become my home.”

On social-media sites such as X, Reddit and TikTok, employees generally celebrate the booths. Even Chatty Cathys are seeking them out. One X user tweeted that she locks herself in an office phone booth most days because she talks too much.

Others vent about booths’ poor ventilation and small size, or their aesthetics. Kirsten Auclair, a biomedical researcher in San Francisco, shudders at the harsh lighting in the booths she uses to take Zoom calls at work.

“It casts like the worst shadows, you look just kind of, like, on the brink of death,” she said. Still, Auclair considers the oasis from colleagues’ noise an office lifesaver.

Booth manufacturers insist their products can coexist with collegiality. SnapCab founder and CEO Glenn Bostock said the glass walls of his company’s pods allow for a sense of connection with co-workers.

“They can see you,” he said. “You can wave at them. You can still interact with people visually but you get that audio privacy.”

Other products seek a different balance between isolation and community. Furniture maker Steelcase offers a desk-encircling tent meant to ensure “territorial privacy” instead of silence. Nook, headquartered in the U.K., makes hut-shaped hideaways intended to provide sense of psychological safety without being completely enclosed.

Nook founder David O’Coimin said an office filled with phone booths “is like you have a jail instead of having a workplace.”

Furniture distributor Thinkspace sells booths that Sid Meadows, principal and vice president, said are designed to allow a low level of outside sound. Humans are wired to crave some background noise, he said, pointing to popular YouTube videos of ambient office chatter.

That matches the findings of a study co-authored by Dr. Esther Sternberg, director of the University of Arizona Institute on Place, Wellbeing and Performance. She and colleagues discovered people became stressed when their surroundings were too quiet as well as too loud. The typical volume of birdsong, at 45 decibels, appears to be just right.

Nick Fine, a user-experience researcher in London, describes himself as an “old school, pre pandemic office worker” who enjoys the hubbub of a busy workplace. But the now-hybrid worker still spends considerable time in an enclosed pod to work without overhearing his colleagues’ chatter on days he’s in the office.

“I have ADHD and working in a pod engages my hyper focus,” he said, adding he likes having the booth option when the din is too much.

Farmer’s Fridge, which sells fresh salads out of vending machines, has eight pods made by Zenbooth and a plethora of conference rooms in its Chicago office. It offers about 40 hideaways for the 85 people who work there, yet that bounty of isolation isn’t always enough, even for the CEO.

“I actually live three minutes from here,” said Luke Saunders, also the company’s founder. “If I really have to get work done, I do it at home.”


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AACCI’s Strategic Vision for Enhancing Australia-Arab Trade Relations

The Australian Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) is fostering robust trade relations between Australia and Arab countries.

Mon, May 20, 2024 5 min

In an era where global trade and international relationships are more crucial than ever, the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) serves as a bridge, for cooperation and growth between Australia and the Arab nations. Led by its Chairman, Mr. Mohamed Hage, the AACCI has taken on projects aimed at strengthening relationships and fostering development across borders.

This exclusive interview explores the initiatives implemented by the AACCI to expand its presence and influence in the region including the significant establishment of a new operational hub in Dubai. We also delve into how the Chamber embraces education through training and research, its participation in major international exhibitions, and its active support for both large corporations and small businesses.

Looking towards tomorrow, Mr. Mohamed shares his vision for broadening AACCI’s reach emphasizing the importance of the on-ground operations and cultural understanding in building business connections.

-Could you elaborate on the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry, including its objectives and main areas of focus?

The Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) plays a fundamental role, in promoting business partnerships and trade between Australia and the 22 Arab countries. As a member of the Union of Arab Chambers affiliated with the Arab League, AACCI focuses on strengthening trade and investment ties, across these countries.

To nurture these connections effectively AACCI has outlined four objectives: facilitating trade and investment activities, certifying documents, educating stakeholders, and offering marketing assistance.

Our initiatives are designed not only to empower trade and investment endeavors but to also ensure engagement with specific sectors that drive these activities. With an understanding of the characteristics, strengths and preferences of each country, AACCI prides itself on its specialized knowledge customized to suit the distinct business environments of these nations.

– As the AACCI approaches its 50th anniversary, what have been some of the key milestones and achievements?

I believe one of AACCI’s accomplishments is the opportunities it has opened up for numerous Australian companies to access markets, in the region. Moreover, the strong bilateral trade relationship that has developed between Australia and the 22 Arab nations over the five decades has led to trade transactions amounting to billions of dollars.

This extensive trade covers industries such as food and beverages, luxury hotels and many more services. Each successive generation, within AACCI has built upon the foundation laid by its predecessors enriching their knowledge base and expanding their range of services.

– How does the AACCI leverage its diverse leadership team to enhance trade and investment opportunities between Australia and the Arab region?

Since taking on the role of chairman, my main focus has been on expanding our presence in the region. This led to the idea of opening an office in Dubai, which symbolizes our dedication to deepening our engagement in that area. We have successfully secured the license to open our first office in Dubai after 50 years, which will serve as a gateway to the GCC and North Africa.

I strongly believe that building two-way trade and investment ties requires more than a degree of business connectivity; it demands having local representatives present in each region. With trends emphasizing strategies the value of face-to-face engagements cannot be overstated.

Setting up offices in the region is essential for the Chamber to truly serve as a link and support system for business activities. Ultimately this expansion will bring benefits to our members and partners by providing them with access, to dynamic markets and diverse prospects.

– Can you discuss the significance of AACCI’s role in cultural and business exchanges between the two regions?

The importance of understanding cultures in our operations cannot be overstated. To address this, we have included a training platform within the Chamber to strengthen our cultural awareness initiatives. This new program offers our members access to modules on our website focusing on global business practices.

Furthermore, we have set up a Center of Excellence specifically dedicated to researching areas like food security and cultural awareness. These research endeavors are essential for promoting knowledge between the two regions.

By combining the resources of the Center of Excellence, our training resources, and the forthcoming local office in Dubai, we’re providing cultural awareness not only in the region but also in Australia. This approach ensures that our members are well equipped and knowledgeable boosting their effectiveness and involvement, in markets.

– What is the objective of your on-ground presence at conferences and events?

Participating in conferences and on ground events is very important for increasing awareness in industries like construction where knowledge of opportunities in the Arab world may not be widespread. When we see projects such as NEOM or notice the construction boom happening in the region it becomes important for organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to highlight these prospects. By taking part in large scale expos such as the Sydney Build Expo we position ourselves at the forefront of these advancements.

Our presence at these events enables interaction giving entrepreneurs a chance to visit our booth engage in discussions and learn more about the region in an approachable and personalized manner. This plays a role in simplifying the process and making opportunities concrete.

– With such a diverse membership base, how does AACCI tailor its services to meet the needs of both large corporations and small startups?

When it comes to discussing business it’s important to grasp how influence and vision come into play. Businesses looking to expand are often motivated by a desire to achieve something whether they are big companies or small enterprises. Small businesses typically aim to raise their brands profile while larger corporations seek recognition and market dominance.

Standing out in this area can be tough mainly because the key driving force is the passion to showcase the brand and products on a platform. This determination serves as a motivator for entrepreneurs.

At the Chamber we make a point of recognizing the needs of both big and small players by understanding each members individual situation. We ensure that every member is well informed about the opportunities and risks that come with expanding. For small businesses, this means being aware of the financial demands, while large businesses are advised on the necessity of both financial and emotional resilience.

– How does AACCI plan to expand or evolve its services in the coming years to further support its members?

The importance of having resources on the ground cannot be emphasized enough. Having local staff is key to establishing connections with the communities we serve. Without a presence in the area staying updated on events and activities becomes quite challenging.

This is why, as I’ve mentioned before, we have established an office in Dubai, staffed with personnel dedicated to supporting our members. This local office will help us effectively bridge the gap between Australia and the Arab world. And our members will benefit from insights and assistance from someone who truly knows the landscape.

In Australia we have equipped offices throughout the country staffed by individuals who play a significant role in our operations. This strong domestic network complements our efforts ensuring that we provide support to our members both locally and globally. This strategic approach is crucial, for nurturing business relationships and fostering continental understanding.



Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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