Ever needed a private meeting space in an open office? MIT, Google invented one

Open office spaces look cool and offer a more open workspace, but disruption and lack of privacy are ongoing issues. Inspired by a conversation with Google, MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab designed a drop-down cubicle that creates a private meeting area in open space, according to ZDNet.

The Transformable Meeting Space can be installed in existing open office spaces or factory floors without significant structural or electromechanical requirements. You just need a high enough ceiling and the means to hang the retractable shell at a sufficient height from the floor.

The self-forming meeting pod is comprised of 36 felt-lined fiberglass rods woven together. The structure remains suspended above the floor until needed. When someone wants to call a private meeting, or simply have a place to focus or work without disruption, the transformation is easy. The felt lining on the rods keeps noise from traveling outside the pod.

A counter weighted, mechanical pulley system with two handles hangs from the retractable shell. Pull one handle and the shell gradually drops down. The concept design example forms an enclosure with space for six to eight people that measures 8 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. When the meeting is over, or you no longer need private space, pull the second handle and the structure rises out of the way.

Employee backlash about open space offices is growing, according to Fortune.  The list of complaints include constant disruption, decreased productivity, the increased spread of communicable diseases, and, in a cited Bloomberg article, “being forced to listen to phone calls about the veterinary issues of your co-workers’ cats.”

So if open offices are falling out of favor, the lure of the open concept boosting collaboration and joint creativity is still strong. Startups adding and changing employees and work groups on the fly are drawn to the versatility of offices without walls.

Alternative solutions like the Transformable Meeting Space could be one method to have it both ways without disruptive structural change or high expense. A suspended gridwork with multiple retractable pods of different sizes that could be repositioned would enable a large, open space to be reconfigured for private work and group meeting spaces as needed.

The Self-Assembly Lab is a “cross-disciplinary research lab at MIT inventing self-assembly and programmable material technologies aimed at reimagining construction, manufacturing, product assembly and performance,” according to the lab’s website.

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