Recognising that pods are a growing part of fit-out projects because they meet many clients’ needs, Joe Cilia, FIS Technical Director, asks if this decade will become the tipping point when it comes to defining certain spaces?

Pods by definition, are something used to contain things, in this case; people. But crucially, they are there to meet, think, talk or simply be alone. Studies have shown that providing dedicated spaces in which to concentrate and collaborate away from the usual office environment allows people to be productive. Pods reduce the risk of distraction and are often marketed on the basis that they provide a level of privacy, and with terms used to describe them also including booths, hives, kiosks, adaptable meeting rooms and even campers and dens, they evoke a sense of what they do and they appeal to a generation of workers who enjoyed similar spaces and ways of working during their days in higher education.

Industry opportunity
Mollie Townsend, Sales Manager at the Meeting Pod Company, said that for many, a key criterion when looking at potential employers was ‘can I work flexibly within a space, or am I likely to be tied to a static desk?’ It seems that the trend for flexible working space that can be readily adapted is on the rise. A recent study showed that about 80% of all new fit-out projects will contain a pod or similar free-standing, enclosed space, and, as the same survey suggested, there is 33 million square feet of office space under development. That’s a lot of opportunity for the fit-out industry.

Mollie said: “Employers are asking for flexible spaces that are easy to re-locate, even ones that can be used outside.

“They want them to include lighting, power, charging points, coms, seating, work surfaces and even AV screens and cameras.

“The pods have to provide a feeling of privacy, but that can mean different things to different people. For example, in a quiet area with little background noise, sound insulation in an enclosed pod may be required, but in a busy, bustling space with a higher background noise level, sound absorption inside the pod will be needed to reduce sound from conversations to below the sound level outside the pod to maintain privacy.”

Measuring sound reduction
Unlike partitioning, there isn’t a uniformly recognised method of testing and expressing the sound reduction of a pod using a single figure. This is partly because it is physically impossible to test a pod using the airborne sound reduction test, which requires a number of readings to be taken in an opening between two test chambers and measuring the sound reduction before interpreting the results using a second standard to produce a single dB RW figure.

This lack of a standard method means that manufacturers use a variety of data from tests carried out on individual absorbent materials, or furniture-based tests, resulting in confusing and sometimes spurious claims of sound reduction from open-sided, open-topped enclosures.

Peter Long of Optima Products, manufacturers of glazed partitioning systems, said: “The design of flexible workspaces now takes a number of quite diverse forms, each with their own particular targeted acoustical performance. “We need a standardised method of testing and reporting that simplifies the understanding of the acoustic characteristics, both from our perspective as manufacturers and from that of the customer, so that all parties can easily understand what it is they are specifying.”

Standard performance testing
The FIS Partitions and Pods Working Group have recognised that unless this is addressed, claims by some manufacturers, striving to outdo their competitors, will lead to a race to the bottom, confusion in the market and disappointed users. To address this, FIS has teamed up with Cundall, the University of Salford and the Association of Noise Consultants (ANC) to develop a standard methodology using accepted standards to provide manufacturers with a way of expressing the performance of their products using test data from independent organisations.

FIS Chief Executive, Iain McIlwee, said: “We are developing this initiative in response to growing demand from industry, who want to be seen to be providing clear, independent and verifiable data, so specifiers can select products with confidence.

“It’s similar to the Acoustic Verification Scheme that we developed with Cundall to verify the claims made in the operable and fixed partition sector. It means that specifiers can compare products, knowing that the claims are using a consistent method of test.”

Andy Parkin, partner at Cundall, added: “As practitioners, we need to know how pods will benefit a space and the people who use them. “By their nature, pods have a variety of shapes, sizes and composition; some are large enough for a group, some are small enough for one person; some have a lid with ventilation, some are open topped and fronted.

“Because of this variety the acoustic benefit will depend not just on the pod location relative to other activities but also their orientation. There is currently no standardised method of determining the in-situ acoustic benefit of pods in their various orientations and configurations, which means that we cannot give our clients all the information they need.

“By standardising an assessment method, which will give information on pod performance taking into account the way they are installed and used, this gives invaluable information to practitioners who advise clients on the effective use of workplaces.”

Do not disturb
Ian Strangward, MD of specialist glass partitioning contractor, Architectural Wallsz, and Chair of the FIS Partitions and Pods Working Group, said: “COVID-19 has had a huge influence on the workplace, we are working and communicating more remotely and when we are in the office, we are looking for enclosed, secure spaces where we won’t be disturbed. I think that ventilation and easy to clean, wipe-down surfaces will be important too as we get
back to working in offices.”

He added: “The health sector has seen a growing demand for offsite manufactured, COVID-safe spaces where additional proof of performance to meet Health Technical Memorandums (HTMs) have added another dimension.”

Pods at Clerkenwell Design Week
It’s been almost two years since the last Clerkenwell Design Week was held and as I write this article (in February) they are planning to hold the event again this year in mid-May. If you haven’t been before and want to see what’s new, what’s claimed and to see if you agree that this decade will see the tipping point when pods come to defining certain spaces, then this could be the event for you.

If you would like to know more about the FIS Partitions and Pods Working Group and about the work being done to develop a standard methodology to provide a single figure acoustic performance,