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To fight the scourge of open offices, ROOM sells rooms

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Noisy open offices don’t foster collaboration, they kill it, according to a Harvard study that found the less-private floor plan led to a 73 percent drop in face-to-face interaction between employees and a rise in emailing. The problem is plenty of young companies and big corporations have already bought into the open office fad. But a new startup called ROOM is building a prefabricated, self-assembled solution. It’s the IKEA of office phone booths.

The $3,495 ROOM One is a sound-proofed, ventilated, powered booth that can be built in new or existing offices to give employees a place to take a video call or get some uninterrupted time to focus on work. For comparison, ROOM co-founder Morten Meisner-Jensen says, “Most phone booths are $8,000 to $12,000. The cheapest competitor to us is $6,000 — almost twice as much.” Though booths start at $4,500 from TalkBox and $3,995 from Zenbooth, they tack on $1,250 and $1,650 for shipping, while ROOM ships for free. They’re all dividing the market of dividing offices.

The idea might seem simple, but the booths could save businesses a ton of money on lost productivity, recruitment and retention if it keeps employees from going crazy amidst sales call cacophony. Less than a year after launch, ROOM has hit a $10 million revenue run rate thanks to 200 clients ranging from startups to Salesforce, Nike, NASA and JP Morgan. That’s attracted a $2 million seed round from Slow Ventures that adds to angel funding from Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen. “I am really excited about it since it is probably the largest revenue-generating company Slow has seen at the time of our initial Seed stage investment,” says partner Kevin Colleran.

“It’s not called ROOM because we build rooms,” Meisner-Jensen tells me. “It’s called ROOM because we want to make room for people, make room for privacy and make room for a better work environment.”

Phone booths, not sweatboxes

You might be asking yourself, enterprising reader, why you couldn’t just go to Home Depot, buy some supplies and build your own in-office phone booth for way less than $3,500. Well, ROOM’s co-founders tried that. The result was… moist.

Meisner-Jensen has design experience from the Danish digital agency Revolt that he started before co-founding digital book service Mofibo and selling it to Storytel. “In my old job we had to go outside and take the call, and I’m from Copenhagen, so that’s a pretty cold experience half the year.” His co-founder Brian Chen started Y Combinator-backed smart suitcase company Bluesmart, where he was VP of operations. They figured they could attack the office layout issue with hammers and saws. I mean, they do look like superhero alter-egos.

Room co-founders (from left): Brian Chen and Morten Meisner-Jensen

“To combat the issues I myself would personally encounter with open offices, as well as colleagues, we tried to build a private ‘phone booth’ ourselves,” says Meisner-Jensen. “We didn’t quite understand the specifics of air ventilation or acoustics at the time, so the booth got quite warm — warm enough that we coined it ‘the sweatbox.’ ”

With ROOM, they got serious about the product. The 10-square-foot ROOM One booth ships flat and can be assembled in less than 30 minutes by two people with a hex wrench. All it needs is an outlet to power its light and ventilation fan. Each is built from 1088 recycled plastic bottles for noise cancelling, so you’re not supposed to hear anything from outside. The box is 100 percent recyclable, plus it can be torn down and rebuilt if your startup implodes and you’re being evicted from your office.

The ROOM One features a bar-height desk with outlets and a magnetic bulletin board behind it, though you’ll have to provide your own stool. It’s actually designed not to be so comfy that you end up napping inside, which doesn’t seem like it’d be a problem with this somewhat cramped spot. “To solve the problem with noise at scale you want to provide people with space to take a call but not camp out all day,” Meisner-Jensen notes.

Booths by Zenbooth, Cubicall and TalkBox (from left)

A place to get into flow

Couldn’t office managers just buy noise-cancelling headphones for everyone? “It feels claustrophobic to me,” he laughs, but then outlines why a new workplace trend requires more than headphones. “People are doing video calls and virtual meetings much, much more. You can’t have all these people walking by you and looking at your screen. [A booth is] also giving you your own space to do your own work, which I don’t think you’d get from a pair of Bose. I think it has to be a physical space.”

But with plenty of companies able to construct physical spaces, it will be a challenge for ROOM to convey the subtleties of its build quality that warrant its price. “The biggest risk for ROOM right now are copycats,” Meisner-Jensen admits. “Someone entering our space claiming to do what we’re doing better but cheaper.” Alternatively, ROOM could lock in customers by offering a range of office furniture products. The co-founder hinted at future products, saying ROOM is already receiving demand for bigger multi-person prefab conference rooms and creative room divider solutions.

The importance of privacy goes beyond improved productivity when workers are alone. If they’re exhausted from overstimulation in a chaotic open office, they’ll have less energy for purposeful collaboration when the time comes. The bustle could also make them reluctant to socialize in off-hours, which could lead them to burn out and change jobs faster. Tech companies in particular are in a constant war for talent, and ROOM Ones could be perceived as a bigger perk than free snacks or a ping-pong table that only makes the office louder.

“I don’t think the solution is to go back to a world of cubicles and corner offices,” Meisner-Jensen concludes. It could take another decade for office architects to correct the overenthusiasm for open offices despite the research suggesting their harm. For now, ROOM’s co-founder is concentrating on “solving the issue of noise at scale” by asking, “How do we make the current workspaces work in the best way possible?”

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Technicalleigh
18 hours ago
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Well that's one hell of a band-aid to stick on the problem.
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
sarcozona
13 hours ago
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Breakdown

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Is it time to break up Amazon.com?

I have no problem with this, but Amazon’s revenue is in the $170 billion range.

By contrast, Walmart’s is $500 billion. Walmart is, then, about three times the size of Amazon.

Additionally, Walmart is far more of an oligopsonist than Amazon, treats its workers just as poorly if not worse, and is used by far more people.

Breaking up Walmart would do far more good for the country and the world, as would making every effort to reduce media consolidation or preventing the destruction of the US Postal Service.

But people jump on what’s trendy and novel, not what makes sense.

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sarcozona
13 hours ago
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Memory Hole

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Librarians call it “the 20th century black hole.” You can log on to the Internet and find creative works spanning almost the whole of human history. According to the internet, though, people by and large stopped creating things in the early 1900s, and only started back up again around the year 2000. What happened? Copyright—or, more clearly, our modern version of copyright, an exaggerated, metastasized version that’s now doing a great deal of harm to history.

So true. There are books and games and other software that I used during the mid-80s and very early 90s that I can find no record of any kind on the internet. For books, perhaps if I had the ISBN I could re-discover it. However, all I recall is the title of a book that might have been sold only in a region of the country, or a bit of software that might have sold 5,000 copies and been distributed mostly on BBSes. These items are forever lost to history thanks to obscurity combined with copyright laws.

All times lose most of their history. Thanks to copyright, DRM, and the evanescent nature of digital media, we are likely to lose nearly all of ours.

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sarcozona
13 hours ago
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Vancouver Development — the Park At Oakridge

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A genuine Park Board Park at the New Oakridge

Another in our series of posts on Vancouver’s really big transformation of a 1950’s-vintage, 28-acre car-oriented urban shopping mall into a transit-oriented mixed use community.

And now, something that surprised me.

Nine acres of the new Oakridge Centre will be a park owned and operated by Vancouver’s Park Board as a “. . .destination park for the rest of the City.”  HERE is a staff report (77-page PDF) approved July 9, 2018 by the Vancouver Park Board on a remarkable, first of it’s kind relationship between a developer and the Park Board. (Thanks to Jeff Leigh, regular PT commenter).

The redevelopment of Oakridge Centre will include a new Vancouver Park Board owned and operated park. The new nine (9) acre public park will be the first of its kind of this scale in Vancouver, located partially on the roof top of the mall and partially at ground level. Although not the first Park Board Park built on structure, it will be the largest to date. This innovation in park design will offer a unique experience for existing and new residents in the area and will act as a destination park for the rest of the city. It will be designed and operated to look, feel and function as a part of the Park Board’s system with equal access for all. . . .

SUMMARY

The new nine (9) acre public park at Oakridge Centre will offer a unique experience for existing and new residents in the area and will act as a destination park for the rest of the city. Featuring six (6) distinct park areas with a balance of lively and tranquil spaces in order to provide a wide range of activities, from social, active and fitness focused to calm, peaceful and restorative. Applying a rich layer of ecological and horticultural design, the park will create unexpected nature on a rooftop, redefining what is possible on a landscape on top of a building. Featuring a series of unique but interconnected spaces, the park will be woven together with a rich Pacific Northwest landscape and an 800m jogging and walking track.

The park will be constructed and programmed to both function and be perceived as a fully public, inviting and accessible Park Board park for all, meeting the new park’s vision to “provide a diverse and welcoming collection of park spaces balancing tranquil and active uses strongly connected by an unexpected rooftop Pacific Northwest landscape”, and “ensure vibrant interaction between the adjacent civic centre and the shopping mall uses to create a lively citywide destination while also serving the daily park and recreation needs of nearby residents”.

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sarcozona
13 hours ago
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Late Summer in the City as Gym

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By late summer, we’re in shape.

Good weather, longer days, more trips on bikes, more running, more hiking, more walking.

Younger people are literally using the city as a gym.   On the bike routes, cyclists are stronger, moving faster, more in control – and showing off their bodies.  Ironically, even as the air quality worsens, the city is feeling healthier.

And looking good.

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sarcozona
13 hours ago
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It astonishes me now when I go to other cities how much heavier and out of shape the average person is. Walkable, bikeable infrastructure will get health costs down and make people happier.
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The Vindication of Cheese, Butter, and Full-Fat Milk

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James Hamblin in The Atlantic:

It all happened quickly. In the 1990s, during the original “Got Milk?” campaign, it was plausible to look at a magazine, see supermodels with dairy-milk mustaches, and think little of it. Now many people would cry foul. With nut milks dominating the luxury café-grocery scenes frequented by celebrities, an image like that would surely elicit cries of disingenuousness: There’s no way you actually drink cow’s milk! And if you do, it’s probably skim or 2-percent milk, which leave no such thick mustache!

Difficult as it may be for Millennials to imagine, the average American in the 1970s drank about 30 gallons of milk a year. That’s now down to 18 gallons, according to the Department of Agriculture. And just as it appears that the long arc of American beverage consumption could bend fully away from the udder, new evidence is making it more apparent that the perceived health risks of dairy fats (which are mostly saturated) are less clear than many previously believed. A new study this week in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is relevant to an ongoing vindication process for saturated fats, which turned many people away from dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, and butter in the 1980s and ’90s. An analysis of 2,907 adults found that people with higher and lower levels of dairy fats in their blood had the same rate of death during a 22-year period.

The implication is that it didn’t matter if people drank whole or skim or 2-percent milk, ate butter versus margarine, etc. The researchers concluded that dairy-fat consumption later in life “does not significantly influence total mortality.” “I think the big news here is that even though there is this conventional wisdom that whole-fat dairy is bad for heart disease, we didn’t find that,” says Marcia de Oliveira Otto, the lead researcher of the study and an assistant professor of epidemiology, human genetics, and environmental science at the University of Texas School of Public Health. “And it’s not only us. A number of recent studies have found the same thing.” Hers adds to the findings of prior studies that also found that limiting saturated fat is not a beneficial guideline. While much similar research has used self-reported data on how much people eat—a notoriously unreliable metric, especially for years-long studies—the current study is noteworthy for actually measuring the dairy-fat levels in the participants’ blood.

More here.

The post The Vindication of Cheese, Butter, and Full-Fat Milk appeared first on 3 Quarks Daily.

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sarcozona
13 hours ago
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I don't have access to the article itself. I wonder how correlated the fats measured in blood are to actual consumption?
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