And finally… keep it to yourself

And finally... keep it to yourself

An increase in privacy pods that offer a quiet escape from modern workplaces is being blamed for the demise of office gossip.

Pods that resemble small telephone booths have popped up in offices to provide quiet sanctuaries where workers can retreat to make calls, close deals and conduct delicate conversations.

A generation of workers accustomed, during the pandemic, to working in their own quiet space, have adopted the booths as refuges from the hubbub of an open plan office. Where the office workers of America could expect to hear a few snatches of the personal lives of others, now it is all business.

“That’s the benefit of the pods,” said David Wodnicki, a digital sales strategist, speaking from a pod in the offices of LinkedIn, in the Empire State Building in New York. “It removed all the personal conversations from being in public. Your life, your children, making a doctor’s appointment. All these are not now done on the floor.”

There have been misgivings about the quieter office. “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,” David Witting, a partner at a digital marketing agency told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s weird.”

Chris Schembra, a consultant who gives speeches on ‘workplace connectivity’, told The Times that studies had shown the importance “of those watercooler chats”. He recalled a study in 1973 by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter which “proved that vital information is best passed through a social network through a series of weak or distant ties”.

Ashley Artrip, head of education at the media company Workweek, felt that the pods helped “to mitigate a culture of gossip and talking behind others’ backs.”

She said they could also prove helpful for managers, who could see when their employees were booking the pods to make calls and hold meetings. “It makes me appreciate how they manage their schedule,” she said.

Her colleague, Ben Bradbury, who manages the company’s podcast and video productions, believed office gossip was still alive and well, in spite of the pods. For a while, his company published a newsletter that claimed to be written by the office microwave, which had replaced the water cooler as the centre of gossip.

“The office microwave is where office culture happens,” he said. He also felt that a lot of office gossip had simply moved online, onto communication platforms such as Slack and believed that the pods were a plus. But he added: “What we want to be careful of is not to allow efficiency to build into creative isolation.”

In the Empire State Building yesterday, Wodnicki, 44, the digital sales strategist, said the pods were so popular that he had to hunt around the office to find one that was free. “I had to go to one in the corner of the office that hardly anyone knows about,” he said.

But he did not believe that they had stopped the free flow of office gossip, barring the occasional insights you might receive in the pre-pod era, into someone else’s efforts to book a hair appointment.

“I have been here since 8 am and I have already gossiped for over an hour,” he said. “I gossip at my desk. We have coffee bars.” He had scheduled an afternoon meeting, “to have a coffee and a gossip,” he said. “I often joke with my friends that we want two in a booth.”

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