Lucy Sutton, associate director, Bates Smart

Two trends are going on in office markets right now that have the potential to finally change the game in the highly wasteful office fit out environment where offices are essentially trashed when a tenant moves.

A newly released white paper claims that modular pods have the potential to offer more sustainable solutions for offices, especially with the need for a variety of fit-out designs and its ability to be dismantled.

The white paper, published by Bates Smart in collaboration with Renzo Tonin & Associates and Rider Levett Bucknall, includes business insights on comparative pricing, acoustics and overall performance compared to a traditional office construct.

Lucy Sutton, associate director at Bates Smart, told The Fifth Estate that businesses were increasingly interested in sustainability and flexibility.

Office pods meet both those needs.

“We’ve been putting them into projects for two key reasons,” she told The Fifth Estate.

“One is the concept of disassembly, and the other is the interest in sustainability and carbon reduction, which is becoming more important to us as a business and our clients.”

Fitouts typically last just four to seven years, she said. “It’s ridiculous how short it is considering how much of an impact on the environment they have. “So, we’re exploring how more solutions can be revised to let them live into the future.”

She said that most of the office pods that her company’s clients are installing are available on the market and typically have warranties of 5 to 10 years.

“What interests people in modular and demountable rooms is that they can be reused or reconfigured in existing spaces when their needs change.”

Sutton said the product is not new but is gaining traction as these concerns become more prevalent.

There’s also a growing need for flexibility, and with the rise of hybrid work, when people are in the office, they increasingly require more video conferencing or phone calls, so privacy has also become an issue.

“There is a greater need for smaller rooms, and that’s how we found the concept of modular pod rooms,” said Sutton.

“Our clients seek to put metrics around these pods, but [only] a thin number of suppliers are producing this type of product.”

Sutton said the interest was strong enough to warrant further investigation, so the white paper was developed to investigate where pods work best, acoustic issues, costs and future demand for these products while keeping sustainability in mind.

According to the paper, market trends revealed that the pods tend to outperform traditional constructions for small meeting rooms made for four people or less across four key evaluation criteria.

The criteria revealed that modular pods are:

  • more suitable for hybrid work environments: with the rise of employees working from home, it is now more important to have small acoustically separated rooms for online meetings, and the demountable pods have a more spatially efficient footprint
  • more sustainable: pods have lower embodied carbon due to the ability to construct, demount and reconstruct with minimal material wastage
  • better value for money: pods were found to be cheaper across the board when comparing mid-range pod systems against traditional construction. Smaller rooms are up to 44 per cent cheaper than its counterparts
  • acoustic separation: stand-alone pods can avoid acoustic challenges of ceiling service clashes

According to Sutton, sustainability credentials were the team’s key consideration when evaluating what was available on the market.

This included “de-mountability and reusability”, thanks to pods/ panel-based construction that allows them to be reconfigured.

“Conceptually, you can use this system to create a phone booth, two-person room, four-person room, but not all systems can do that effectively at the moment – but the market is there, and some of them are doing this better than others,” Sutton said.

“Conceptually, this is where the market needs to go to respond to the circular economy and sustainability drivers.”

Currently, it’s not a solution offered by traditional office construction.

Some guidelines on how to choose an office pod

The paper specified three key considerations for business owners considering pods: cost, acoustics, and inclusions.

In addition, buyers should be considered if the pods meet the following standards:

  • locally manufactured
  • no floor threshold for accessibility
  • modular construction
  • standardised sizes + finishes
  • ready for furniture, joinery and AV
  • standard lighting and ceiling services
  • acoustic with a standard DW rating of 28-36
  • credible sustainability certifications

Sutton also revealed that while there were toss-ups between costs and accessibility, the team made the decision to only assess products that are accessible, with companies Schiavello, Aspect and Zenith taking the lead on this.

“For example, many products have a step up, which isn’t beneficial for accessibility but has higher technology for acoustics.

“The driver for our interrogation is supporting our clients to take a more circular economy approach, as it ticks boxes to future hybrid workplace and accessibility.

“The important thing is, when we compare all these to a traditional room, it’s not something they have.”

~with Tina Perinotto

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