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Epic Guide to Phone Booths in Coworking Spaces

Nothing vexes a coworking space more than figuring out how to handle members talking on the phone.

In fact, recent research shows that the effect of “halfalogue,” or only hearing one side of a conversation is more distracting than just about anything. Participants had decreased concentration due to the amount of processing their brains were trying to do to fill in the blanks of only hearing half of the conversation.

There are so many factors at play with phone calls and open office spaces that it’s high time we had a comprehensive list of the choices and considerations for phone room options in coworking spaces.

Space Considerations for Taking Calls in a Coworking Space

I often fantasize about my ideal coworking space; one I can design from scratch that will magically solve all my current challenges in my own space, Cohere. In addition to having a stove and oven, I would build approximately 40,000 phone booths into it.

For small spaces

If your coworking space is small or less than about 2,000 square feet, there’s a good chance that everyone can see and hear everyone else when they are coworking. If you have the good fortune to be spread over 2 or more levels at this size, you may be able to designate one area of coworking as active and chatty and another area for concentration and no phone calls. If that just won’t work, keep reading because I’m going to give you ALL THE CHOICES for phone rooms to use in your coworking space.

For large spaces

If your space is very large or over 5,000 square feet, you have sheer distance at your advantage. You can keep active, chatty coworking with phone calls near the front door where there is lots of bustle IF that’s not annoying for people who are on the phone. As you move away from the entry, you can designate quieter more peaceful coworking. Employing visual dividers or racks of plants can help achieve this.

Most larger spaces will have several breakout or meeting rooms that can be used for phone calls. I recommend it. Sometimes a call is just really important to a member and they won’t want background chatter filtering in from their end.

For existing coworking spaces or retrofitting a current space with phone booths

An easy way to get a phone booth in hurry is to convert an existing closet. I have created five such spaces at Cohere, which are detailed below in the DIY section.

For new construction or tenant finish coworking spaces

I always recommend that people plan to build in several single person, double-occupancy and team meeting spaces when they are working with a blank slate. I think Indy Hall in Philadelphia, PA did the best job at this designing rooms specific to calls and even podcasting. Their coworking phone rooms include windows to the interior of the space, lighting and integrated HVAC. They’ve managed to not post a photo of the spaces yet so you’ll have to visit in person!

If you want a bit more flexibility and you have a benevolent investor, there are several beautiful and drool worthy ready-made phone booths, which are detailed below.

What to look for when you buy or build a phone booth for your coworking space

There are several key components you should be looking at when deciding on a phone solution in your space.

  1. Ventilation: little rooms with people and computers in them get HOT and if your phone booths don’t have a ventilation system, your members will be sad, hot red lobsters after only 20 minutes.

  2. Lighting: this seems sort of obvious but many calls are conducted over video so be sure your members look lovely and not like yellowing zombies from one overhead light alone. A nice lamp in front of your members will illuminate their lovely faces and make them look less hobgoblin-y on Zoom.

  3. Soundproofing: it is undecided how soundproof a phone booth in a coworking space should actually be. If you are serving people who need a crazy amount of privacy then you should probably go all the way with one of the ready built options below. I personally don’t think you need a cone of silence but something that blocks 30-40% of the sound will do wonders for the atmosphere in your space.

    It is worth noting that soundproofing is different from sound dampening. Soundproofing is where you block the sound from leaving one space and going in to another. This is only accomplished with sheer mass (thicker walls, sealing all gaps, special insulating materials, doors so expensive you’ll weep). Sound dampening improves how things sound inside the room. Those spikey foam panels WILL NOT prevent sound from leaving the room but they will reduce echo, which is nice for phone calls.

  4. Furniture: a shortcoming I notice in some of the ready-made booths is the size and placement of the computer desk and the lack of chair. Many calls that members make are long and video-based. Be sure you have phone room options in your coworking space that provide a deep enough work surface at a smart height so their computer video camera can actually capture their face in the frame. Do your coworkers want to stand or sit? This changes how high your desk surface needs to be BY A LOT. Ponder that carefully. Don’t scrimp on the seats. I see a lot of phone booths that have little wooden stools only. This might work for quick pop-in calls but if your member is a remote accountant who has to talk about 80,000 lines of inventory of different aircraft parts in an Xcel sheet to an auditor…that’s going to take way more time than the wooden seat will allow her bottom.

  5. To glass or not to glass? I personally think that phone rooms should have a view. Even some glass between the phone booth and the interior of the space will keep members from feeling claustrophobic. It also helps to see at a glance which rooms are in use.

Keeping those factors in mind, let’s find you the phone booth of your dreams.

ALL THE PHONE BOOTH CHOICES for Coworking Spaces

READY-MADE PHONE BOOTH, SHIPS COMPLETE TO YOUR DOOR

Alibaba ~$2600 (shipped to a major city)

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I want to believe in this phone booth. It appears to be one of the most affordable ready-made choices but international shipping can double the price. If you keep reading you’ll see that this is a complete and utter knockoff of one of the other booths I researched below. This is worth considering for ethics purposes.

Ventilation: yes

Soundproofing: unsure, the manufacturer doesn’t supply sound reduction info on the website but the basic construction leads me to believe you would have a reduction in sound

Lighting: integrated LED overhead

Furniture: unclear if stool is included, the desktop appears very shallow, unsure if you can adjust the height of the desktop

Glass: yes, glass door

Other considerations: if in the USA be sure to buy the booth with US dimensions since the metric ones are a little too big to fit through a standard American doorway. Coworking pro Craig Baute of Creative Density Coworking in Denver had the following to add about this particular phone booth,

“The shipping process was the most intimidating part of the entire thing. The CIF shipping to Port Denver for a single phone booth was $600. I hired an importing company $55 to do the ISF Filing fee. This made sure the import documents had the right classification.

There were unexpected fees that added up to more than $400 in additional fees.

  • Arrival notice fee and admin cost - unknown reason I was charged this, but you pay it anyway

  • Warehousing fee - the phone booth has to go into a holding spot once Customs gets it. It then sits there until you pick it up. I think it could sit in the holding warehouse for two weeks.

  • Customs fee - charged by the US government

  • Delivery from the warehouse to the location. This is dropped off in front of the building, not brought in. It is fully assembled and weighs hundreds of pounds so further assistance is needed.

Overall, the total cost was around $2600.”


I would opt in for some sound dampening upgrades and upgraded glass that would add another $200 to $300 in the total expense. 

READY-MADE PHONE BOOTH, SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

Zenbooth $4,495 + $350 shipping

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The Zenbooth straddles price points between Framery and Room. It has many identical features to Framery and Room. The main advantage I noticed is the plexi-glass ceiling for added light and ethernet seems to come standard.

Ventilation: 2 exhaust fans

Soundproofing: yes, it includes a magnetic door closure, insulated panels and sound dampening interior finishes

Lighting: integrated lighting

Furniture: standard desk is 30” wide. Upgrade to an adjustable desk for $445 more

Glass: yes on both the door and ceiling

Bonus items: free shipping if you order 2 or more. The claim assembly is 25 minutes.

Framery O model $9,333 (delivered and installed to Northern Colorado)

The Framery phone booth for open coworking spaces feels like shopping for an iphone. Delightful colors and thoughtful design make it a very attractive experience however the cost of one Framery O booth costs MORE THAN ALL THE FURNITURE IN MY ENTIRE SPACE. So while I wouldn’t recommend this product for a diy/bootstrapper, if you’ve got a bunch of spare cash and want a jaw-dropping phone call experience, this is your booth.

framery.jpg

Ventilation: yes but there aren’t many details provided on how it works

Soundproofing: yes, the website claims that conversations remain “private” so we’re assuming near 100% isolation

Lighting: integrated LED overhead

Furniture: 27”x13” with an extended version available, adjustable stool is included

Glass: yes, glass on both sides so the booth is “see through”

READY-MADE PHONE BOOTH, SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

Room $3,494 (shipped to your doorstep)

I have my eye on Room. The booths look lovely and require a small amount of assembly, which is why their price point is more attractive than others.

roomphonebooth.jpg

Ventilation: yes, cool air is drawn in near the floor and warm air is pushed out through the ceiling. A+ on knowing the basics of thermodynamics, Room!

Soundproofing: 1.6” of soundproofing material, magnetic door closure

Lighting: integrated LED overhead on a motion sensor—smart!

Furniture: the desktop is at standing or stool height of 43”, desktop is 13.5”D x31.5”W

Glass: yes, the door is glass

Bonus items: 2 integrated power outlets, free shipping, 100 day trial period, leveling feet

DIY RETROFIT CLOSET PHONE BOOTH

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I have become somewhat of a seasoned, grizzled pro when it comes to turning closets into phone rooms. And by “Pro” I mean, there is a lot of room for improvement in this process.

In both cases I used either a handyman for the above to turn one large closet with louvered doors into two small rooms measuring about 4’x’4’ each. He added a switched light fixture and outlet to both and I added a small desk, wheeled office chair, lamp, power strip and some sound dampening solutions (giant curtains and fabric wrapped foam boards).

Owing to the giant glass doors on these, they are not sound proof but they muffle what’s happening inside somewhat. They are not perfect. The single greatest problem with these phone rooms is the lack of ventilation. It gets smoking hot in there so I am constantly on the search for how to add a quiet/small exhaust fan to each towards the top of each room. Stay tuned.

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During our remodel, I axed THREE more closets in an awkward hallway to make three more phone booths. They got the same basic treatment by a general contractor as the previous ones only we did curtains in lieu of doors (due to hallway traffic). As you might imagine this provides no sound barrier at all. This hallway is a main thoroughfare on the way to the kitchen and bathrooms. We’ve found that people are actually ducking into them to be left alone more than talk on the phone and I think that’s alright!

These rooms are furnished with IKEA standing desks, switched wall sconces, power strips, stools and rugs.

Ventilation: no, only what accidentally comes in through the door gap or curtains

Soundproofing: none, whatsoever. The ones with doors reduce the sound by 15%-ish

Lighting: switched wall sconces and some lamps

Furniture: 2 of the booths have large curtains, small IKEA desks and wheeled chairs, 2 have IKEA standing desks and stools and one has a low folding tabletop with wheeled chair.

Glass: yes, the door is glass or curtains that block all light

Bonus items: decorated with unexpected 80s band posters or rugs with surfing dachshunds and macrame decor my mom made

DIY BUILD YOUR OWN PHONE BOOTH

THE FELLOW PHONE BOOTH: ~$1,150-$2,000

I’ve saved the best for last. I came across the perfect diy phone booth solution for coworking spaces. This model by The Fellow coworking space in Kansas has all the features I look for, can be customized to fit your style and budget and absolutely won’t break your bank. If you have any kind of DIY chops or have a friend who can read and use a saw and drill, this is the best phone booth option.

Ventilation: yes, cool air is drawn in via small holes and pulled out by the exhaust fan

Soundproofing: customizable using spray foam or rock wool insulation panels in the wall assembly and as many echo-busting foam panels on the interior you want to purchase

Lighting: integrated switched wall light of your choosing

Furniture: the desktop is built into the plans so you can customize the size and height

Glass: yes, the door is glass and you can opt to add a curtain as well

Bonus items: integrated outlet and the ability to get whatever type of chair/stool/decor fits best with your members’ preferences. The price will vary depending on the quality of the materials you use and if you DIY this or hire someone to do the labor for you. $250 to buy the plans, $900 in materials and labor is what makes up the total cost range for this phone booth.

We are delighted to partner with The Fellow and you can buy the blueprints and instructions right here at DIY Coworking.

I hope the above post has illuminated the many different phone booth options that are available to coworking spaces no matter their size or budget. If you have found another booth that you would like me to review or add to this post, please send me a note.



How to Recession-Proof Your Coworking Business

History

98.36% of coworking spaces opened after the last recession was technically over in 2009. This means that just a handful of spaces in the United States have ever experienced what it’s like to survive a recession.

This article will help coworking space owners plan ahead for the next recession.

Number of Coworking Spaces by Year Worldwide via Statista

https://www.statista.com/statistics/554273/number-of-coworking-spaces-worldwide/

What happens during a recession

A recession starts when the US experiences a loss in 2 consecutive quarters in real GDP, income, employment, manufacturing, and retail sales.

The most critical factors that affect coworking spaces during a recession are:

  • lay-offs for W2 employees

  • an increase in freelance and contract workers

Remote workers tend to form a stable membership base for coworking spaces in strong economies. According to diycoworking’s recent research, 50% of companies pay for all of their remote workers coworking memberships. Remote workers tend to have better retention and their memberships don’t fluctuate because their incomes don’t.

If a recession comes, layoffs of these remote workers could be one of the first big challenges spaces will notice to the bottom line.

In the same vein, as full-time workers are laid off, their companies may pivot to hiring them back as contract laborers to cut their own costs (thereby not paying for the coworking membership any longer) OR the remote worker will put their skills to use as freelancers. Going from a full-time paycheck to fluctuating contract-based pay will be a huge adjustment for members. The great news is, proactive coworking communities can help members transition to new ways of working/earning. Keep reading for specific examples.

Plan ahead for a recession to affect coworking spaces

  • Start saving money now

The easiest thing operators can do today to protect themselves for the future is to streamline and cut costs where ever possible. This is a great time to review all vendors/spending and see if there is a lower price on staples like toilet paper and coffee so you can start taking advantage of savings before it becomes mandatory.

  • Start a coworking scholarship fund/create a co-op style member “staff”

Many coworking spaces have “Super Members” and can’t imagine life without them. Savvy operators will put back $25/month into a coworking scholarship fund and use this fund to supplement a few key memberships so the community doesn’t lose its best coworking evangelists to job loss.

A great way to reduce staffing costs is to offer members a discount in return for helping to run the space. Examples include having members staff the front desk for a half-day/week, giving tours, tidying up or setting up for events. A work/membership trade program allows loyal members to stay on even if their income takes a hit and it allows operators to reduce the costs of running the space.

  • Diversify membership offerings

One thing that has puzzled me about newer coworking spaces is their pricing. Most spaces tend to just offer full-time memberships or private offices. I think this has to be a factor of opening a space in a strong economy. They’ve never had the misfortune of selling to people who are flat broke.

My coworking space Cohere opened at the tail end of the last recession and our MOST POPULAR MEMBERSHIP was the $48/mo one day/week plan. It was a membership level that sold like hotcakes to struggling freelancers, job seekers and even students b/c it reflected about how much people were spending on coffee at the cafe anyway. Our prices have increased in the last decade but the one day/week plan is still the most popular.

Cohere still offers multiple part-time memberships and 87% of our members have part-time memberships. So rather than trying to retain a few people at full-time expensive memberships, my risk is spread out over many, many members who are paying anywhere from $19-$199/mo. In fact, this is a super strategy according to 37signals.

Alex Hillman of IndyHall has this sage advice for new space owners facing a recession:

Take a good hard look at your membership: if it's mostly startups, expect a lot of them to shrink or go out of business.  Focus more on how you can connect/help/create value for small and solo businesses owners. They're the ones most likely to thrive in an economic downturn. -Alex Hillman, IndyHall

  • Reduce the coworking space’s square footage

It may be impossible to imagine a world where you would reduce your square footage during strong economic times but that’s exactly what Co-founder Susan Dorsch of Office Nomads in Seattle, WA just did. Their position is unique because they opened prior to the last recession and weathered it and I think their decision to preemptively shrink is brave and brilliant.

Since shedding our additional space [by half] I feel so much more confident in our ability to build our business back to full strength. And I can already tell that the community of members here feels more connected and more in tune with one another than we were just a couple of months ago. I'm so eager to see what happens next.  -Susan Dorsch, Office Nomads

A drastic reduction in square footage could be a very wise move for spaces where the lease is up for renegotiation AND the space is less than 60% full. The added bonus is that reducing square footage makes the physical community more dense and bumps up the energy, which is a boon during tours and events.

  • Look inward at your community

Many times, new coworking owners will focus too much on the people who aren’t members and not enough attention on the people who are already there. Susan of Office Nomads has been down this road too.

From those first years to now nearly 11 years of being in business, I've learned that anytime we are feeling stressed about our bottom line the answer is to look inward. When we focus 1000% on making our place and our community awesome, we are more successful. Every time. Anything that pulls our attention from that core work of community building usually leads to our bottom line not being quite as strong. Having twice as much square footage pulled our attention away. That wasn't the intention of course (we were bursting at the seams full and were eager to see if we could expand our potential by having more room to grow), but that is how it came to be.  -Susan Dorsch Office Nomads

IndyHall in Philidelphia also weathered the last recession. Alex Hillman cites the following differences for running a space in a recession vs a strong economy:

Recessions are great for figuring out who actually creates value for their customers & clients. Coworking is less of a "luxury item" during a recession. It's less about cool, and more about "how is this helping me?" 

Similarly, I think people are more focused and creative during a recession. Constraints are a creative force. 

It's counter-intuitive, because for job-holders a recession usually means "I might lose my job." But for independent workers, it's full of opportunity. Work still needs to get done. 

  • Renegotiate the lease

According to Commercial Real Estate Expert Annah Moore, tenants CAN and absolutely do renegotiate their leases at renewal to achieve lower rent rates in hard economic times.

During the downturn, negotiating lower rents from tenants in a renewal was very common, especially when they could site lower costing options available from other motivated landlords with vacancy. - Annah Moore, CBRE | Advisory & Transaction Services

Also consider a mid-lease renegotiation but they are a little trickier…

Renegotiating mid lease term doesn’t happen much, as there needs to be a motivating factor/incentive for landlord to lower the rent when they have a commitment from the tenant.  Cases where a landlord would consider lowering the rent mid-lease would include some upside to the landlord, most likely in the form of a longer lease term from tenant.  So if a tenant has 1-2 years left at $15/SF, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a landlord to agree to lower that to $13 or $14, likely with escalators, if the lease amendment reflected a 5+ year extension to the lease.  So the landlord is trading some existing income for greater certainty for the future. -Annah Moore, CBRE | Advisory & Transaction Services

  • Buy a building (but only at the end of the recession when prices are low)

If I were flexible enough, I’d actually kick my own ass for not buying a commercial building in 2009 when Cohere was founded and the commercial real estate sector was hurting in my town. The building we currently lease sold for $550,000 in 2010. It is currently worth upwards of $1,400,000 and if I had the guts to buy it back then my operating costs would be half what they are today.

It’s worth talking to a commercial lender NOW, while the getting is good so you’ll be well-educated if you need to make that decision later. I tried to buy our building a year ago. My offer was rejected but now I am familiar with the commercial lending process AND I know how much my family can afford should I decide to pursue it again.

  • Support job-seekers with special programming to preserve their sanity

Job search might be one of the toughest most soul crushing experiences ever. Weave supportive networks under job-seekers by having special deals while they are in job search and specialized programming to support their mental health during the process. A weekly accountability group like Cotivation is a ready to use program community managers can buy here for just $29.00. This one-time purchase can be used as many times as needed.

Office Nomads had a brilliant program during the last recession.

I think that one of the central elements for us making it through those tough times was staying laser-focused on our core offerings. I remember back in 2008 we ran a "Pink Slip Special" for people who had been laid off by their companies. We knew that many of those people were just going to head home to try and regroup. We knew that they'd be much more successful in that regrouping process if they were among friends and collaborators instead of their cats. So we extended our hands to help. Instead of being panicked about our business success, we focused on what it is that we knew we could do – give people a place to be and an opportunity to be part of a growing community. Turns out that not only helped our members, but it helped our success as well.  -Susan Dorsch Office Nomads

  • Begin a list of classes to teach people how to freelance/contract

Cohere’s most popular events during the last recession were those that helped laid off workers learn how to freelance. Our primary customer was one that had recently been laid off and was now starting to freelance for the first time.

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One of the greatest benefits coworking communities can give current and prospective members is access to resources that help people earn money. Great courses to offer are: Contract Writing 101, SEO for Small Business and Create a One Page Website in a Day. There’s no need to bring in the big guns to teach either. Your members are a wealth of info. Let them practice teaching lessons on the subjects they know the most about.

Conclusion

I’m clearly not an expert in economics. I don’t know if or when the next recession will happen or why. As a huge fan of coworking and its power to connect people and dismantle loneliness, I think coworking operators everywhere should start planning now so we don’t lose our most vulnerable members to their dining room tables when they lose their jobs.

Start by saving now and end with kick-ass programming built by and for your members that will help them earn money in new ways.

Looking to start a coworking space? Get the Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence Workbook. It’s filled with practical advice and actionable tips to help you build a recesssion-proof coworking business.

Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence ebook
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