The Pandemic's Unlikely Revelation: Closet Offices - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because it's lockdown season again, and people need some "me" space.

By Joshua Eferighe

For Robbie Friedman, it was just a means to get away — at least at first. Working from home and trying to sell his startup, he found it difficult to field calls and get everything done with his spouse, newborn and other children at home. So, after watching several YouTube videos on how to build backyard sheds, he did just that and retreated to his garden.

This sparked some envy among the locals, and Friedman started getting requests from neighbors to use his closed-off personal shed. Some of them, he says, even snuck out of their homes for a chance to get some alone time. So he started prototyping the boxes. What started as a DIY project became a business idea and then a retail product. He tested the concept in various markets, finally developing the name ootBox.

Friedman’s escapism started in childhood. To escape the commotion of a household with five siblings, he sought solace in his neighbor’s closet (they didn’t have children). “Not because I needed a place to work,” Friedman says of his younger self, “but because I needed a place to be.”

Asian businessman working in hallway

Fifteen percent of remote employees said they almost always work from their closet.

The idea for ootBox was a few years in the making, but it wasn’t until shutdown orders were put in place this year that so many people found themselves needing personal spaces at home. This prompted Friedman to officially launch ootBox in June. “When COVID hit, we realized that we had been preparing for antisocial people like myself,” he says. “It was a perfect set of circumstances for our product.”

Turns out, many people in search of solitude have been clambering into their closets throughout the pandemic. In fact, according to a recent report…

15 percent of remote employees said they almost always work in their closet.

The survey, conducted by Owl Labs, a collaborative videoconferencing technology, and remote work thought-leader Global Workplace Analytics, offered insights into workers’ attitudes toward restrictions, post-pandemic perspectives on life, employee monitoring, video etiquette and more. Another interesting find was that only 5 percent of at-home workers reported being less productive. 

In talking to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics and a collaborator on the annual study, she says they came across the closet question by luck. It was “serendipity,” she laughs, admitting that the idea came to her while speaking to a client — a large, burly man crammed into a small, decorated closet space. She decided then to ask her survey’s more than 2,000 participants.

Lister notes that the survey was conducted early in the pandemic when people were struggling with having their children at home, sharing bandwidth and “just trying to find anywhere in the house that was quiet.” But as lockdowns resume in the U.S. and around the world, in response to surges in coronavirus cases, quiet closet space may once again be in high demand.

Such is the case for Toni Antiporda — a business development associate based in the Philippines. “Since there’s three of us working from home now (me, my mother and my brother), sometimes it can be hard to find a quiet place to write and take calls or attend meetings,” she explains. “As such, I have resorted to working inside my closet sometimes.”

So if a loved one seems to be missing at home when there’s work to get done, you might want to check your closets … and bring them a sandwich.

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