One interesting startup in the Valley area is Cubicall. As you can see in the article on page 4 of this issue, the Van Nuys company makes kind of modern-day telephone booths that are installed in workplaces so employees can get a few moments of solitude. And who doesn’t want to retreat to a quiet space to make a call or just focus for a few distraction-free minutes?

The popularity of creative or open-concept office space gave birth to this market niche.

If you visit many companies, you know that private offices are nearly a relic. Also cleared out of workplaces are cubicles, which we used to deride as “giraffe boxes.” (Offices that had many were “cube farms.”) Now even they seem a bit decadent for the ample amount of personal space they afforded.

Today, we have “collaborative workspaces” where folks crowd together to work on communal tables. There, personal secrets can’t be hidden long. Annoying traits quickly grate.

As a result, you increasingly see people on their phones in the hallways of workplaces or outside in common areas beavering away on their devices. Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems bathroom stalls are regularly filled these days – with lots of tapping noises overheard. Anything to get far from the madding crowd, I suppose.

So yeah, Cubicall’s in-office mini-rooms make exquisite sense.

As you can tell, I was never a fan of creative office spaces. I viewed them as a cynical decision by employers to save rent by cramming more bodies into smaller spaces and declaring it “collaborative.”

However, I’ve come around a bit. For one thing, we just don’t need the personal space we used to, what with the diminution of computer towers and paper files. At least some workers today need only a laptop and satchel, not an assigned office or even a desk. More of us are moving in that direction.

For another, let’s admit that collaboration can be good. There’s magic in a workplace where someone overhears a conversation and chimes in with an insight or a solution. That happens best when people are in earshot of one another.

Finally, it seems that creative workplaces have improved. I used to equate “creative workplace” with grim scenes of laptops lined up on folding tables. You still see some of that, sure, but you also see offices that have collaborative tables in the center but more spaces on the periphery where employees can retreat and work in private – perhaps easy chairs or unassigned offices.