A New Kind of Meeting Space: OotBox on Display in Central Ohio

All photos by Susan Post

Thanks to technology, the number of remote workers is on the rise. A laptop and a good wifi signal and it’s possible to work from pretty much anywhere.

However, “anywhere” tends to be close to home.

“Most people who work remotely tend to stay within two and a half miles of their home on a given day,” says OotBox Founder Robbie Friedman. “They don’t go to one place to work; they have a couple different spots that they use depending on their needs.”

That might be a coffee shop – convenient, inexpensive and good for casual convo, but hello public wifi and lack of privacy. It could be a home office – great for buckling down, but not a place to bring a client or coworker. Then, there are coworking spaces with a culture to contend with.

“All these places have strengths and weaknesses,” Friedman says. “But one area that nobody seems to focus on when you look at resources on the home range is a private meeting room.”

Enter OotBox. Pronounced like its German and standing for out of the box, OotBox provides portable, private, stand-alone meeting pods that are climate controlled and work ready. The goals it to not necessarily replace any other option, but provide a meeting-centric new one.

Friedman got the idea after building his own backyard “escape pod” while working at home. Not only did the 8′ x 12′ office serve as a quiet space for Friedman, “But what was really interesting about it, I thought, was my neighbors sort of all around would start using it for their own phone calls, for their own quick 10-15 minute conference calls,” he says.

With a need for meeting spaces and a knowledge that whatever they created had to be easily transportable, OotBox started building. Friedman says they’ve applied the agile mentality when building – get prototypes out, iterate, and not worry about perfection.

Pictured is the first OotBox prototype. Friedman says it really built itself. Building around a shipping container was an easy choice – it’s portable and weatherproof. For the interior materials, drywall was a no-go because it would crack while moving, so wood was the winner. Friedman’s one big requirement was a wall of windows to allow as much natural light as possible.

The inside of the OotBox has heat and air conditioning. It comes equipped with a table for four, writing surfaces on the walls, secure wifi and in future models, a screen for video conferencing.

OotBox requires a power source, but runs on a regular, outdoor outlet. Built from shipping containers, Friedman also says no foundation or concrete pad is necessary – if you can park a car on it, the surface can likely support an OotBox.

Version one is a modified shipping container – cut down to an 8′ x 8′ footprint, but the two additional prototypes under construction will be built from new 8′ x 10′ containers. The team will also continue to experiment with portability, adding wheels to one of the prototypes.

Curious eyes can see OotBox for themselves as the prototype starts its summer residency in the Art with Anna parking lot in Bexley. OotBox will pilot the Bexley location for free for now. Those interested in using the meeting space can sign up for time through the company’s website. Friedman wanted to get the prototype to a visible public spot where they can gather feedback and continue iterating on future builds

Public place deployment is one of three strategies OotBox has in mind for locations.

Friedman says the initial idea is, “putting them in public spaces, working with the local neighborhoods, local communities to put them in underutilized land and have it serve as sort of a meeting room hub for that local community.”

OotBox also sees potential in working with apartment communities to offer an on-site pod as an amenity. The backyard, private office option rounds out the deployment strategies. Property owners would rent their OotBox at a price Friedman says would be roughly equivalent to renting an office at a coworking space.

“In terms of an owning model, a lot of the thought that went into making it portable gets wasted,” Friedman adds.

When it comes to permitting and zoning, OotBox is still learning as they go.

“Because of the size of this, we don’t fall into building codes,” Friedman says. Technically they are in the same realm as tool sheds.

“In terms of permits, we will see,” Friedman adds.

OotBox had previously been working with the city of Bexley on a project for a vacant lot, so there is some familiarity with the brand, but the plan is to set up the OotBox and see what happens. When it comes to the City of Columbus, Friedman expects a permit for placement as if they were going to park a food truck.

OotBox is on display at Art with Anna, 420 N. Cassady Ave. in Bexley. For more information, visit getootbox.com.

The Art with Anna parking lot
OotBox at Art with Anna – photo provided by OotBox