Bathrooms: the New Offices

Posted on February 8, 2006

The Wall Street Journal reports that bathrooms are the new offices. Apparently, so many Type-A people now work from home that they can't bear to be away from their computers or other tech gadgets even when they take a moment to step into the bathroom. Designers are stepping up to the plate and ensuring that Type A workers never have to miss a call -- even while they're engaged in personal hygiene activities.
With a BlackBerry, two mobile phones, three office computers and wireless Internet for his car, Greg Shenkman is never far from his work. But recently the CEO of San Francisco-based Exigen Group eked out more productivity by wiring the final frontier: his bathroom. When Mr. Shenkman answers the speaker-phone in his shower, the water automatically shuts off. He can open the front door for deliveries while shaving. He's also put the finishing touches on a waterproof computer that will let him answer emails from his sauna. "I took Gates a little too literally," he says. "The flow of information never stops."

So it's come to this. The humble bathroom, long a place of refuge and solitude, is playing quiet host to more workplace transactions. Bathroom business has gone way beyond tapping out furtive emails on a BlackBerry. Lately, more hard-driving homeowners have converted their loos into virtual satellite workspaces, with retractable desks or waterproof touch-screen monitors. Manufacturer Acquinox of New York says sales of its steam shower/whirlpool units -- a hands-free phone is standard in each -- nearly tripled last year to 14,800 modules. Wisconsin-based Seura, meanwhile, reports rising sales of its vanity mirrors, which feature LCD screens in the glass. The mirrors, starting at $2,400, let users check their tie-knot, then flip a switch to watch the embedded TV.


Working in the bathroom, of course, brings old workaholic conflicts (spousal discord, late nights) even closer to home. There's also Warren Struhl's worry -- that he'll be outed when making a call from there. Mr. Struhl lives in Boca Raton, Fla., but he's the CEO of snack-food maker Dale & Thomas Popcorn, which is based in Teaneck, N.J., so he conducts much of his business by remote. In the morning, he spends his first quiet moments in the bathroom reviewing his overnight emails. He often dials into work calls on his BlackBerry, and he figures that if he happens into the bathroom, the acoustics may give him away. To avoid embarrassment, he says, he'll cough to cover noises, or press the mute button. "They know by the echo," he says.

Another emerging hazard: the BlackBerry dunk. "There's something magnetic about a BlackBerry and a toilet," says Paul Normand, president of BlackBerry Repair Shop, a Houston company that specializes in fixing the devices. He says he gets about 100 broken units a day, and estimates five to 10 have fizzled out after customers dropped them in a sink, tub or worse. "They get leery when we ask them, 'Was the water clean?'"
Newsflash: if you dropped your BlackBerry into the toilet, it's time to buy a new BlackBerry.

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