When British bank Standard Chartered announced that it would introduce a mix of home and office working for its employees, it was yet another example of the sea change the coronavirus pandemic is causing in the workplace.
But if permanent hybrid working is becoming a reality and we’ll be free to work anywhere, how can we personalise, organise and transport our work and personal items between different places?
It’s a problem that Hotbox inventor Jamie Rothwell and designer Rachel Forster began discussing in 2019, long before the pandemic and the working from home experiment began.
The Hotbox range of products helps people organise and separate work life and home life, convincing Jamie and Rachel that they could make a nomadic Hotbox that could do the same. The advantages they saw before Covid are even more substantial post-Covid when they expect digital nomads’ needs for portability and storage in any location to increase.
Jamie had made a backpack a couple of years ago, but it didn’t gain as much traction as the company hoped, so the team parked the concept. Then, in summer 2019, renowned product designer Barry Jenkins of BroomeJenkins sent Jamie an opinion-piece about the future of work and revived the idea. He and Jamie started chatting and began collaborating in October.
Barry says: “It was natural to approach Hotbox because where other people had failed, Hotbox had made a business of developing useful portable storage products. I was grateful when Jamie picked up the phone.”
As a specialist in contract furniture design, Barry had noticed that instead of corporations dictating how the office will be and how employees work, the worker was rapidly becoming the consumer. He brought BroomeJenkins’ senior designer Julian Evans, freelance product designer Alys Bryan and external expert travel bag designer Don Wilson into the creative mix.
Now, after months of development work that included the first lockdown, the collaborators are launching the Hotbox Shuttle backpack.
Hotbox is launching the Shuttle in a crowded but growing market. The backpack is a modern commuting favourite, driving a global market that’s forecast to grow from $18 billion today to $20 billion by 2024, according to Statista. It’s also increasingly popular with women, who are putting aside their handbags in favour of this more convenient hands-free alternative.
Despite its pluses, the generic backpack leaves a lot to be desired if you want to move effortlessly between home and the office, a locker and your hot-desk, or your desk and a meeting room – and stay organised.
“With a standard backpack or bag, everything’s jumbled up in one thing. Someone says, let’s go and have a coffee downstairs, and it’s a hassle getting it all back in,” says Jamie.
This issue is further highlighted by the fact that hardly anyone uses the day lockers installed by workspace providers like Regus, WeWork or Fora to prevent people from leaving backpacks on the floor, where they become a slip and trip hazard.
“Because you can’t separate your work and personal things, no one leaves anything in a locker,” explains Jamie. “Yet, the whole point about agile working is that you’re agile, moving between lots of different locations during the day.”
“We were all giving some thought to the problems of agile working before Covid, so it’s not a reaction to what’s happening in the market now. Covid has just caused an acceleration of a trend that was there anyway. The Shuttle is more than a backpack – it will facilitate the blended or hybrid working that people are going to be doing from now on.”