Open offices kind of suck. Sure, they might look like a fancy coffee shop, but when it comes to getting work done, free snacks and lots of mid-century modern furniture only go so far. Not having any walls means you hear everything going around you, while not having a dedicated desk means anyone can come and snipe your favorite spot. But perhaps the biggest problem about open offices is not having a convenient outlet to charge your phone, laptop, or any other gadget you might be using.
It’s an irritating issue and Steelcases’s solution is certainly...interesting. They think everyone just needs a battery. The problem right now is that in an open office people tend to sit around the perimeter of a room—where all the power outlets are—while the middle remains empty. And it’s even worse for office buildings that converted to open plan layouts from cubicles without realizing that cubes made it easier to hide power cords and outlets in the middle of a room.
So to address the problem, Steelcase teamed up with Anker to create the Steelcase Flex Mobile Power, which is basically a rolling cart that holds a bunch of big ass battery packs that can be plugged into a wall to recharge those batteries when they’re not in use.
The cart can be configured with one or two shelves that each hold five battery packs, or what Steelcase is calling Mobile Power units, so that when you need to charge up your gadgets but don’t have a nearby outlet, you can just grab a battery pack off a Flex Mobile Power cart instead.
As for the batteries themselves, each Anker-made battery holds up to 218 watt-hours of juice, which Steelcase says can last as long as a week between charges, and features three USB-C ports and one USB-A port for sending electricity out to nearby gadgets. Total power output is capped at 117 watts, which means a single Mobile Power unit should be able to charge up to a typical 15-inch notebook and a smartphone at the same, with some extra juice left over.
The design of the Mobile Power unit should also fit right in with succulents and pastel fabrics so often found in modern open offices, looking like some sort of high-tech kettlebell complete with a built-in handle, smooth soft-touch finish, and an indicator light that lets you know how much juice it has left.
Unfortunately, I think Steelcase made one big flaw with its power units: the only way of recharging them is to place them back on the cart. That’s because while each power unit has four USB ports, those ports are only for sending power out. To charge a power unit back, you need to use the proprietary port on the bottom of the battery, which attaches to a matching base built into Steelcase’s rolling cart.
That means if the cart is gone, you’re kind of out of luck, though I suppose this system would discourage anyone that might want to hoard or steal a power unit for personal use.
Instead of supporting innovative design, Steelcase’s Flex Mobile Power feels more like a Band-Aid that could encourage even more companies to push forward with annoying open concept offices. Unfortunately, Steelcase has not released precise info on pricing or availability, but if you feel like a mobile battery cart might improve your office, you might want to start bugging your IT team now before Steelcase’s Flex Mobile Power comes out later this year in December.
Or maybe we could just stop trying to reinvent the office and give everyone a little personal space so they can decide for themselves what works best.
[Update 6/14 at 8:45 AM] We have just received official pricing info for Steelcase’s Flex Mobile Power system, and it sure ain’t cheap. For five Mobile Power units and a standalone power tray needed to recharge them, you’re looking at $4,900. And if you want Steelcase’s rolling cart (which can hold up to two power trays), that’ll be an extra $2,600.