Law Firm Gives Nod to Nodding Off at Work

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By Gayle Cinquegrani

Lawyers at White & Case in Washington can fall asleep at work without ruining their reputation. In fact, the firm encourages them to nap by maintaining a spa-like room with two “napping pods.”

Many technology firms have been offering this feature for a few years, but White & Case appears to be the first major law firm willing to give it a try.

“Partners have used it. Associates have used it. Staff has used it,” according to Frank Vasquez, a partner at White & Case in Washington. “I’ve used it.”

“When you walk into this room, it feels like a pleasant place to be,” Vasquez told Bloomberg BNA May 24. The room is painted a tropical green and has a fountain. The lights are dim, with illumination provided by Himalayan salt rock lights, which look like glowing stones. The two steel and fiberglass napping pods are separated by Japanese folding screens. “It think it turned out really well,” he said.

A committee of associate lawyers suggested the idea when the firm renovated its Washington office two years ago. People wanted “a relaxation place” and the firm called it “a wellness room” on the design plans, Vasquez said. “We really wanted to create spaces that people want to be in,” he said.

Pods Are Popular

A napping pod is “like a Space Age recliner,” Vasquez said. “You feel kind of like you’re in a cockpit,” with the top part of the body “enclosed,” he explained.

At White & Case, the pods are set to end their cycle after 20 minutes, but the user can modify the length of a napping session, Vasquez said. “I think people use them for quiet meditation.”

White & Case doesn’t require reservations or “keep a log,” but Vasquez said he knows the napping pods are used “all day long” because he sees the “steady flow” of people into the room from his nearby office. The two pods, which are available to the 150 lawyers and 150 staff in the firm’s Washington office, seem to be sufficient, so the firm doesn’t plan to add more.

The Washington office is the only branch of White & Case with the pods, but visitors from other firm offices have admired them. “People are supportive of any innovation that improves morale,” he said.

Boosting Morale

The firm isn’t tracking the pods’ impact on employee productivity or attitude, but Vasquez thinks “it’s been a positive morale-booster.”

Christopher Lindholst is the chief executive officer of MetroNaps, the company that designed and manufactured the napping pods. He’s also chairman of the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Technology Council.

MetroNaps has installed hundreds of pods in offices since 2011, Lindholst told Bloomberg BNA May 24. He said technology companies like Google and Cisco--as well as universities, airports, spas, and fitness centers--have bought napping pods, which cost about $13,000 each.

“The tech companies were the early adopters,” Lindholst said. “This is an aid to recruitment” for technology companies because it shows they have an open mind and care about their employees’ comfort, he said.

Overcoming Stigma for Some

Several hedge funds and insurance companies have bought napping pods, but Lindholst declined to identify them because some have asked to remain confidential. “We have to overcome the stigma of sleeping on the job,” he said.

White & Case is Lindholst’s first big law firm customer. “This is something that industry is going to start to accept,” he said. “It’s good for your health, it’s good for your productivity, it’s good for your mood.”

Napping pods are “an interesting idea,” according to Natalie Dautovich, an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and a National Sleep Foundation environmental scholar. Her research focuses on behavioral sleep medicine.

“Naps can be a nice way to ameliorate, on a temporary basis, the effect of sleep deprivation during the day,” Dautovich told Bloomberg BNA May 25. She said “the majority of adults” aren’t getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Midafternoon Is Ideal

“Midafternoon is the ideal time” for a nap, she said. She recommended timing the nap to coincide “with that natural dip in your circadian rhythm.”

Ideally, a nap lasts up to 20 minutes, or between 60 and 90 minutes, because “we cycle through different stages of sleep,” Dautovich said. Sleeping between 20 and 60 minutes could be “more detrimental than helpful” because a person could wake up groggy.

“Napping is condoned or permissible in many parts of the world, but not in the United States,” Dautovich said. “Napping pods are a way to increase acceptance of naps.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington at gcinquegrani@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris in Washington at tharris@bna.com

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