The old adage ‘work hard, play hard’ may not be as balanced as it sounds. Research suggests that failing to take regular breaks at work leads to a lack of clarity, a loss of productivity, burn out and even poor health. It’s also worth noting Display Screen Equipment Regulations suggest employees take a 5-10 minute screen break or change in activity every hour.
Where you take your break can affect the quality of time away from your workstation. As office fit out specialists, MPL explains what makes a good break out area, discusses whether you need to supply those ubiquitous bean bags and questions if it’s ever a good idea to have beer on tap at an office bar.
What Is A Break Out Area?
An office breakout area is a dedicated space for staff in which to relax, away from the distractions of their desk or department. It can take the form of a separate room, a screened-off area or an open plan zone, with comfortable seating, a calm atmosphere and perhaps facilities to make a drink or eat lunch.
What Are The Benefits Of A Well Designed Break Out Space Or Area?
If it’s badly planned or ill thought out, an office breakout area will be shunned by staff and may become a wasted space. Get the design right, however, and you can improve the prospects of your business and the atmosphere in your workplace.
An office breakout area is where departments can mingle, success be shared and introductions be made, without feeling forced or contrived. In fact, some of the best ideas and light bulb moments happen in the queue to make a coffee.
Flexible breakout areas
Choose your office breakout area furniture wisely and the space can double as a quiet hot desking zone or even an informal meeting room. Just don’t forget an office breakout area’s true purpose – a place to escape work – so don’t let business take over.
Keep staff mobile
Many office workers spend hours sitting down and we know a sedentary lifestyle is bad for our health. Introducing an office breakout area is a great way to get employees out of their chairs, on their feet and moving to a different part of the office.
How Does A Break Out Area Help Create A Culture
Traditional office setups that revolve around fixed desks can leave staff feeling they aren’t permitted to take breaks, especially if they’re not provided with a specific place to relax or take time away from screens. When an employer provides an office breakout area, it’s an outward sign that staff wellbeing is important and an open invitation for employees to take care of themselves.
As well as being good for staff wellbeing, an office breakout area is a fantastic cultural asset, bringing people together from different departments and management levels, with less of an intimidating or formal atmosphere.
Well Designed Break Out Space For Employee Wellbeing
Staff caught up in the same status quo quickly become stale and frustrated – aspects that can be made worse if there isn’t a change of scenery in the workplace. Endorsing breaks is vital to employee health. Stepping away from tasks improves mental clarity, gives tired eyes a break, promotes opportunities to discuss issues with colleagues and allows us to reset our posture.
Our shop fit outs and commercial refurbishments often involve manipulating floorplans so a dedicated office breakout area is included. This can be achieved by erecting new internal walls, installing partitions or even using screens to create breakout ‘nooks’.
If your office is predominantly open plan, you can draw people away from their desks and towards an office breakout area by differentiating the design. A change in floorcoverings - from wood to carpet, for instance – will clearly mark out a relaxation area.
Many of the office interior designs from MPL feature breakout areas that go against the grain of the rest of the interior design. For example, we might design an office breakout area to look like a living room, with ambient lighting (table and standard lamps), rugs, wallpaper and a coffee table. Some of our projects have seen us create an office breakout area in the kitchen, such as MPL’s refit for The Acorn Group, where an exposed brick wall, sofa and floor lamp gave the space a more informal feel.
What Type Of Furniture To Include
Office breakout area furniture can provide an antidote to more formal, rigid desks and chairs. The items specified should encourage relaxation and provide a superior level of comfort. Considerations when specifying office breakout area furniture include:
- Somewhere to sit: with their squishy nature, sofas are instantly inviting and encourage people to sit together. Armchairs appeal to people wanting a break on their own and even bean bags have their place, especially if you want super-relaxed, portable seating. Our guide to soft seating in commercial settings is a document worth consulting.
- High traffic durability: plan your office breakout area correctly and it will be well used, bringing into question the durability of the furniture. Opt for commercial-grade upholstery fabric or leather when it comes to seating, and solid wood will stand the test of time.
- A refreshment station: having a drink is a habitual part of downtime and as we discuss in this guide, providing refreshments is a good way of encouraging staff to take a break, reconnect and stay hydrated. A refreshment station can include a coffee machine, a drinks chiller, watercooler and a mini fridge.
- Work surfaces: if an office breakout area is to double as an informal meeting space or place to work, ensure there are work surfaces for laptops and papers. This could take the form of a communal dining table or a bar-style counter with perching stools.
Should You Include Games?
The role of an office has recently been redefined and while in-office games areas were falling out of favour, they are back in fashion as a way of increasing collaboration and getting teams back together. Some of the best office breakout area ideas feature a real sense of fun, and our blog explores the relationship between games and staff engagement.
One of the office breakout areas in our refit for Lanes Infrastructure featured a pool table and a football table, together with a TV. On the latter point, it’s even been proven that staff productivity increases when employers screen major sporting events in the office, so don’t immediately consider a TV a workplace distraction. The entire Lanes Infrastructure project bristled with creative office breakout areas and the installations were high quality enough for guests to enjoy as much as the staff.
When considering what games to introduce to an office breakout area, room proportions will be a major consideration. Both pool and table tennis tables need clear space to wield a cue and return a serve, so if square feet are at a premium, opt for table football, shuffle board or a dart board. Retro arcade games can inject a sense of fun but be cautious about the noise they create.
Is a Bar A Good Idea?
There has always been a culture for after-work drinks in the UK and in some industries, a cheeky pint at lunchtime is also the done thing. The shared office space movement looked to capitalise on this tendency for a tipple by bringing the bar in house. It has, however, come in for some criticism and there are a number of considerations before you install draught pumps and optics in your office breakout area.
- Create a social atmosphere within your workplace: provide a place to celebrate success, get together and mark the end of the working week.
- Gain an in-house place to hold events: from Christmas parties to corporate conferences, a bar provides the expected facilities and ambience.
- Entertain within your office: provide guests with an informal place to relax.
- Offer a staff perk: if the bar is free, it becomes a benefit that can help with recruitment and employee retention.
- Increase your meeting space: many office bars also double as an office breakout area, especially if you run an alcohol-free tab during the day.
- Encourages a drinking culture: consuming alcohol doesn’t carry many health or behavioural benefits.
- Potential to alienate employees: a bar isn’t accommodating of all religions and lifestyles.
- Stock & staffing: someone will need to take responsibility for stock levels, serving and cleaning.
- Licensing: the premises will need an alcohol license and bar staff will need specific training.
- Out-of-hand behaviour: consider who will monitor consumption and step in if staff get carried away.
While novelties such as pool tables, bars and free coffee were used to retain staff, attract new talent and denote a company’s culture, these perks – wrapped up in a quirky place to relax – are now playing a vital part in attracting reluctant staff back into the office. Even if your office breakout area is a collection of sofas and a communal kitchen, it should not be a design afterthought. Its role in employee wellbeing and team dynamics has never been more important.
Our commercial office, healthcare and retail design services can help you get the very best from your building and your employees. Talk to us about office breakout areas and all aspects of refurbishment.