Workplaces are no longer just about work. They have become more lively, more homely and even more stylish. Some might even go as far to describe their office as (dare I say it) a fun place to be! Certainly if you’ve got the tech ability to work for a firm like Google or Facebook, then your office may bear a closer resemblance to an amusement park or leisure centre than a traditional place of work.
According to a recent article on Mr Porter (the online news and retail site) the increasing overlap between our social and working lives means gamification has become a major trend in office design. Google’s new London headquarters, for example, features sleep pods, a spin studio, indoor running track and on-site butchery classes! “The seeds of this movement were sown in the Silicon Valley headquarters of Google but have now spread globally with even the most mundane of companies seeming to take cues from the search engine’s campus,” says the article. “ Ping pong tables, slides and pinball machines abound.”
However, as it points out, with companies like Google all perks are closely monitored and carefully constructed to make sure that they also actually benefit the company. Free food means employees don’t have to leave the office for lunch or go home for dinner. Likewise, the gym equipment and spinning classes: Why leave work on time to get to the gym when you could fit in a workout during the day, without even leaving the building?
However, not all employees are looking for this level of ‘incentive’ and some don’t welcome it at all. Indeed, despite the blurring boundaries between work and home life these days – not just in amenities but also design – there are still many who prefer to maintain that distinction and keep their lives more segmented. Whichever camp your staff falls into though there’s one clear feature that has emerged from the changing office landscape which everyone seems to benefit from: The breakout zone.
These are hugely popular now but, just in case you’re not familiar with the concept, a break out zone is an area away from the workstations where employees can go individually or collectively to take a break from their screens, whether that’s to socialise, relax or hold informal meetings. And the gains that this affords both employers and employees are endless. Because getting away from your computer regularly - even when you’re immensely busy, is much better for your wellbeing and productivity; a fact that is now both well researched and well documented.
Breakout areas are also great for encouraging increased collaboration between staff members. By their very nature – that they are more informal than traditional meeting and boardrooms – teams are more likely just to jump together for a spur-of-the-moment brainstorming session or casual chat. They may even result in some serendipitous encounters too, where people from different departments end up conversing and thus learning new information about mutual clients or a new technology.
There are no hard and fast rules for creating a breakout zone but a good starting point is some comfortable, ergonomic seating and a table or two so that staff can take notes or rest their drinks. Modular furniture is also highly recommended so that the setting can be easily reconfigured to suit different situations. It's also a great idea to include Power and USB charging, cleverly concealed in the furniture, to ensure that your employees can keep their devices fully charged throughout the day. If you don’t have a separate space in your office to create a breakout area then there are plenty of stylish, acoustic-enhancing room dividers now available. Finally, think about using this area to inject some colour, luxury or personality into your workplace. It’s a great opportunity to introduce soft seating or sumptuous fabrics to give work environments a lift and make employees feel more like they’re at home or in the lobby of some luxurious hotel!
With breakout zones now so widespread, more and more furniture is being designed specifically with this in mind. Of course, here at P4 we have curated the best of the best and one range that springs to mind is ‘US’ from Boss’s Lyndon collection. US is a functional, modular lounge system comprising both curved and linear elements to allow for the creation of various settings. It’s ideal for individual relaxation as well as casual get-togethers, and its minimalist form offers the perfect fusion between corporate needs and hospitality style. Completely manufactured in Australia in a range of standard elements as well as many options for customisation. US can be upholstered in a range of suitable fabrics to personalise your space.
Another brilliant range for use in breakout zones is Millepiedi by True. This stylish and functional seating system is characterised by a modern, minimalist design and can be used to create a myriad of shapes and configurations. It is also available in a range of finishes and colours, including some nice bright shades to make your breakout zone stand out from the rest of the office and encourage a more lively, informal type of conversation.
Breakout zones certainly don’t need to be elaborate or include novelty items such as Foosball tables or pinball machines. Essentially, they just need to offer a different atmosphere from the rest of the office – one that’s infinitely more relaxing and less utilitarian or ‘work like’. From the smaller, simpler set-ups to the larger ones with all the bells and whistles, a breakout area will definitely affect behavioural change in staff for the better. With more breaks away from the screen and greater collaboration with colleagues, watch as overall performance, happiness and creativity soars.