Digital engagement keeps us transfixed by computer screens to the point where the concept of breakout areas has taken shape and spread over offices all around the world.
When you think about the way contemporary offices came to be, you start to realize that we've inherited architectural styles and working practices that go back for hundreds of years. By reflecting upon the type of work that used to take place since post-medieval English trade posts, marching through shifts brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent frenetic growth of companies into modern corporations in the United States that culminate in what’s commonly called the Information Age, you find an important shift going on from about a decade or two until the present day.
Working practices, working tools, and working rhythms have changed drastically over the last years. For better or worse, information technologies have overtaken workplaces completely. We’ve barely come to terms with the present situation, one in which we spend longer work hours on average, usually sitting behind a desk and looking at a monitor for hours.
What used to be an endless stream of paperwork became a digital landscape where everything is done through computers. Common boardroom meetings that were always in person (with the occasional conference phone call) have morphed into a constant entanglement of communication and video-chat meetings for people collaborating around the world. Where working times were loosely based on schedules in which the company kept tabs on every hour you spent at your desk, people now voluntarily stay for longer times to crunch out all the work they can before reaching their deadlines.
Times have changed, office life has changed. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing: it's just a sign of things moving forward in unexpected ways.
This prevalence of digital engagement in which we're constantly transfixed by computer screens has given ground for the concept of 'breakout areas', taking many shapes and spreading over modern offices all around the world.
Why Should You Have a Breakout Area?
Breakout areas are basically an open space where employees and visitors can be separate from their regular workstation, providing a different ambiance where they can relax, have informal meetings, take a break from their screens and enjoy themselves for a little while before getting back to the action.
For places where worker safety laws require that employees be allowed breaks during the day, these types of places are the perfect space in which to give your hard-working people a moment to center themselves and enjoy some time in-between duties. And even though for some small companies it might seem like a superfluous use of space and resources, the impact that this type of gesture can have on the performance of a workforce cannot be overstated or underestimated.
Efficiency through Rest, Teamwork through Comfort
When considering jobs that require physical efforts such as construction or transportation, it is much easier to understand the need for rest between extended periods of action. After all, our body sends us clear signals whenever we've strained our ability to carry weight or use our muscles.
Consequently, our mind works in much of the same way even though the signals might not be so instinctively clear: We put thought, attention and a creative effort in the work we do in an office, and even the best and most prepared of us cannot operate at maximum efficiency all day.
Having an accessible place where employees can 'unplug' for a short while and let their minds wander can be much more beneficial than what it might seem at first glance for a manager that’s preoccupied with minimizing distractions.
That moment in time is the mental equivalent of taking a moment to breathe and cool off after a long run. If you really want to get things done well and on an efficient timetable, you have to set a good pace of that alternates work and rest, and breakout areas make for an essential tool in that process.
Another very important benefit for breakout areas is the creation of an informal space that not only breaks the monotony of an office environment but also stimulates interaction, friendly conversation, and a general sense of comfort and positivity.
The goal here is to allow for a more relaxed environment that contributes to improving the frame of mind for all who inhabit this space by applying smart interior design ideas. Working in a space that's friendly and inviting instead of rigid and uptight is more than just a trend brought on by the “millennial vibes” of tech startups; it's a proven and sound way to improve the average efficiency of your employees.
What goes into creating a breakout space?
An important thing to consider when designing one such area is to keep true to your company's identity and attitude while avoiding the pitfalls and clichés many companies have inevitably fallen into.
For example, one of the trends often attributed to start-up companies is that of Ping-Pong tables, ranging from a regular playing table that doubles as a dining surface to actual conference desks designed to hold Ping-Pong competitions after working hours. So widespread was the use of these tables as an element of breakout spaces for these enterprises that when some started noticing a downturn in table sales, it was seen as an indicator of doom for Silicon Valley's tech industry.
It would be too simple-minded to think of a breakout space only as a place to set a gaming table. Even though these types of elements may play into it, you should also consider the kind of personality you're cultivating both to the outside world and your employees. Interesting furniture pieces such as the Bend and Badminton seating provided by ACTIU, coupled with a theme that goes beyond formalities will go a long way while also allowing itself to be used for informal meetings with employees and clients.
This type of layout can be achieved by all companies, no matter the size or budget. The only necessary component is an available space that can be combined with the right furniture and design. Don't feel too daunted if you're not able to place a giant TV screen or a table soccer setup for the whole office in that small area you have available.
The only thing a breakout space truly needs is to become a welcoming space for anyone in the company to take a break and enjoy a little oasis from their time in front of a screen.