February 11, 2019

Are breakout spaces the key to an effective corporate office?

Collaboration. It's become a core value for businesses all over the world, and many organisations have decided the office environment is the best way to facilitate it. That's why open offices without partitions or closed off managers' offices are now the norm. However, many commentators have criticised the open plan office layout, arguing that companies are pushing collaboration above quiet, focus and productivity. 

Central to the debate are breakout spaces (an area separate from employees' usual working area for lunch, relaxation and informal meetings, often with soft seating and chairs). But how effective are they in today's corporate office environment?

The advantages of a corporate office breakout space

A breakout space isn't closed off from the office in the same way a boardroom or formal meeting room would be. This holds several advantages:

  • It allows different teams to overhear how others' conduct meetings, which will in turn give them ideas for their own meetings. In a scrum environment, where individual teams dictate how they run their own meetings, picking up ideas from others is essential to ensuring teams run as well as possible. Breakout spaces also allow others to pick up valuable industry knowledge and other information about running your company well, simply by virtue of overhearing. 
  • Where managers are hidden away in their own offices, employees are unlikely to go in and ask them questions or seek advice. If managers use breakout spaces and become much more visible, however, this will encourage employees (even introverts) to ask questions and gain valuable knowledge. Breakout spaces also encourage a feeling of transparency as not all meetings are being conducted behind closed doors. 
Employees are encouraged to ask more questions in open offices because managers are more visible. Managers are more visible when offices are open and have breakout spaces. This means employees are happier to ask questions.

The disadvantages of a corporate office breakout space

There are clear downsides to a meeting room that's so open. More private conversations are obviously unsuitable for this type of environment, while on the other hand, the noise that comes from these areas can be very distracting for staff that need quiet areas to focus.

In addition, JLL research suggests that companies under-utilise 30 to 40 per cent of their office space in a typical working day. With office space so limited, many businesses may see breakout spaces as a luxury they simply can't afford. 

The solution? Work out what your employees really need from an office space

You can only really create an effective office if you consider what your employees actually want from it.

Think about your current workforce, and also consider who they will be in five and 10 years time. Are your staff mainly Baby Boomers? If so, they may prefer a more closed meeting spaces, as this generation tend to have worked in more enclosed offices. However, if your employees are likely to become much younger over the next few years because your Baby Boomers are retiring, you will need to take this into account. The key thing here is to ask your employees – giving them ownership and choice over the space and rooms they work in is the only way to really make them happy. 

In addition, you need to consider your company's values. You can't push collaboration and team culture and then have an entirely closed office space. 

Breakout spaces are one aspect of office layout, but they need to be part of a much wider conversation. Office space and company culture are almost synonymous nowadays. Think of any article you read about the culture Google or Facebook. The first thing these articles mention is the quirks and perks of these companies' offices. Your office is an expression of your business, and you need to think about how you want your employees, clients and the wider media to perceive you. 

If you are considering a change of company culture at your organisation, and want the employees that can help deliver it, contact the executive recruitment specialists at JacksonStone & Partners today. We have experience hiring for a broad range of industries, including HR, for companies all over New Zealand.