What is a breakout area?
Generally an office breakout area is a non-desk area that is used as a creative hub that is separate from the usual working area. In practice breakout areas are used for a wide variety of different functions including informal meetings, and for employees to relax and have lunch. Every office is different and the key thing to think about when planning a breakout area in your space is:
What do you want to achieve from your breakout area?
Breakout spaces have many potential functions including:
- Informal meetings
- Informal work area / hot desk
- Brainstorming sessions
- Quiet working
- Off screen reading space
- Library area
- Relaxation, meditation and contemplation
- Time away from the desk
- Take a break; have a cuppa, have a chat
- Make a call in a little privacy
- Short or long stay
- Use technology, charge a device
Case study: Office hub in Watergate House, London.
Affectionately described as the 'Entrepreneurs Club', the ground floor space is the central hub and energy of the business. The club idea was fundamental to the whole approach of how the design will help the business function on a more informal level - a delicate balancing act between being a highly creative environment but still retaining City integrity. The design creates casual class in a retro style in keeping with the heritage of the building. Plenty of lounge chairs and velvet banquettes provide comfort and luxury, but with enough tables to provide a desk space if required. This is a place for informal meetings where business gets done in style.
Designing a breakout area
Once you figure out the main requirement of the space - and this is not as simple as it sounds - you can then focus on the design. Research by The Workplace Intelligence Unit suggests that many breakout spaces do not represent an efficient use of space because their design doesn't suit their primary function. Don't fall into the trap of choosing style over function. Breakout areas are often playful spaces that allow offices to show the lighter side of working life and showcase the fun side of their company ethos but this should never come at the expensive of the main role the breakout area will have for the workforce. Understanding your working model, brand positioning and culture fully will help you position what is the primary goal you hope to achieve, followed by possible bonus extras.
Breakout areas also come in a wide variety of different styles including:
- soft areas
- one-to-one booths
- hard areas
- hot desking areas
- quiet areas
- social areas
And can include any type of furniture, including these popular breakout furniture options:
- sofa dens
- roof dens
- modular furniture
- lounge chairs
Though some breakout areas may have no seating at all!
Once you have decided on the primary function of the area make sure the design reflects the intended use. Breakout spaces that are poorly utilised often suffer because their function is not obvious. Providing visual cues for employees such as a library in a reading area, or a colour scheme to introduce zones can help avoid this pitfall. As walls in offices are often white, or a muted corporate shade, it's possible to coordinate the furniture in pops of colour to liven at the same time as apply a zone.
It's also important to avoid giving mixed messages within the design: ie. a library area with group tables next to a kitchen. Employees will either use the space for another purpose, or will avoid using it entirely.
Key consideration: Do your employees need to be quiet and concentrate or do they need to be interactive and noisy?
Be flexible, but not too flexible. Versatile spaces are becoming increasingly popular and furniture that is light and can be easily moved to use the area for a different function is on the rise. However, maximum flexibility can create drab unsupported spaces. In trying to be everything to everyone the space becomes a no man's land, or worse, ends up a dumping ground for unwanted items.
If furniture needs to be moved to create a presentation or event space, serious consideration will need to be made to the distribution of power sockets if the area is also intended for wireless working. Even the most meticulous workers will eventually need to charge their devices! Fortunately there are plenty of solutions, such as power points in sofas, or portable power stations that resemble mic stands. The biggest challenge here is running cables to them.
Martin Table can be specified with a range of power modules and under table cable management
Location, location, location
Look back at your primary function. If your breakout space is going to involve lively, chatty staff, you don't want it to be located next to the rest of the office work desks. This will cause a distraction. Similarly, if you're looking to create a space for quiet contemplation, even the tap-tap-tapping of the office keyboards, scratch of the printer, or buzz of the doorbell may be too distracting, so you may want to consider sound proofed booths or sealed pods.
If your breakout space is located in one part of the office it may be appropriated by one portion of the office and become an unofficial extension of that department. In this case you may need to schedule the time fairly. Or if the space is hard to reach or far away, employees will not see the benefit in going there. Finally, if your breakout area is near your reception it may be used as an overflow space or extension of your waiting area. Remember your main objective: what do you want to achieve?
Breakout space idea gallery
Click the image for product details or view our entire range of breakout furniture.