A well-designed breakout area is a multi-purpose space and is a key element within an agile working office design. The main function of an agile working scheme is to provide ad hoc informal meeting spaces.
In practice the breakout area is also used for eating and relaxation and often will also include facilities for touchdown. The design of the breakout area will typically include a mixture of soft seating and café style tables and chairs. It should also provide for network connectivity and facilities for charging portable devices such as laptops, tablets and phones.
If a breakout area is well-designed then it should be in use throughout the working day. From a work point-of-view it is primarily providing the facilities for quick ad hoc meetings to take place without the restrictions and admin associated with booking a traditional formal meeting room. Ideally breakout spaces should be placed quite close to main open-plan office areas. This should dramatically reduce the incidence of informal meetings taking place at or around people’s desks which is actually quite distracting for other workers.
The main difference between a good breakout space and traditional spaces like canteens or meeting rooms is that it is multi-purpose.
A staff canteen is typically quite unused between the main mealtimes and although will get used for informal meetings it will generally lack the IT capabilities that are needed for genuinely productive meetings.
On the other hand the traditional meeting room will usually have the IT needed but the usual complaint is that there aren’t enough meeting rooms and that they are always booked and unavailable. In practice what is generally found is that meeting rooms designed for 8-10 people are being used for one-to-one meetings or for small meetings with only 3-4 people. In addition whilst meeting rooms may be booked this does not mean they are always in use as often a scheduled meeting will take place informally over lunch or in a chance meeting in a corridor and whoever set up the meeting forgets to unbook the room.
There are numerous benefits attached to including a good breakout space within your office design.
Breakout areas are vital to a successful agile working office environment. However there are a few provisos and points to watch out for. Management need to understand the intended function of breakout spaces – they are not just for chilling out or ‘breaking out’ from doing work. If staff get the impression that their manager is not happy about them being in the breakout area outside break times then the whole agile working scheme will falter and probably fail.