How to design a breakout space the right way

By Gemma Church

I held an impromptu meeting in a no-tech willow hut yesterday. As odd as that concept may sound, it actually worked really well. And it’s not the first time an unusual breakout area has aided my work either by giving me a much-needed break from my screen or a relaxed environment to meet and collaborate in.

As cubicles fall out of favour, open plan is now the go-to office design. Breakout areas are an increasingly important aspect of the workspace as they mirror the needs and desires of today’s workforce. 90% of UK workers say more space for collaboration is a high priority in the office, and flexibility is key in creating these offices.

Coworking cohort Huckletree has embraced this stat. 40% of the new White City space is dedicated to breakout space. The no-tech willow hut is one of the many novel breakout areas at Huckletree’s latest coworking space. There’s also a meditation yurt, sunken seating, a peaceful urban garden area and a brain dump room (more on that later).

An office’s design is often an extension of a company’s values. This emphasis on breakout spaces matches Huckletree’s wider values, as its CEO and founder Gabriela Hersham explained: “Community is central to everything we do. Our vision for Huckletree West is to bring together startups and entrepreneurs across the digital and lifestyle industries and that naturally requires a real focus on making the space conducive to conversation and collaboration.”

“It’s so important as a coworking space to have areas where members from different disciplines can organically meet, share ideas and form new new partnerships. For me, watching those relationships form and go on to create groundbreaking things is the sign of a real community,” Hersham added.

So, how do you create an engaging and well-designed breakout space that matches a company’s ethos? There are a few factors to consider:

What’s the point?

Your first consideration has to be around the purpose of your breakout area (or areas). You may want, for example, an informal meeting space, or a soundproof phone booth for staff to make and take private calls. Or, just like the willow hut, you may want a space where you can get away from your screen and the everyday stresses of working life.

Remember to match your breakout areas to your community’s needs. Huckletree West also has a brain dump room with floor to ceiling whiteboards for its members to step away from their laptops and visualise their ideas. For a space that’s aimed at the digital lifestyle demographic, it’s a great fit.

Where will you put your space?

The purpose of your breakout area may dictate its location. Areas outside meeting rooms are the natural choice if you want to provide a space where discussions can continue after a meeting. You’ll also need to understand the impact of a breakout area on the rest of your office. A meditation yurt, for example, probably shouldn’t be placed next to a noisy kitchen area.

And don’t assume that you need an extravagant breakout area. If you’re short on space, you could just cordon off part of your open plan office with a clever screening system. The kitchen is also a natural place where collaboration and conversations start. So, you may want to introduce open kitchen spaces with benches for your staff to hang out in. Or, you could take things one step further and design your meeting rooms to double up as kitchens, lounges and dining rooms.

Try to offer a range of spaces with a range of purposes too, if possible. Then, you can offer choice to enable employees to spend their time in zones designed for various purposes.

What kind of furniture do you want?

So, now you have the purpose and location of your breakout area pinned down, you need to add some furniture. You may want to consider some statement pieces or just keep the design as minimal as possible. Just make sure it’s a space your staff will want to use (no uncomfortable chairs, please).

A range of furniture is also important. So, mix things up a bit with a choice of tables and chairs. Huckletree West’s sunken seating uses large, comfy seats on one side of this space and more traditional booths on the other side, for example. Just make sure your choice of furniture reflects the purpose of the breakout area and makes best use of the space.

Breakout areas are often used on the fly by people who want to connect or take a break from their desk. Whether you’re designing a no-tech willow hut or a braindump room, remember to give your staff the tools they need to use the space in the most efficient and effective way possible.

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