Seven ways to create downtime space in the workplace

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August 23, 2016

When the going gets busy, taking a break might seem like the antithesis of what it takes to wrap up.

But whether it’s a five-minute diversion that boosts focus, or a 17-minute coffee break that improves performance, mental downtime can increase productivity and replenish energy during demanding workdays. Companies that provide a space for this are more likely to reap the benefits.

“Disengaging from work gives people the ability to think more inventively,” says John Symes, Director at JLL’s workplace strategy team.

While some companies favour breakout areas – designed for employees to think and work differently, such as tech company Epic’s treehouse conference room or Box’s indoor swings – break rooms should let staff get away from all things job-related.

“What makes a good break room depends on the company’s culture,” Symes says. LinkedIn opted for fun and vibrancy with a recreational floor with a hidden speakeasy but wellness businesses might benefit from a cozy meditation nook.

Size and funds play a role too. A mega-corporation like Infosys has the space for a bowling alley, while smaller companies can opt for kitchen space with communal tables to encourage staff to eat away from their desks.

What makes a great break room?

1. Excellent coffee, tea and other beverages. “This comes up as the number one feature in our surveys,” says Symes. “Ideally, a barista service, or at least a very good coffee machine.” Yelp even provides beer on tap.

2. Natural light and a view. The more exposure to natural light workers get, the better their sleep and overall health, studies have shown. Even better is access to outdoor space, whether a private roof garden or communal courtyard.

3. A place to eat. Having sufficient space for employees to eat – and heat – their lunch encourages staff to socialize, opening the door to improved team performance and collaboration.

4. Relax zones. Features from soft seating to yoga mats – like in workplace consultancy The Energy Project’s “Renewal Room” – give staff the signal to unwind and refresh.

5. Lively zones. Games are sociable ways for employees to blow off steam through friendly competition. Bain and Company provides pool tables; AirBnb, ping-pong; while Facebook staff hit the video game room. “Just be careful where you place wilder games – you don’t want to cramp anyone’s style,” Symes says.

6. Clear separation between zones. Use materials and colors to create visual cues as to which spaces are for active or relaxing usage, and contain noise so folks taking downtime aren’t disrupted by game-playing colleagues.

7. TV screens. “News, current events and sport channels with volume off can create good talking points, which may be necessary in large organisations where employees don’t know each other,” Symes says. Bonus: watchers can give eyes a break from closeup computer work by focusing on screens at the requisite mid-distance.

While break rooms can be a means to boost internal brand culture through use of brand imagery and colors, employers should also consult their teams on the design, for example, through a survey, workshops or an employee representative.

Break rooms respond to company culture

Fears that break rooms may be negatively affect productivity come back to workplace culture. In a company that prizes presenteeism “employees may not use break rooms well because they feel management views them suspiciously if they take a break,” Symes says. That could mean designating the room off-limits to managers, as it’s crucial that staff can completely relax.

Break rooms can ease a shift to a more open culture but the best-used break rooms are spaces that reflect the existing culture – whether that’s best expressed by leather armchairs, a full kitchen, or nap rooms.