Breakout Spaces in the Workplace:
Law, Necessity or Business Strategy?


Breakout spaces can be the difference between a team of socially active and motivated employees, or a team that either occupies their desk space for the long slog, or disperses for the lunch time rush.


In this blog, we take a look at the legal requirements of breakout spaces, their alternate purpose as a co-working area, and how they can act as an inspirational hub for those who are willing to adventure out of their normal working environment. Sound interesting? Then read on and check out our General FAQ, too!



What the law states...

So, let’s start with the cold hard facts: do you need to provide your employees with a specified breakout area? The definitive answer, is no! But, it’s not as simple as that. You see, the law states, courtesy of Healthy Working Lives | NHS, that all employees should have at minimum – a flat surface in which to consume their lunch upon. But this of course can come in the form of a standard work desk or table surface area, and they are in abundance across the majority of office workplaces.

In addition to this law, if there is no on-site canteen area where hot food can be obtained, then suitable heating facilities i.e. a microwave and kettle should be made available to all staff members, in order to be able to safely cook food and produce hot drinks. These facilities should also be contained in a sanitised and cleanable area, i.e. an appropriate kitchen or tea-point space.


Breakout spaces serving as a co-working area


A spare corner or alcove can serve as the foundation


Another aspect you need to consider according to Healthy Working Lives | NHS, is the case of pregnant or nursing mothers. For this particular employee need, rest facilities should be provided in close proximity to sanitary facilities along with the addition of a place for pregnant workers to lie down. That all makes sense, and aside from this, there are no other legal requirements.


So, to conclude on the lawful aspect of breakout spaces: no, you don't need a specific breakout area, but when you weigh up all the other employee needs and welfare systems you need to put in place, then it might just be easier to incorporate one anyhow. So, let’s take a look at what else a breakout area could do for you.



An effective business strategy?

Breakout areas don’t have to be specifically built for food consumption. Oh no! They can be built into wonderful (and practical) creative hubs where employees can escape to in order to generate, incubate and develop your company’s next big idea! In essence: a true co-working space, and therefore, an excellent investment in business strategy.


All it takes is a spare corner or a small alcove, combined with a smart selection of practical furniture, and complimented by the expertise of an interior designer. When you have all three of these elements, building a fantastic breakout space is but a walk in the park, and the positive impact it can have on your employee's social interactions can also be highly beneficial. 


Breakout spaces make it easier to fulfill employee needs


Cover yourself! Breakout spaces make it easier to fulfil employee needs


Sande Golgart of Regus, quoted by Forbes states that "the social aspect of co-working has become a draw as well." Due to developments in technology, mobile working and flexible operations, co-working spaces can act as the ideal solution in order to craft productive meetings. Golgart also says that “some (people) even prefer to work around others. They find it inspiring, - more cost effective and they find that they’re able to be very productive in that environment.”


Amongst the other benefits of breakout spaces is the idea that younger generations, due to their exposure to similarly built areas via college and university environments, find these sorts of spaces to be much more intuitive and productive to their workflow.


Thanh Tan of the Seattle Times says that "Flexible hours, communal kitchens and fast Wi-Fi cater to a mobile workforce. What happens when creative minds collide in a single place? Collaboration starts and ideas flourish". That's what all employers desire: a workforce that is motivated, and one that can work in tangent across multiple generations.



Bonus: Check out our Blog > 
Office Design: Top Five Modern Features



How to decorate them...

Once you've established your breakout space, you're going to want to decorate it. Do something different! Be bold, and make it a space that people want to escape to. Perhaps you could incorporate biophilia – i.e. bring the outside in via a variety of potted plants, green walls and naturalistic sound effects. Try our blog on Biophilia and its impact on office design for more inspirational tips.


You could turn it into a themed space with a touch of classic film… perhaps an influence of super spy James Bond, or a fantasy infused setting like Alice in Wonderland in order to create something out of the ordinary. Just bare in mind that not everyone will have the same tastes. What might seem interesting to one individual, may not be so appealing to another.


As Alive With Ideas states, "Find out what employees want and need. Spend time observing behaviour and gathering feedback. Identify which areas block the creative process and what would help to make the office a more suitable environment".  


Breakout space with biophilia


Small touches can make a space more welcoming


However crazy you go, be sure to focus on the colour of the space. You can incorporate wacky textures, touches of industrial design and so forth, but you should try your best to keep to three, primary colours. Preferably ones that will complement your brand identity and business aesthetic also.


If you want more information on the systems of colour, i.e. how it affects the subconscious mind and the psychology behind the various hues, then take a look at our guide on Office Colour Psychology. This will certainly get you in the know. No need for the paint shop colour matchers after all…



Pub or Office? A prime example

One particularly interesting breakout space we developed at SEC Interiors included a pool table and sofa seating space (seen below) - much to the employees delight no doubt! This simple transition from a boring back room into a colourful gaming area distorted the reality between an office and pub like environment.


But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! As Paul Kelly states in Mashable's Office Design Feature, "You want to designate casual meeting or lounge areas in your office for employees not only to relax but also to exchange thoughts. Great ideas come from inspiring casual spaces." If your employees feel happy, then they feel motivated, and when they’re motivated, they are more likely to be productive.


Keep that in mind when you have the capability to build interesting spaces in the future. Don't always settle for the basic layout, be inspired and give your workforce something to want to come to work for!


Breakout space - pub or office


Pub or office? Motivate your employees with an energising space



Once you've built a fun and engaging breakout space, you might want to inject some further personality into the rest of your office environment. As a bonus, and for a little added inspiration, try our Office Design: Top Five Modern Features blog to get you going. 



Bonus: Check out our Blog >
Office Colour Psychology: What Colour Scheme Does Your Office Need



Complimentary furniture is a necessity

The most important thing to understand about breakout spaces is that it's really the furniture that makes it what it is. You can craft a space - big or small, but if it's not filled with furniture that is both comfortable and suitable for the size of the installation, then it's going to be a straight up fail! Luckily, we know a thing or two about breakout space furniture. We even have a dedicated page for office furniture that features a large variety of products that we can supply to give your breakout space the perfect balance.


Breakout space furniture


Breakout space furniture - comfortable & relaxing



Breakout space furniture: Comfortable and relaxing

So, what do you need to bear in mind when looking for furniture to fill this sort of area? You need to consider how many people are going to realistically occupy the space. If it's going to be just a select few, then chances are you can get away with a small number of independent chairs and a nice-fitting table. If it's going to hold a larger mass of people, then you’re better off going with something similar to the picture above.


These purpose-built, highly customisable furniture pieces allow for multiple users to comfortably occupy a set space. The example above could easily fit four to six employees, but better yet, units like this can be adapted with additional seating modules, side tables and more. There is a wide selection of furniture options available, and most of them can be configured to suit a variety of environments.



General FAQ


What is a breakout space?

A breakout space is an area that is built to separate employees or guests from the main office area. Its primary function is to act as a getaway from the hustle and bustle of work, though modern breakout spaces are also used as social hubs, lunch zones, gaming areas and as impromptu meeting spaces.


Does a company have a legal obligation to provide a break area for its staff?

No. A company does not have a legal obligation to provide a break area for its staff, however, the law states that all employees should have, at minimum, a flat surface in which to eat their lunch upon, along with appropriate food heating facilities. With this in mind, you should consider creating a multi-purpose space that fulfils your legal obligations to your employees whilst benefitting them in other aspects of their work. 


How many breakout areas do you need to provide in an office building?

There is no rule on how many breakout areas to provide because employers do not need to provide their employees with any form of breakout space. However, breakout spaces have become synonymous with the modern office, helping to promote productivity and staff well-being, so they should not be considered! Many modern offices now offer their employees such environments to escape, socialise and work. It can be considered a key tool for staff retention and hiring.




So, now you know the legal requirements concerning breakout spaces; you've heard how social and co-working areas can help to stimulate and develop employee relationships, and you also have a few inspirational ideas in terms of how it could look, it might well be time to get you and your staff a breakout area!


Get in touch below if it's time to do just that. We'd be happy to help.


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Post by Adam Bissmire-Mullen

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