More and more companies are realising the importance of a pleasant workplace atmosphere and planning to upgrade their offices. Accordingly, they are taking on the role of a host, or at least intend to do so. In the future, they want to offer their employees many different spaces and services that satisfy a wide range of requirements in order to help them enjoy returning to work at the office. That includes enhancing the spaces that are not associated with work at first glance, such as the office kitchenette or the coffee bar. This is where colleagues meet at the start of their workday and share their morning thoughts and information — regarding private as well as professional matters. Various studies have shown that it’s more than just the (free) beverages on offer that make these spaces attractive. Many employees regard these chats over a cup of coffee as offering something more — an opportunity to network and get to know their colleagues better. This reinforces cooperation, productivity, and employee satisfaction.
Versatile communication areas are still scarce
However, in most companies such areas for casual communication have still received far too little attention. The preliminary analysis of a representative forsa survey commissioned by the IBA shows that in small and medium-sized companies in particular, places where employees can get together for short informal consultations are still an exception. In these companies, barely a quarter of the employees (23%) have access to a sitting area with sofas or armchairs, and only one in ten have the option of using an informal consultation zone with standing tables. Worse yet, this situation has hardly changed since 2015, even though there is general agreement that the office needs to become a place where people can get together and communicate. One reason for this stagnation may be that expensive office space has so far been mainly used for desk work.
However, today fewer employees are coming to the office on a daily basis on average because of the advent of hybrid work arrangements. This could turn out to be an opportunity to upgrade the quality of existing office spaces and eliminate present-day deficits. Companies can learn a lot from the hospitality sector — that is, the hotel and restaurant business — about the design of coffee bars and informal common areas. In the hospitality sector, the focus has traditionally been on making such areas pleasant and welcoming. Transferring this principle to the office can help to enhance the attractiveness of not only the office itself but also the company as an employer.
A feel-good atmosphere: Catering for teams and the community
Lots of employees appreciate a good cup of coffee. According to a work motivation study conducted by the Manpower Group in 2019, a good cup of coffee is a strong source of motivation for 26% of all employees. In addition, a trip to the office kitchenette and the short pause associated with it helps to reduce stress. It’s a proven fact that caffeine in particular has a positive effect on team processes. That’s why it always pays to invest in a good coffee machine. But the coffee alone won’t make it worthwhile for employees to come to the office. Compared to working from home, the office can only gain practical added value if it also offers a “work café” or a breakfast bar where employees can get together casually for a shared cup of coffee or a bite to eat.
A current forsa study commissioned by the IBA also emphasizes that for the respondents, personal contact with colleagues and supervisors is still the most important reason for coming to the office.
This incentive is even stronger if food is on offer. The employees’ eating habits should also be kept in mind. If most of them bring their own lunch from home, it helps to have a big microwave that can warm up several meals at a time. That prevents queues and makes it possible for people to eat together. One trend from Silicon Valley is to provide employees with well-equipped kitchens where the teams can cook together. A dishwasher helps to keep the countertops and cooktops free and clean for many users.
OUR SPECIAL TIP: Incidentally, the use of existing spaces can become especially efficient if pull-out or foldaway tables are installed in dining and common areas. That way the number of seats can be varied and space can be created for other uses.
Variable equipment for multifunctional use
But employees want more than just a nice cafeteria. An inviting entrance area with comfortable seating can help to create a pleasant atmosphere and foster communication. In general, spaces with varying designs stimulate creativity and encourage people to break out of their habitual working methods and structures. The smaller the number of available spaces, the more important it becomes to fill them with variable equipment that offers its users a lot of variety, inspiration, and relief from stress. There’s a demand for opportunities to stand, not only in the form of height-adjustable desks in the workplace but also in the common areas where people can enjoy a coffee break. Employees with permanent or temporary physical disabilities should also be kept in mind. That’s why seating arrangements should also be provided in addition to the standing tables. It’s even better to have easily adjustable tables for either sitting or standing in break areas as well as in workplaces from the very start.
Installing a ping-pong table or similar equipment for exercise and relaxation can also be worthwhile. Although they may not in themselves be an incentive to return to the office, they help to reinforce team spirit and enhance the quality of stay.
Our conclusion: The aim of office design should be to offer a high quality of stay in all areas, whether it’s the cafeteria, the conference room or the break room. That way employees will feel welcome while they’re working and also while taking breaks. Maybe the coffee they drink in the office doesn’t have to taste any better than it does elsewhere, as long as it’s being drunk in the right environment!