4 Reasons Companies Should Incorporate Social Spaces

… And how to do it without a major renovation

by Lynn Metz

Lynn Metz, LEED AP, is a registered interior designer and Vice President of Sales, Architecture, and Design, for Haworth North America. With her expertise in space design and demonstrated history of working in the furniture industry, she engages in the understanding of human behaviour and realizes the importance and impact it has for a successfully designed environment. As a member of Forbes Business Development Council, she is a contributing writer to Forbes CommunityVoice™, a digital publishing platform that connects experts directly with the Forbes audience by enabling them to create content and participate in the conversation.

Following is her article, Why Companies Should Incorporate Social Spaces in the Office, which first appeared on Forbes.com.

Whether you know it or not, you have already worked in a social space. This phenomenon—providing more than a place to sit and a surface to work at by giving a space an inspiring purpose of putting people at ease and encouraging conversations—seems to be growing fast. It used to be common practice in the office interiors industry to make the ratio of gathering space to private space 20/80. As the open-plan office concept emerged, it was a slow process to change that expectation to 30/70. Now, the ratio has dramatically changed to at least 50/50, and I often see a full flip to 70/30 in highly collaborative environments. Many designers are now consistently using these new ratios in solutions throughout the floorplate. It's also apparent as I see more design specialists specifically focusing on unique products and solutions for social spaces.

Why is this space growing to be so important? Based on my experience at a workplace furniture company, I believe we can attribute this to several factors:

1. Generations and lifestyle
While it's not exclusive to a generation, younger workers may be creating a more comfortable workplace that is also available anytime-anywhere. For instance, many people enjoy working at Starbucks and having the opportunity to sit in more collaborative environments. We also meet clients over breakfast, lunch, or after work for drinks. This engages people in a social setting and often encourages a different dialogue than across a desk or conference table. We can and do work all the time and anywhere, and this influences how people use spaces.

2. Member engagement 
As companies strive to attract and retain their best talent, the traditional cubicle floor plan limits the ability for employees to connect with other members of the organisation. This can limit the ability for employees to feel engaged. Social spaces are a swing back from that open-plan office setting. By providing a variety of spaces (including the opportunity for privacy), you can help member engagement. You have to match spaces to what people need—there is a time and place for everything, but not generally one option all the time.

3. Collaboration and innovation
Employers are constantly looking to drive their business objectives forward and stay ahead of the competition. A casual, comfortable environment can encourage collaboration and foster innovation. When people get together and start talking, you don’t know where it might lead, and this can be magic for unintentional brainstorming. You absolutely still need structured settings, but there should be a balance. A café, coffee bar, reception area, or lounge areas can be utilised this way. Think about them differently—what if you had a coffee bar and a greeter for your reception area instead of a formal space? By opening these spaces up for employee use, you end up with more usable space back in your floorplate and can help project your brand and culture in a unique way.

4. Tech 
Our internet of things world has enabled faster connections and the ability to work in a variety of spaces. In turn, visual and audio capabilities in social spaces can be a significant positive for a workspace. If you have great collaborative settings without tech or power, they may not be used as much.

  • It is hard to provide these spaces to an existing environment without some level of investment by the company. However, these spaces can enhance employee flexibility to work anywhere and increase employee engagement. Providing social spaces without a major renovation can be achieved by considering the following:
  • Existing breakroom or café settings can be enhanced by providing areas to work at a computer or sit down with a cup of coffee. Internet capability and access to power are important in these spaces. The space can be enhanced with lights and floor lamps that add an emotional connection and level of intimacy to the space. Enhancement of finishes, colours and textures that are different from the workstation environment can make the space feel inviting to get away and take a break.
  • If the company has an agile work policy and employees don’t need assigned workstations, consider reducing the size of their workstations and converting that additional space with a variety of seating areas. Ideally, social spaces can be enhanced with access to daylight and views. If that isn’t available, an aquarium or faux fireplace can enhance the mind’s ability to wander and reflect.
  • Social spaces should not be in the middle of work areas where employees need to do focus work. Social spaces should encourage interaction and not be disruptive to focused tasks.
  • When creating casual seating areas, consider grounding them with an area rug and lighting. This can help define an area’s use and add a residential feeling and sense of place.
  • If an outdoor space is available, it should be strongly considered as an excellent social space—being outside can enhance well-being. It’s important to consider access to Wi-Fi and power to ensure employees use these spaces.

Social spaces are a great space to work and collaborate. I hope you find one of these comfortable spots to innovate on the next challenge coming your way.


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