Today’s Corporate Break Rooms Offer Employees a Casual and Flexible Yet More Engaging Place to Connect, Recharge and Even Work

“I think the decision about location is important and says something about how the space is intended to be used or what it might encourage,” says Carolyn BaRoss, ASID, IIDA, LEED AP, interior design principal at Perkins+Will, New York. For instance, if a break room is located near a staff entrance and provides convenient places for people to put their belongings or offers certain amenities, it can be a very inviting place because it’s on a path of travel that may facilitate more collaboration, she notes.

On the flip side, BaRoss explains a gathering space might be further removed from high-traffic areas so that it provides respite and an escape from an otherwise hectic work environment, such as in hospitals. Regardless of where it’s located, don’t forget the view, she adds. “I’d say windows are important—not essential, but it’s really great to have daylight or a sense of change from the typical work environment.”

A large, centralized lounge and pantry at the Advisory Board Co.’s Washington, D.C., office—designed by SmithGroupJJR—draws staff to interact, collaborate and play. PHOTO: Christopher Barrett

A large, centralized lounge and pantry at the Advisory Board Co.’s Washington, D.C., office—designed by SmithGroupJJR—draws staff to interact, collaborate and play. PHOTO: Christopher Barrett

Mixing it up is equally important in planning the seating arrangements, according to Steven South, IIDA, LEED AP, senior interior designer and senior associate at Perkins+Will. “The spaces need to be flexible, and there needs to be different types of seating—some at bar height, some at table height,” he suggests. “The furniture needs to be arranged so people can sit by themselves or sit in large groups. They need to be able to host all different kinds of activity.”

A Culture of Permission

If you’re a building owner or facility manager planning to retrofit your office space to incorporate a corporate café or town hall, one thing is clear: You may have the most attractive spaces designed and constructed but unless the culture of your organization is aligned with the casual work style they support, the investment will be for naught. Management must encourage and foster a more flexible approach to how and where people work for these casual breakout spaces to be successful.

“I think that’s very much the case: The organizational culture has to support the use of these types of spaces,” Lee explains. At SmithGroupJJR, Lee says they have coined the phrase “culture of permission” to describe the type of environment that encourages employees to utilize the freedom that WiFi and mobile technology afford them in choosing where and how they want to work. In other words, expectations about employees sitting at their desks for six to eight hours a day must be abandoned, and “senior management also has to walk the talk,” she adds.

For those companies that do embrace a “culture of permission” and align their organizations to better match the newer work styles of a younger generation by designing a more casual work environment, the benefits are real but may be difficult to quantify.

Visitors to and employees of the L’Oreal USA headquarters, Berkeley Heights, N.J., are greeted by the buzz of an activity lounge, which is a multifunctional space where people can hold informal meetings, grab a cup of coffee or check e-mail.

Visitors to and employees of the L’Oreal USA headquarters, Berkeley Heights, N.J., are greeted by the buzz of an activity lounge, which is a multifunctional space where people can hold informal meetings, grab a cup of coffee or check e-mail. PHOTO: Eduard Hueber, courtesy of Perkins+Will

“I do think the benefits are much more qualitative versus quantitative,” Cherry explains. “I think it’s much more about [getting] a really great energy and buzz in your office that’s a little bit intangible, but it definitely sets the mood when you walk in the space. People feel comfortable: You can hear a little bit of laughter, you get a little bit of energy—that’s the most effective kind [of benefit].”

Technology and Generations

The break room has evolved dramatically in the past 10 years in large part because of advances in technology and a generational shift in the workforce. This emerging crop of knowledge workers places a premium on amenities, such as a relaxed work environment, flexible schedule and wireless technology, over traditional benefits like salary and vacation time.

In fact, a 2011 Cisco Connected Workplace Study reports 33 percent of employees under age 30 said they would select social-media freedom, device flexibility and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer. Further, a 2012 special report by CNN found a top priority for Gen Y employees and job seekers is an engaging workspace that blends their personal and private life with a residential feel. As a result, companies large and small are trying to keep pace with the likes of Google and Facebook that are setting trends in workplace design and policies, which anecdotal evidence suggests may be good for a company’s bottom line.

“We’ve all heard these terms—Gen Y and now the next Gen Z—are much more interested in amenities in their workplace as opposed to this traditional time off and/or salary,” explains Colin Brice, co-founder and principal of design firm Mapos, New York. “A lot of the younger set is looking for workspaces that have these more flexible amenities—maybe flex time, definitely flexible workspace. So what you’ll get is less sick days, less turnover, and higher application numbers from people trying to work in your firm because you’re offering this type of flex workspace and a flexible, open, friendly environment.”

About the Author

Robert Nieminen
Robert Nieminen is a freelance writer; the former editor of Interiors & Sources magazine; and retrofit’s editor at large, specializing in interiors. Under his direction, Interiors & Sources was the recipient of several publishing awards, as well as a pioneer of sustainability reporting.

1 Comment on "Today’s Corporate Break Rooms Offer Employees a Casual and Flexible Yet More Engaging Place to Connect, Recharge and Even Work"

  1. Pura vida.

    We have invested in an employee game room at CCC. I wanted to share with all business owners and happy employees what can be done in an office environment to raise morale:

    The employee friendly call center environment became more pleasurable immediately which can offset a demanding telemarketing career. Any BPO boss could only imagine and wish for laughter, smiles, spirited jokes and high energy at their Costa Rican office on a Monday morning before shift.
    The reality today is that CCC has become the only call center to have gifted their entire staff a video arcade game room to have fun, period. All agents are given the option to arrive early to play the games or they may choose to stay inside and enjoy the machines during the evening while waiting for their ride to safely take them home.
    A smart motivational technique used for CCC BPO agents is to compete on the machines in the game room.
    One way in which a telemarketer’s confidence could be made stronger or broken down is through an arcade experience during their work day. Costa Ricans have courage and can back up their swagger on the phone after dominating the video games during their scheduled breaks.
    In the competitive offshore outsourcing call center arena, CCC has an advantage over the rest in Costa Rica by creating a strategic play environment.
    High end arcade video games will reinforce a call center agent’s focus, mind set to win and motor skills while off of the phones during their free time. The most important virtue is to show a solid habit of good sportsmanship regardless of the outcome of the games in the arcade.
    More new friendships have blossomed in the game room at CCC call center Costa Rica.
    Our entire staff has concluded that an immediate visual stimulation combined with a conditioned manual stimulation in gaming added a very special ingredient to our nuance at CCC. To date, Costa Rica’s Call Center is the only BPO in Central America with a retro arcade game room, period.
    The average age of our Costa Rican call center agents correspond with the virtual gaming boom. Every CCC agent that grew up mastering Nintendo has amazing skills and a strategic thought process.
    Combining a bilingual telemarketer’s gaming experience to help motivate, focus and relax the work place mind set is priceless and makes perfect sense for any outsourcing company.
    Everyone in Costa Rica that works at a call center possesses certain cognitive attributes to win an arcade game. Naturally, the CCC staff will harness and transfer that energy and high confidence to a telemarketing floor after a hot streak in the game room.
    The new generation of online gamers has stated that they prefer the feel of an authentic arcade game machine setup: joystick, eye level monitor and properly spaced buttons. CCC wants to bring back the real unique arcade game experience to Costa Rica for all telemarketers verses a hand held controller game that is found on any standard flat screen TV in San Jose.
    All video arcade games at CCC are free.
    Many people in the outsourcing call center industry will question the distraction ratio, loss production or adverse effects towards an arcade game room. Well, the risk of an arcade game room was definitely worth the reward to CCC. The most common reaction from the agents is that they are “letting off steam”. CCC telemarketers are able to function better by structuring their break times around a more productive activity than checking their email, text messaging or having a cigarette.
    CCC personally challenges all business owners to incorporate a video arcade within their establishment and not to charge a cent.
    It is obvious that we take care of our employee’s well mental state while bonding through other mediums besides long meetings or just traditional work place activities that produce average telemarketing results.
    Just like on a golf course, we are able to use a game room during a conversation, find alternate ways to focus and share BPO ideas than spending time in a board room with a projection screen.
    Bottom line, make our meetings productive in multiple ways when communicating with today’s new work place demographic in call centers.
    Recess play has been lost in memories of youth and days long gone. Not at CCC. We ensure that everyone knows how to enjoy their time and has fun at least once a day at our call center.
    Telemarketing and video games do have something in common regarding performance and success.
    A professional telemarketer’s natural ability to become in sync with their rhythm, pace, concentration, decision making and a positive attitude emerge stronger through video games. BPO agents return to the phones in motion after going into the arcade during their break.
    Our call center in Costa Rica has a solution to chain smoking telemarketers. The BPO agents are smoking less at Costa Rica’s Call Center. Does this industry create stress? Yes it does. Yet, many forgo a smoke break to spend 15 minutes playing the video games to relax and increase their health. The average call center agent will smoke a minimum of 4 fewer cigarettes a day via our game room.
    CCC promotes the best environment as to find a healthy alternate than chain smoking outside in between calling sessions. We have noted that once a professional telemarketer from Costa Rica leaves the game room, they feel recharged. From a scent perspective, they do not emit an odor of tobacco that carries on the calling floor.
    Free play for all CCC agents, period. The games are a gift to all of the hard working telemarketers in Costa Rica. Some companies charge their employees to play their games. Our call center staff has earned their retro arcade game room which is now famous for being the best in Costa Rica.
    We have the space for the arcade and plenty of electricity to entertain over 100 telemarketing agents during their free time. The recreational advantage at our call center speaks volumes and has yet to be matched in Costa Rica let alone Central America. Once the word spread, the private arcade was packed since day 1 with our amazing staff having a great time.
    The arcade boom of the 1980s was represented by a quarter that would reserve your spot. At CCC, we work on an honor system and it shows since everyone is given a turn to play. Naturally, some gamers last longer than others and show an old playground dominance mentality on the arcade machines which appears to be respected in Costa Rica.
    There may be a queue on our predictive dialer, but there is never a long wait to start playing arcade games at CCC COSTA RICA.
    Telemarketers and customer service agents may burn out after a period of time. That is a fact. CCC has dropped the standard attrition rate dramatically. In addition, the attendance rate has remained at a relative high for industry call center standards just from the implementation of the game room.
    Let off steam in a call center video game room. “All you can play” arcade machines for CCC Costa Rican call center employees.
    Our rigorous bilingual telemarketing structure requires the same amount of down time focus for the agents in order to recharge the mind and body. The call center solution for a strong push on the phones is to incorporate a real retro arcade in Central America.
    CCC is known in Costa Rica as offering the best employee arcade.
    The international outsourcing industry has the best game room in Costa Rica.
    Without question, CCC has the best gaming toys in a Latin American outsourced Telemarketing Company.
    The proud owner of CCC, Richard Blank, firmly believes that the more an agent stays away from their virtual cell phone world; the more they will increase their interpersonal relationship building among other BPO employees.
    Since 2007, our highly educated call center agents continue to grow as one unit by incorporating many challenging video games during scheduled breaks and lunch time.
    CCC took a chance when most call centers do not utilize a common medium of arcade gaming.
    The Costa Rican millennial generation that grew up playing video games at home did not share the same pleasure and stimulation as the early retro gamers that had an arcade on every corner and local mall in the United States.
    CCC Human Resources Department was intent on a positive learning experience by combining fast momentum and a creative mind. Proving a solid ROI on a large internal expense for employee retro gaming recreation, the telemarketing staff has enjoyed a spike in morale, increased online labor support and a flattering local reputation in Costa Rica as a great call center environment run by generous owners.
    Back in the 1980s, anyone in Costa Rica who wanted to play the real video games was on a mission to find an arcade. Once you placed your 100 colones on the game marquee to hold your place, it didn’t get any better when you had the chance to show your skills in front of dozen kids from San Jose. Each Tico was shooting for the high score on Asteroids or Pac Man and loved every minute of it. CCC wants to bring that excitement back into a call center environment and use it to grow past our 440 agent limit at our current location on Paseo Colon.
    Today, CCC firmly stands behind having our call center employees experience the authentic arcade sounds, sights and real time retro competition.
    Our new video arcade room has given CCC another strong gust of wind in our sails. Costa Rica’s Call Center will continue to reward our amazing staff by a pace of 1 new arcade machine per 44 new telemarketing agents hired and hitting their monthly quota.


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