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

break room

Anyone who has ever hosted a party in his or her home knows guests will invariably gravitate toward and congregate in the kitchen. As television celebrity and cookbook author Ted Allen suggests: “The kitchen is the most special room in the house. It’s a place for adventure—not drudgery, but discovery, sharing and showing off with friends, trying new ideas.”

To improve interaction among employees, all segments of the LivePerson office connect at the town square, an open seating and eating zone where employees can take a break, have a discussion or hold an informal meeting. PHOTO: Dave Pinter

To improve interaction among employees, all segments of the LivePerson office connect at the town square, an open seating and eating zone where employees can take a break, have a discussion or hold an informal meeting.
PHOTO: Dave Pinter

Allen verbalizes what corporate America has picked up on and embraced in recent years: kitchens, cafés and break rooms are the places where employees are most likely to gather spontaneously throughout the day, where creativity flourishes and new ideas are shared. In addition, today’s employees have been untethered from their desks and encouraged to work just about anywhere, including break rooms—thanks to the mobility wireless technology affords.

Not Your Father’s Water Cooler

First thing’s first: These days, no one is calling the corporate break room the “break room” anymore. That term conjures images of the water coolers of a bygone era where employees might take a 10-minute break to stretch their legs and then shuffle back to their cubicles or private offices. The new language for casual spaces in the workplace better reflects the functions that are taking place within them.

“There’s a whole slew of names, but the idea is that they’re starting to incorporate many functions into one space,” notes Sven Shockey, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, principal at SmithGroupJJR, Washington, D.C. “They’re kitchens, they’re cafés, they’re social spaces, they’re meeting spaces all combined into one.”

Likening the break room to the ancient Greek concept of the “agora”, or gathering place, Angie Lee, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP BD+C, vice president at SmithGroupJJR, says these new spaces function more like a marketplace where people come to interact and grab a cup of coffee, have lunch, socialize or have meetings. “The trend that we’re seeing is that these types of social gathering spaces—you can call them break rooms, or cafés, kitchens, living rooms, family rooms, what have you—are starting to become the heart of the work environment,” she says.

Whatever you want to call it, the idea of a cramped “break room” with four walls and a door has also gone by the wayside. With the open office plan having taken root in corporate America, flexible work environments are blurring the lines between formal and informal workspaces, and perhaps nowhere is this more visible than in the break room.

For high-end fashion brand vente-privee, Perkins+Will designed social hubs and communal living spaces that encourage casual interactions in an industrial chic, open-loft environment in lower Manhattan.   PHOTO: Eduard Hueber, courtesy of Perkins+Will

For high-end fashion brand vente-privee, Perkins+Will designed social hubs and communal living spaces that encourage casual interactions in an industrial chic, open-loft environment in lower Manhattan.
PHOTO: Eduard Hueber, courtesy of Perkins+Will

“We’ve designed spaces where the break room has essentially turned into the lobby,” says Colin Brice, co-founder and principal of New York-based design firm Mapos. “We’ve designed spaces where the break room has turned into meeting rooms or it encompasses meeting rooms. We’ve designed spaces where the break room has quasi-meeting rooms, as well as workspaces within it. So it’s kind of this multifaceted, multi-programmed space that has grown in size and starts to accommodate and merge with other areas. Barriers are being taken down.”

Location, Location, Location

Traditionally “break rooms” have been relatively small in size and placed in the back of the office, out of sight from clients or prospective recruits to prevent them from discovering a mess left for the nighttime cleaning crew. The break room has since been relocated to the center (or front) of the office and has grown in size, often reducing the need for dedicated workspaces or meeting rooms.

“When we’re planning break rooms what we try and do is minimize the quantity of them, so instead of having four or five coffee bars spread throughout the floor, we’re trying to create one, central kitchen area where everyone can go because it encourages people to cross-pollinate;
it encourages interdisciplinary discussion,” says Denise Cherry, principal and design director at Studio O+A, San Francisco.

Function, then, becomes a key driver in deciding where to locate a café or town hall to ensure the space is used as intended.

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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