As a company manager or business owner, you’re constantly challenged to find ways to lead your organization to “work smarter, not harder.” This week we take a look at why leading-edge companies, like Google, Twitter, and Spotify, have introduced dedicated spaces to increase social interaction at work — ranging from modern reincarnations of traditional office cafeterias to active office lounge spaces kitted out with custom break room furniture — all designed to encourage employees to take physical and mental breaks away from their desks throughout the work day. The net result? Increased productivity and higher worker satisfaction.
Height Adjustable Conference Table in Lounge
Lunchtime habits at work are often uniquely tied to culture. As Americans, we take great pride in our work ethic, and often make broad statements comparing ourselves favorably to Europeans, particularly the French, with their stereotypical hours-long lunches conducted over a bottle of wine, or “shut down the office for two or more hours” siestas that reputedly take place each afternoon in Spain.
Culture shock works in reverse too. Here’s a good example: business visitors from Germany — the European economic powerhouse that is often conveniently overlooked when Americans make productivity comparisons — suffer intense culture shock when visiting American workplaces. Why? Whereas most German employees sit down to eat in office cafeterias each and every day — precisely at noon, it being Germany after all — few Americans do the same.
According to reporting in Germany’s leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, surveys show that upwards of 60% of American workers eat lunch at their desks on any given day.
Yes, long gone are the “Mad Men” two-martini executive lunches we once enjoyed during the 1950s and 1960s, having largely been replaced by the solitary habit of eating lunch at our desks while working (sandwich in one hand and a computer mouse in the other.)
Why is this? According to the SHRM 2014 Employee Benefits Report (behind a paywall), less than one in five American employers provide an office cafeteria where employees can sit down to a meal, and less than 15% of employers offer subsidized employee meals.
For many observers (from overseas and here at home), this utterly dismal staple of American workplace culture — eating at our desks, ostensibly in the name of saving valuable time — is best summed up by the savage Internet “Sad Desk Lunch” meme.
Sad Desk Lunch Photos by The Huffington Post, Click the image to see more
Rediscovering the Productivity Benefits of Employee Office Cafeterias and Office Lounges
That trend is starting to change.
The reintroduction of office cafeterias and enhanced office lounges (aka break rooms) to the American workplace is part of an ongoing major overhaul in modern office design — a movement characterized by incorporating large, open spaces, shared communal workspaces and striking visual elements (often based on a strong, industrial-look aesthetic.)
TIP: If you are new to the benefits of this type of office design, you’ll want to read our article on How Industrial Office Design Supports Your Brand.
As evidence of this trend of (re)incorporating cafeteria and lounge spaces into modern office designs, we can point to four recent Formaspace projects:
At GE Ventures, Formaspace built their custom employee cafeteria and lounge tables.
Expansive Cafe & Lounge Table
At Twitter, Formaspace built their custom employee cafeteria table and desks.
Twitter Lounge & Office — Atlanta
For this unnamed client, Formaspace built custom break room furniture with tables that have a unique hand-crank mechanism to change the height from a seated to a standing position.
Height Adjustable Conference Table in Lounge
At the Busch manufacturing plant in Austin, Texas, Formaspace designed and built this custom break room furniture for their new employee office lounge and kitchen canteen.
Before you dismiss this trend as something limited to high-flying West Coast tech companies, take a look at what’s happening in Middle America. In the Chattanooga metro area, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee has built a stunning glass-walled “Hill Top Cafe” where employees can look out at the Tennessee River as it winds past Lookout and Signal Mountains. Volkswagen’s Chattanooga car assembly factory has a new “Das Cafe” featuring outdoor seating and umbrellas, and, over the state line in Georgia, Shaw Industries completely updated their old cafeteria to make it look and feel like a modern Starbucks coffee shop.
Four Ways Office Cafeterias and Office Lounges Can Improve Employee Satisfaction and Productivity
It’s time to get specific.
Just what productivity benefits can an employer expect to get by investing in new corporate cafeterias, break rooms or office lounges?