By Paul Chai 13 March 2018

No longer just nooks and crannies furnished with a thrifty aesthetic, breakout spaces are rapidly becoming the most productive parts of the office.

A modern workplace needs to be all things to all people. Whether you are a desk-bound introvert or a laptop jockey who likes to hot-desk near the espresso machine, eventually you’ll need a breakout space.

These spaces should be flexible enough to accommodate the office’s creative ebb and flow.

“The whole purpose of having a breakout space is to have a multi-purpose area where you can get away from the grind of the day,” says Sam Henderson, client services manager at Aspect Commercial Interiors.

Breakout spaces are designed to provide a retreat from the general working environment, he says.

The best offices take this concept to the next level, the most famous of which is the Googleplex offices in Silicon Valley, a legendarily funky workspace that features rubber balls, sleep pods and dinosaur skeletons.

But there are plenty of Australian companies incorporating thoughtful and inspirational breakout spaces in their overall office design.

Roche's rain room at 30 The Bond in Sydney.

Inspired Australian breakout space design

The pharmaceutical division of healthcare pioneer Roche occupies the top three levels of Dexus’s 30 The Bond office building, in Sydney. The office has a number of collaborative working spaces but the most innovative is the Rain Room, a roofless atrium with a steel stairway in the middle of the floor connecting the two main working levels with the rooftop garden.

“The Rain Room provides natural light (and sometimes rain) into the centre of our workspace, giving a sense of openness and connection with the environment,” says Scott Marks, Human Resources Director at Roche.

“It also encourages activity in line with our commitment to employee health and wellbeing by providing an additional option to walk between levels, rather than take the lifts.”

The Roche office has been designed to encourage creativity, flexibility, and interaction among the business’s different teams. The idea is that employees will work better if they have the choice of a range of different environments to work in.

At Moose Toys in Melbourne, manufacturer of the international toy craze Shopkins, the breakout spaces reflect the company’s playful personality. The meeting space is a cubby house at the top of a beanstalk, and staff have access to a full-size basketball court.

The addition of play and creative spaces are vital in an office environment, especially in a business like ours. Eva Daly, Moose Toys
The Beanstalk and treehouse. Credit: Moose Toys in Melbourne.

How to make meetings child’s play

“The addition of play and creative spaces are vital in an office environment, especially in a business like ours,” says Eva Daly, Moose Toys global PR and partnerships manager.

“Not only do these spaces bring key people together and provide them with an inspiring space, they also provide team members with a place to go and get some quiet time, and reset if they need to.”

The Moose mission statement is to “Make children happy”, so the company decided this had to apply to staff, as well.

“Everyone who walks into our office smiles as soon as they see the beanstalk and treehouse. It is magical, and that is what we wanted to achieve,” says Daly.

“We also put a lot of thought into the design of our work spaces, our outdoor areas and the beautiful art and sculptures throughout the office. We have dedicated Skype rooms set up specifically for meetings with our teams who are based overseas – one of them is the cockpit of a DC-3 plane.”

These spaces do more than just help staff work together or take a break. A well-designed office can be the key to retaining staff in a competitive environment. Moose Toys carried out an engagement survey that found over 90 per cent of staff viewed the company in a positive light, while over at Roche employees felt fitter and more positive towards the company.

“The proximity of the Rain Room to workspaces, and the fact that it leads to a beautiful rooftop garden, helps promote employees taking regular breaks and provides opportunities for interacting with their colleagues, which have both physical and mental health benefits,” says Scott Marks.

“If employees feel better physically and mentally, they are bound to be more productive and satisfied.”

Canon Oceania gave its employees a key role in designing the company’s Sydney office, which is full of collaboration zones, modern art and bright open spaces.

“Canon employees chose factors that mattered most to them,” says Sara Marshall, director of human resources, communications and facilities at Canon Oceania.

“This included green building credentials, being active, travel to and from work, information management, storage and sharing across the organisation.”

There are also zones to encourage coincidental catch-ups where employees from different business units might meet. Canon employees reported there was a significant lift in the kinds of incidental meetings that have been found to drive quicker problem solving and creativity.

And for all these companies, providing workspace improvements for staff is a process that is constantly evolving.

“Good design never stops. We are constantly reviewing how our spaces are used, and adapting to encourage different working styles,” says Moose Toys’ Eva Daly.


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