Companies Rethink The Office Break Room As A Collaborative Workspace

By Roger Vincent
Los Angeles Times.


For generations, office kitchens were hidden out of sight, an unloved necessity kept stark to ensure that workers didn’t linger.

Now some companies are seeing office kitchens in a new light, turning them into gathering showplaces intended to boost morale, encourage collaboration and impress clients.

“At home, where does interaction happen? The kitchen,” said commercial interior designer Chris Coldoff, who tries to get people to do the same thing at work. “It’s about making personal connections: Starting conversations that lead to a lot of creative ideas.”

Showcasing the kitchen calls for a repeal of old attitudes at most businesses, workplace experts said. Historically, the office kitchen was a simple service function with a refrigerator, a coffee pot and some storage space.

“It’s a miserable space to spend any time, a closet with fluorescent lights, linoleum everywhere and unpleasant smells,” said Georgia Collins, head of workplace strategy for real estate brokerage CBRE Group Inc. “You want to get in and get out as quick as possible.”

But what if the kitchen were also a place where you could work?

At CBRE’s new headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, employees do not have assigned desks and can set up a workstation wherever they choose. Legal assistant Nicholas Watson likes to drop anchor at the hand-carved, 18-feet-long wooden table in the kitchen.
It’s a pleasant space that provides chance interactions.

“Ordinarily, you wouldn’t be encouraged to mingle with people,” he said. “You get to learn more about other departments in an informal way and I can have impromptu, informal meetings with my boss. It really has become sort of a favorite spot.”

Law firm Morrison & Foerster had the same goal in its downtown LA office, where it created a space big enough for 80 people that was dubbed the “loungebrary” for its combined function as lounge and library.

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