Break out! Essential Qualities of the Ideal Breakout Area


The nature and style of working has evolved and developed. It has become vital to engage employees and create a working environment that enhances comfort and provides a means for collaboration (1). A large part of this includes providing a space other then the workstation to work from. An ‘activity-based’ area or setting easily accessible for improvised working (2). These spaces include meeting areas, breakout areas and spaces that allow people to continue working away from their desk. We deconstruct the essential qualities that make an ideal breakout area with best practice examples.

Colour: Colour plays a significant role for each person, according to their own personal life experiences, however according to research by Kwallek, Soon, and Lewis (3) on the effects of different colours on workplace productivity, generalisations can be drawn on a few colours. For instance, bright colour denote higher focus, blue is calming and yellow enhances alertness and clear headed decision making.

A number of high design breakout areas we looked at feature the use of green. According to Colour Psychology, green is associated to rejuvenation, harmony and relaxation. It is also the colour people associate to nature so hinders a very peaceful and secure feeling. The green breakout areas that stood out include:

Cyberport Smart-Space office in Hong Kong

Cyberport-Smart-Space-office Hong-Kong breakout

(Image Credit: Axis Design International, HK)


SingTel Call centre in Singapore


(Image Credit: SCA Design)


’t Park in Amsterdam

t Park Amsterdam breakout

(Image Credit: Cube Architecten)


Lighting: As well as natural lighting, creating a variation on lighting helps to differentiate between spaces and enhance workforce wellbeing (4). From downlighting to artistic light features, the more creative the further a breakout space will standout. A great example is the MTV Networks Headquarters in Berlin. Tree ‘parasols’ line the main atrium and dining area breaking away from a corporate style of the rest of the building and lighting the room with an indirect glow. This creates a comforting and inviting ambiance in the large space. The breakout spaces for London based Digitas Lbi presents a mixture of lighting for each space. From large pendent shades to drop lights, the use of lighting and natural daylight from the skylights work coherently together.

MTV Networks Headquarters in Berlin

MTV Networks Headquarters Berlin breakout(Image Credit: Dan Pearlman)


Digitas Lbi, London

LBi-event-space london breakout

(Image Credit: JackDaw Studio)


Furniture: Breakout spaces quintessentially mean a more relaxed and casual setting then the workstation (5). It needs to be multifunctional so people are able to carry out any number of tasks from eating, relaxing, working away from the desk and carrying out informal meetings. McCann Erickson in London has a central breakout zone which features a range of tables and seating styles including stools, cafe chairs and relaxing sofa’s all coinciding with a retro, recycled and retrofitted theme. Tech firm Ansarada in Sydney operates on a 24-hour rota. Therefore it was vital to offer spaces to allow staff to relax and unwind. The use of large lounging sofas is a stark contrast to the more bold workstation area. Swings also add a touch of playfulness into the office space. Another highly active workplace operating on long hours is the San Francisco office of Capital One. A lab space for its creative team, the breakout spaces feature sound booths, sofas and under stair seating areas. The highlight is a ‘tree house’ like booth accessed via stairs where staff can rest, blocking sound from around the office. These projects highlight how the breakout space needs to be furnished according to the needs and trends of the workforce.

McCann Erickson in London

McCann-Erickson central-breakout-zone London(Image Credit: Office Principles) 


Ansarada office in Sydney

Ansarada techfirm Sydney breakout

(Image Credit: Brett Boardman)



Capital One office, San Francisco

capital-one-lab breakout sanfrancisco

(Image Credit: Jasper Sanidad)



1 Towers Perrin, ‘European Talent Survey: Reconnecting with Employees: Attracting, Retaining and Engaging,’ 2004.

2 Davenport, Thomas H., McKinsey Quarterly, ‘Rethinking Knowledge Work: A Strategic Approach,’ February 2011.

3 “Work week productivity, visual complexity, and individual environmental sensitivity in three offices of different color interiors”. Color Research and Application, 32(2), 130-143, 2006.

4 Heerwagen, Judith H. , Ph.D., ‘Design, Productivity and Well Being: What Are the Links?,’ March 12-14, 1998.

5 “Engaged Employees Inspire Company Innovation,” The Gallup Management Journal, 2006, New York, NY.



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