Social Space in the Modern Office

Many firms are bringing the third space into the office and providing social spaces for staff to work and play in, where FMs can get the best from their people, says Mark Phillips.


With today’s mobile, digital workforce often choosing to meet and exchange ideas in office kitchens and breakout areas, it is here that facilities managers can get the best from their people – where they feel physically, acoustically and intellectually comfortable.

Traditionally, the third space has been defined as a place between home – first space and office – second space. A good example of a third space is a coffee shop where people can comfortably work from a laptop, access the web via Wi-Fi and socialise. The social space between home and work is now brought inside the office – generally in areas between workstations and formal meeting rooms. Third spaces are often breakout areas and kitchens.

There is a trend for increased spending on collaborative areas. You don’t have to look too far back – perhaps to 2000 – for a time when investment was heavily focused on workstations and client-facing areas. Private offices in particular could see an FM spend in excess of £5,000 per workstation with panelled desks and bespoke storage solutions.

This has shifted to collaborative spaces with clients often increasing the footprint of the traditional office kitchen to incorporate informal tables and chairs and other facilities.

The industry has gone past the point where a good social space was seen as a ‘nice to have’ as part of your office design. This kind of facility is now expected, particularly in larger workplaces.

There is a sense that a communal staff kitchen can help junior people and senior management to interact more effectively.

Tips for social spaces

Creating a new social space in your existing office might be easier than you think. In certain industries, particularly financial services, office design is changing to fit today’s needs.

Ken Harry is an architect with Abel Design Group and he told the Houston Business Journal how law firms in particular are evolving. He explains how computer literacy has had a large influence on the need for support.

“Traditionally, the ratio was one secretary per lawyer. Now, we’re looking at one secretary per five or six lawyers. If a secretary takes 100 square feet  that has a huge impact on space.”

Coupled with this, advances in technology mean that facilities such as libraries and archives are moving to the cloud, freeing up areas that are ideal for being turned into social spaces.

Home comforts really make a difference in corporate office fit-outs. Business lounges in the workplace are also being implemented. Furniture choices like high-backed sofas, coupled with carpeted areas and drop lighting work by turning this space from an office kitchen, where you just come to get a coffee, into a lounge where you can exchange ideas or just relax.

A good social space is incredibly flexible. Clients who think about how they work and what their people need tend to get this right. The best social spaces will be truly multi-purpose. A small space can serve as a kitchen, an eating area, informal meeting space, a hot-desk facility and a space for training, presentations and parties.

E-commerce company Groupon has recently introduced a large social space at its London office that takes advantage of views of the Thames and Tower Bridge.

The space includes a kitchen with a 16-seat breakfast bar, which enables whole teams to eat together. A mix of booths, sofas, swivel lounge chairs and plastic seats also affords a choice of settings for meetings and relaxing in. Finally, staff can take a break and enjoy the air hockey and table tennis tables.

Integrated systems

Integrated technology is a must for the modern social space. A recent survey by CoreNet Global and Cushman & Wakefield reveals that 88 per cent of EMEA corporate real estate professionals are investing in workplace improvements and 95 per cent are addressing workplace technology as part of those efforts.

Security and speed of data exchange is important in the digital economy. Power and fast, reliable WiFi are the minimum requirement for social spaces. Other technologies such as Clickshare, a wireless presentation system, make it easier for your people and your clients to come into your office and work efficiently and share ideas.

Social spaces can play an important role in solving open-plan office problems. Occupiers are looking for ways to maximise the efficiency of space and create appropriate boundaries between departments. Facilities managers are starting to incorporate social spaces in the form of acoustic booths and pods. They create effective sound barriers between a team of developers and a noisy sales team.

More meeting room space is high on many occupier wish-lists. Increasingly, social spaces incorporate facilities that enable meetings to take place in them. With no formal booking process and coffee often on tap, people choose to meet in social spaces ahead of traditional meeting rooms and boardrooms. Certain companies will feel very comfortable with bringing their clients into these spaces, making them feel closer to their brand and making their relationship more genuine.  

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call our team on 03333 355 938 or email us HERE (

19 November 2015 | By Mark Phillips. Mark Phillips is managing director at K2 Space

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