The importance of food spaces in offices

Today’s work environments have come a long way from the office spaces that were created in the factories, where communal areas were restricted to staff canteens and long rows of indistinguishable table arrangements were set up with the sole purpose of serving as many people as quickly as possible.

Yet unfortunately, not all business owners have embraced the changes. It is disconcerting to see how many of the old ideas persist as many offices are still well off the mark of modern standards and employers increasingly concerned with motivation, engagement and higher levels of productivity. Staff common areas should be a vital part of office design rather than an afterthought.

For the enlightened, communal spaces and specifically food areas are regarded as essential dynamic spaces and centres of collaboration. With blue-chip companies such as Google leading the way, these shared spaces were soon to catch hold in organisations of all sizes.

The conversation today is not so much about the necessity of these areas, but about corporations such as tech start-ups and creative agencies almost competing to design the most creative space in order to attract top talent. The culture of an organisation is as important to potential recruits as its share offer.

From Beanbags to quiet rooms and slides that transport you from one floor to another, the list of novel ways that allow a company to exhibit its own version of culture has reached peak gimmick. But as one trend fades, a feature of the ongoing office revolution that will stand the test of time will undoubtedly be the staff kitchen.

Google feels so strongly about the benefits of free food it implements a strict rule that no ‘Googler’ in the office be more than 150 feet from food. The food can be provided by either a restaurant, a large cafeteria, or a micro-kitchen. But in any case, the point is to encourage Google’s employees to snack constantly as they interact with co-workers from different teams within the company.

Even if ‘Googlers’ aren’t constantly generating new ideas or products, plenty of evidence suggests that they enjoy their work and that this enjoyment feeds into motivation and an increase in productivity.

People from different backgrounds are more likely to develop original products, while those with similar attitudes are likely to get along, but none of those interactions could take place without the combination of casual encounters and unexpected conversations over food.

So what lessons can be learned in Dubai?
It’s likely that the financial services and similar industries might not want to fill their expensive office space with foosball tables and break out zones. However, in an open and growing economy like Dubai’s, where the commercial real estate market charges a premium for Grade A space, how do you strike a balance between learning lessons from the international corporates on establishing creative collaborative spaces that attract top talent and increase productivity while still making the most of the space you’ve got?

I say, break bread.

It is possible for any company, regardless of its size or industry, to encourage its staff. Simple steps, such as insisting that staff eat lunch away from their desks, or even going as far as to create a food space that engages staff and inspires new ideas, will ultimately increase the office’s productivity and inspire company success.

John Roely is the interior design manager at Figjam, a food concept and design agency based in Dubai.