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Social spaces are new essentials in the work place

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Employees want spots to relax, chat and gather for creativity

Accepting a job offer or staying with the current employer has become about more than the salary offered, as young professionals place increasing importance on the physical environments in which they work.

For business and commercial property owners, this can mean a rethink, and possible overhaul, of their traditional office spaces to make them more attractive to current and future employees.

Social spaces in the work space are more important than before, says Natalie Mabaso, an industrial psychologist at Paragon Interiors, a corporate interior design firm in Joburg.

“A move towards co-working environments has drawn attention to the benefit and importance of shared spaces where a network of relationships can be formed.”

“There is a demand for spaces where employees can drop in, have a cup of coffee, bump into colleagues from other departments or teams, and start a conversation about the rugby that might turn into an idea for a project.

“Organisations are beginning to realise more that ‘social capital’ has value, maybe even equal to that of financial capital,” Mabaso says.

Workplace cafeteria services are appreciated by employees. Picture: Max Frajer

An increased focus on wellness means more organisations are considering facilities that cater for physical and psychological well-being, such as therapy consultation rooms, in-house beautician services, gyms or group exercise rooms.

A primary requirement remains the need for quiet spaces, such as focus rooms or library zones, where individuals can move out of the general areas into more private spaces to engage in confidential or intense focus work.

“Walk into any office that provides separate booths or enclosed rooms and you will note they are almost always occupied,” says Mabaso.

Michael Taggart, head of digital solutions at JLL Australia, says meeting rooms have become more important than ever, thanks to the rise of the open-plan office. However, they are seldom used for meetings and have become a place of refuge. A study shows they are routinely occupied by just one person.

“We see it often – rooms that are never booked in the system, but are constantly occupied. That’s people making a call, finding space to focus or getting away from a noisy office. Workers need a place to retreat.”

Co-working offices are almost synonymous with lounge space: couches, hangout nooks and coffee bars where staff can work on laptops, hold meetings or leave their desks for a change of scenery, says Tom Larance, head of experience at JLL.

Many companies want to create that level of flexibility in their offices but don’t have room for it. Landlords are stepping in and creating tenant lounges.

As work days get longer, it becomes important that buildings have places for employees to have fun, Larance says. Some tenant lounges include spaces where employees can let off steam.

Tenant lounges can also be a gateway to another revenue stream – cafeterias. These offerings are becoming more important as fewer workers take lunch boxes.

Mabaso says the new ergonomics regulations, published by the employment and labour minister in the Government Gazette in December, hold organisations accountable for providing a workspace that carefully considers the person-machine interface to optimise well-being.

“One might assume this is a primary consideration just for industrial environments, where repetitive tasks and loud noises are common, but the regulations apply to all organisations, including offices where employees spend most of the day seated.”

Ergonomic workstations – desks and chairs – are important considerations as South African legislation catches up with the global understanding that health and well-being are directly linked to productivity and the performance of the economy.

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