The engaging workplace is one in which the distinction between “work” and “leisure” is weak or absent. By providing and supporting opportunities for free social interaction throughout the organisation, people will be enabled to form and develop friendships and interest groups in such a way that being in the workplace is socially rewarding.

The provision of diverse relaxation areas and in-house catering are part of the answer, but it will also be necessary for those who own or direct the organisation to also accept that “work” is not defined by location in the flexible environment, and that social interaction and leisure is part of both the process and the landscape of engagement. This is feasible only if both employees and organisation are attuned to the same overall productivity aims—and if such a working culture is explicit within the organisation. That said, there are people for whom the ideal working pattern is long periods of relaxation interspersed with intense but brief periods of task-directed activity. There are others who favour a more measured, evenly divided pattern of rest and task-directed activity. Others may be wholly task-directed by preference, and may choose little social interaction, and shorter attendance in the workplace itself.

Freedom to work and to socialise in ways that suit their personalities and preferences will result in greater satisfaction.

Regardless of preference, the productivity goals of the organisation will remain intact, and so long as people accept their responsibility for achieving those goals, allowing them the freedom to work and to socialise in ways that suit their personalities and preferences will result in greater satisfaction.

The design of socialising areas might include at one end of the scale large group entertainment areas, and at the other end voluntary social isolation areas, (when socialising is not the preference). This variety is key to the success of this approach, to enable users of the space to select the most relevant environment, and to feel able to interact in ways that suit their preferences. Because socialising preferences are dynamic, rather than static, the socialising facilities should be reconfigurable or multipurpose. For example, it might be possible for staff to host lifestyle or personal interest meetings and seminars, or to present movies or documentaries in conference areas. More formal areas will need to be set aside and equipped for games or sports.

This article is extracted from our white paper ‘Strangers in the Office. You can download the full report here.