From Coffee Breaks to Collaboration Spaces: The Break Room Evolution

Once a cold, sterile, strictly utilitarian space, the humble break room has evolved to become an essential part of the modern workplace. Employee break rooms have long been used as a spot to provide workers with practical essentials. Today, these spaces are so much more than a place to grab a quick cup of stale coffee. 

The modern break room has become a hub where employees can escape from their workstations, casually chat with each other, and have impromptu collaboration sessions. It also holds the power to boost productivity, bolster morale, and drive company culture. 

Employees who take breaks, even quick, five-minute “microbreaks,” typically experience increased energy and greater productivity. Providing the workforce with spaces conducive to disconnecting — even briefly — can also help reduce and prevent burnout, which has been a major concern among employees at all levels worldwide for the past few years. 

No matter how the office shifts and evolves, the break room will likely remain a vital part of its design. To better understand this essential space and its role in the modern workplace, let’s explore the break room’s history before looking toward the future of break room design. 

Why Were Break Rooms Created?

The notion of taking a “coffee break” first emerged in the early 1900s in conjunction with the shift toward an eight-hour workday. As skyscrapers, large commercial properties, and open-plan offices evolved during the early- to mid-20th century, plans for a dedicated staff kitchen began emerging. With office work creating a work environment in which employees spent most of their time at desks, the need for a room for quick coffee breaks or employee lunches grew. These early break rooms were sparse and basic, typically with a coffee machine, table, and chairs.  

The need for a break room goes far beyond just providing employees with an area to grab coffee and eat lunch. Statistics from a 2017 survey conducted by Tork revealed that taking a lunch break allows 94% of workers to feel happier, and 39% of workers who do so report a healthier work-life balance. In that same survey, more than nine out of 10 workers and leaders agreed that taking breaks supports improved mental focus.

Including a break room in the office’s design encourages employees to take a break during the work day. When employees resist stepping away, eating lunch at their desks instead, productivity and performance suffer. 

How Have Break Rooms Evolved?

Break rooms may have begun as basic spaces, but they have evolved over the past few decades as employers started recognizing the benefits of employees taking breaks. 

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the gradual change gave way to a larger shift, and companies began adopting designs intended to support relaxation and meet employee needs. Even during this time, the break room remained more practical than fun. Neutral tones, vending machines, microwaves, and uncomfortable seating were staples of these spaces. 

However, when the tech boom occurred during the 2000s, tech companies took a vested interest in supporting their employees’ well-being, and the break room, which was a previously unexplored resource, transformed. Color psychology, comfortable seating, and healthy snacks became the norm. Providing gyms, reading rooms, and recreational touches like pool tables started gaining traction. 

By the 2010s, companies in Silicon Valley were notorious for having over-the-top break areas complete with nap rooms, video games, and amenities to entice employees to play. Some organizations provide a free lunch on certain days, fresh produce, and local coffees among their perks to attract and retain top talent. 

Today, modern break room design focuses on creating functional spaces that encourage face time with coworkers and leadership. These areas are calming, comfortable, and well-suited for everything from small meetings to breakout brainstorming sessions. Break rooms are areas designed for nourishment, refreshment, wellness, creativity, and collaboration. 

No longer are these spaces just rooms. The break room is a tool employers can use to promote employee engagement, bolster company culture, and support employees’ well-being. 

How Will Break Rooms Continue to Evolve in the Future?

Just as the future of work continues to evolve to best meet the changing needs of the workforce, so does the break room. With the acceleration of remote work and the widespread adoption of hybrid work schedules, organizations are increasingly tasked with providing spaces where in-office and remote workers can socialize, gather, and collaborate. Additionally, as employers struggle to retain and attract talent, incorporating wellness and well-being within the workplace is becoming a priority, with break rooms and office design taking center stage.

In the ever-evolving office, the break room will become the beating heart of the organization, with a comfort-minded design intended to provide a residential feeling that welcomes inhabitants and encourages employees to stay a while. It will feature thoughtful design elements tailored to the unique needs of its workforce, with spaces for eating, creating, and truly taking a break from the workday.

Expect to see increasing amenities, including healthy snacks and employee experiences. These areas will be inherently flexible for various uses and may begin incorporating more greenery, technology, and upscale beverage offerings that rival employees’ favorite local coffee shops. 

How Can CORT Permanently Flexible® Solutions Help Employers Adapt to the Changing Needs of Break Rooms?

CORT Permanently Flexible Solutions empower organizations with the flexibility they need to create adaptive workspaces that evolve with the workplace’s evolving role. Whether you want to change the break room’s layout entirely or add new furniture to expand its usability, CORT Office Furniture Rental  makes it easy to pivot and change in response to employees’ changing needs. 

First, it’s essential to have the capability to understand break rooms’ occupancy in real time. That’s where our 4SITE technology comes into play. This technology provides essential data without compromising privacy or security, allowing employers to optimize their break room space and ensure that it’s being used effectively. For example, support occupancy data shows specific areas are barely used. In response, decision-makers can adjust the layout to better meet their employees’ unique needs. 

Additionally,  CORT Permanently Flexible Solutions offers CORT Furniture-as-a-Service™ (FaaS) that facilitates greater agility in designing (and redesigning) the entire office, including break rooms. With FaaS, employers have access to a wide variety of furniture options, from ergonomic seating to comfortable, residential-inspired pieces to tables and standing desks. 

Leveraging the power of FaaS allows employers to adapt their break room furniture to create ideal spaces based on their goals. Add greenery, create lounge areas with soft seating, utilize bar areas with high-top tables and stools, and place round tables in game areas — FaaS makes it easy to do it all. In turn, employers can better provide a dynamic space that allows for recharging, rejuvenation, and conversation.

How Will You Keep Up With the Evolving Needs of the Office Break Room?

From the mid-20th century until now, the office break room has already undergone a dramatic transformation. What began as a simple, practical space for workers to take a quick coffee break has evolved into an effective tool employers can use to promote employee engagement, foster well-being, and bolster the company culture. 

We anticipate the break room will continue evolving parallel to the needs of the workforce. CORT Furniture Rental remain ready and able to help employers create a space that adapts to these changing needs while promoting a healthy and productive work environment.

Learn more about CORT Permanently Flexible™ Solutions and the services we offer to support the changing workplace today, tomorrow, and into the future.