Activity Based Working: What Is A Social Zone?

Activity Based Working (ABW) recognises that throughout the day, employees will undertake a variety of different tasks. ABW facilitates employees with the space they need, equipped with the right technology and design, to complete their tasks efficiently.

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What Is The Purpose Of A Social Zone?

The social zone is intended to be an area where employees can enjoy catch-ups, take a 10-minute break or casually get together and share ideas. It can also act as a casual working environment for employees that prefer to work in high-energy spaces with background noise.

ABW acknowledges that employees are humans, not just workers. Therefore, social zones in the office can boost employee satisfaction and help foster a positive office environment. Rather than have their heads down at a desk all day, social zones encourage employees to explore and interact with others. For example, employees from different departments may conduct a casual meeting over coffee rather than book a formal meeting room or converse via email.

Research by the Delft University of Technology found that employees of ABW offices experienced greater communication and shared more knowledge. Additionally, social spaces drove greater interactions between different departments. In traditional offices, departments or team members tend to sit together at their dedicated desks, but ABW encourages employees to be more flexible, explore new working environments and build human connections. Therefore, social zones encourage a more dynamic office and create a welcoming atmosphere.


What Does A Social Zone Look Like?

When employees enter the social zone, they should be able to feel the buzz of the atmosphere straight away. All elements of a social zone should welcome employees and visitors to take a seat. For example, the radio could be on, people would be chatting, and large-format displays could show the latest updates. Comfortable furniture and décor details such as artwork and inspiring quotes signify a space of comfort.

The social zone is typically the biggest of all the zones because it facilitates more employees at once. Some ABW offices may incorporate games and well-being elements into the social zone too. This offers team members a space to de-stress, increasing productivity and employee satisfaction.

A social zone can also have different areas for different purposes. Sofas with coffee tables can be used to work from laptops or host an informal meeting. Cafeteria seating can be used for lunch breaks or social catch-ups. Rows of open desks with comfortable seating can be used for individual work. Some offices may even decide to use lightweight furniture that can be moved around the space. Access to plenty of plugs and connectivity is key in these social areas as employees should be able to take a seat anywhere to work.


Case Study: Microsoft's Office In Amsterdam

Innovation is vital to a successful business such as Microsoft. Having always been ahead of the game, in 2008 Sevil Peach redesigned Microsoft’s office in Amsterdam. According to the design brief:

“Microsoft wanted to encourage social interaction and collaboration whilst actively demonstrating the flexibility of the company’s software within the workplace”.

The challenge they faced was to create a welcoming, working environment that supported 1,000 employees without a set desk. Sevil Peach designed an open route from reception through to the 1st floor, allowing everyone access to the social zone, which Microsoft wanted to be the heart of the building. By doing this, staff and visitors could interact in a communal workspace – showcasing Microsoft’s flexibility, mobility and adaptability.

Microsoft open plan office design

Benches for informal meetings, individual work carousels, meeting rooms and two auditoriums were also added to enhance the social buzz along with a coffee shop, dining area and sleep pods.

Although coffee points were dotted all around the office, the dedicated social zone and coffee shop were designed to be the social hub of the building, intended to welcome everyone from the CEO to the postman.  A communal social hub on the first floor effectively created a sense of purpose and belonging for all team members.

A ceiling runner was used to guide people through the different work zones. Microsoft further explored its innovative approach with a runner that was made to encourage playful interaction. For example, it dangled blank boards in some areas for inspired scribbling.

In the rest of the building, Sevil Peach set up teamwork benches, meeting rooms, open informal meeting areas, concentration booths, individual set-ups and work lounges. Rather than a desk, employees were each given a personal locker and a piece of chalk to customise it.

Microsoft Netherlands Office

Consequently, Microsoft Netherlands had a 25% productivity increase and a 30% drop in real-estate costs when they switched to an ABW workspace. Although few other companies have the same resources as this tech giant – it nonetheless serves as a large-scale example of how ABW can create a space that is more than just an office.

“The best way to describe the experience that Sevil Peach created in an office is to say that it is very much like coming home after a long trip, stepping through the front door of your home and knowing that you are where you most want to be – home! I felt completely comfortable and at ease in the space the team created for Microsoft” – Kevin Sauer, Microsoft.


What Technology Is Needed In A Social Zone?

An ABW workplace enables employees to fulfil tasks effectively and efficiently. Once the space has been designed, technology must be implemented to support the different zones and work tasks. While whiteboards, Wi-Fi and power outlets will be staple, more tailored technology will be vital to the successful implementation of activity based working.

For individual work in the social zone, employees will require monitors. As multiple employees will use these throughout the day, users would benefit from ergonomic, water resistant and high-quality monitors. Document solutions will also be useful for printing out and scanning meeting notes or design ideas.

A large format display is also a common technology type for social zones as it can effectively deliver messages and add to the atmosphere. For example, a business may display its values, latest news, videos or a music playlist. Connectivity accessories, mounts and cables will ensure that displays are utilised to their full potential.

Keeping employees and visitors safe is more important than ever as people return to the office. Resources such as sanitary stations and temperature checks will ensure that people can work with peace of mind and protect each other.

ABW workplaces allow employees to take control and decide which environment is best suited to their task. The social zone usually acts as the hub of the office as it sets the tone of the business. To create a successful social zone at work, businesses should consider the décor, furniture, technology and resources.

Keep up with Midwich as we explore more Activity Based Working zones! Next up - the Learning Zone!