Design Insider’s current campaign focusses on bars and restaurants but we wanted to take a small sidestep to look at the impact of the café culture within the workplace. We spoke asked Sarah Dodsworth, Associate Director at SpaceInvader for her opinion.
Within the modern workplace, the cafe is the beating heart – a vital part of the mix for serious business operators who want to get the best out of their teams. Unlike any other zone or neighbourhood on the space plan, cafés succeed in being an office’s most unforced and informal space because they speak the language of hospitality – warmth, welcome and all the promise of relaxation and satisfaction that comes with somewhere you can eat and drink.
They’re places people naturally congregate in and socialise and they form a sense of community in a completely different way from other parts of a workspace, where you liaise with people either in your team or with a more specific mission – with HR or accounts for example. The chance encounters and interesting conversations people wouldn’t have had in other ways increase a café’s possibilities for encouraging innovation and collaboration.
The best places to locate a workplace café are either on the ground floor, specially if people rely on grabbing a great coffee on their way into work, or else, if you have the luxury of a roof terrace or open area to spill out on, on an upper floor, as with this part of the BCO-award-winning scheme we designed for Muse Developments in Salford.
Cafés are also the places where the senses are more in play, thanks to smells coming from food prep or great quality coffee and increased visual stimulation from colours of a salad bar or the steam rising from the making a cappuccino being made. Sounds are different here too, for those cafés that play a music soundtrack for example. Otherwise there’s the noise of people chatting or laughing, without the self-consciousness that comes from being in the quieter areas of the office. Tactile fabrics and upbeat colours appeal to the eye and to our sense of touch and all these elements combine to relax and revive people, temporarily disassociating them from the stress of their desks, computer screens and the parameters of their role.
When it comes to strengthening a brand, cafés aren’t places for heavy-handed signage (apart from the branding of an external operator) or visual clutter. Brand loyalty is a subtler affair in a good workplace café, which communicates in a very simple and effective way that your employer cares about you and is looking after your wellbeing needs directly. The productivity benefits, meanwhile, of offering really fresh and nutritious food, should by now be obvious to everyone.
Design isn’t the whole story of course and ensuring your workplace café is run by someone who really cares about the offer and the customers is hugely important too – just as it would be with a great Maitre d’ in an external restaurant. At the multi-award-winning Number One Kirkstall Forge in Leeds, the workplace café really showed its true potential when a second operator took over. The extra love and care shown in the form of handmade food, such as pork pies (always appealing to Yorkshire folk!) and superb, healthy Ottolenghi-style salads, constantly changing, was quickly reflected in how full the space became at all times of the day. Unusually, this workplace café, located on the canal-side in Leeds, is also open to the public. The local community has really embraced it too.
When a workplace café is really given space to thrive, as with this café we completed a few years back for AstraZeneca at Middlewood Court, the buzz and vibe can be unbelievable. You’d truly think it was a standalone hospitality offer. In a workplace location, you couldn’t really ask for more.