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Exterior perspective of the Amazon Spheres as seen from Lenora Street, Seattle.|||
Exterior perspective of the Amazon Spheres as seen from Lenora Street, Seattle.
22 Apr 2020

Work vs leisure: striking the balance of amenities in the office

Words by  Photo by Reuters

Within the workplace today it wouldn’t be out of place to find gyms, restaurants, ping-pong tables, bars and even a sauna. Is there nothing the workplace will stop at to keep us in its four-walled clutch, asks Philip Ross?

As work becomes more flexible and the boundary between work and life more fluid, mobile workers often perform tasks that require high concentration not only in traditional office spaces but also in environments that are typically related to leisure such as parks, coffee shops or living rooms. While scientific evidence indicates that complete concentration is best achieved in traditional office settings (desk, chair and computer), there is a shift in demand for working in leisure spaces. If attracting employees back to the office is the main goal of the organisation, it is important to provide spaces that both accommodate focus work and leisure settings.

The blending of workplace and leisure has been taken to extreme levels in some offices. Take Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle as a key example: it built an entire indoor rainforest to accommodate workspace into a leisure environment. Workstations and informal collaboration spaces are nestled in the vast variety of plants, trees and walkways in a three-sphere structure.

The concept of introducing indoor gardens into the workplace contributes to the growing trend of biophilia and an emphasis on mental and physical wellbeing. But if wellbeing was the true end result, why don’t employers encourage employees to walk outside and encourage leisure activities in their own time?

Leisure has found its place in the workplace because of employee demand and expectation. Why would an employee come into the office to sit at a desk for nine hours when they could just stay in the comfort of their home and do the same tasks? This trend has now become a key component in the race for talent; in recognising this, organisations are trying to leverage popular leisure settings in the workplace.

Organisations have drawn inspiration from members clubs, hospitality and residential design, replicating some of the design features
found in leisure environments. While traditional workplace settings are still offered, activitybased working now invites employees to carry out work in biophilic zones, social seating areas and on rooftops. This variety of workspace settings is more akin to the expectations and work styles of today where people have autonomy over where and how they work.

Leisure environments also have a significant impact on wellbeing at work. It is well documented that we need both work and leisure for our physical and mental wellbeing. In recognising that employees cannot concentrate for the entire working day, companies have introduced game rooms and social spaces which encourage employees to take a break and free their mind. This has been proven to lead to more innovative thought processes and idea sharing.

The workplace needs to consider wellbeing in the round. This includes mental stimulation (concentration spaces), social environments, areas for physical fitness (staircases, gyms and games rooms) and places for mindfulness (garden rooms, quiet areas, biophilic features).

Organisations need to consider the relationship between space and nature of work to produce curated and experiential environments which, ultimately, will yield the best productivity output from the employee. 

But how far should companies go in incorporating leisure settings into the workplace? If employees no longer want to conduct their leisure pursuits outside of work, then they just spend all their time at work. And, if you’re at work, is it really leisure time?

Should leisure be left at the doors of the office and pursued in the employees’ own time? If business and leisure become too integrated, is it just bleasure? – neither work nor leisure but a half attempt at both. The balance between work and play is a difficult one as organisations are either accused of infantilising the workplace or of being ‘behind the trends’.

Can there ever be such a thing as a perfect blend of leisure and work? Think about it in your own time.

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