Office kitchens are the new meeting rooms

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Office kitchens are the new meeting rooms

People's behaviour can be influenced by their surroundings more than you might realise, and that's particularly true in the workplace.

How often do you see people keenly chatting and enthusing over the subject at hand in the kitchen, but then glaze over and drift into a trance in the meeting room?

This makes sense, as the kitchen offers people a valuable few minutes away from their computer screen and a place where they can clear their heads of the clutter and minutiae they must deal with the rest of the time.

A meeting room, meanwhile, can seem a relatively sterile and uninspiring environment, which doesn't always promote creative thinking at those times when it's most needed.

Is it any wonder then that many employers are moving meetings into their kitchen spaces and investing in making them pleasant and stimulating places to be?

Office kitchens are the new meeting rooms

According to research by STL Microsoft Training, the average employee at an SME goes to 207 meetings a year. However, 139 never reach a conclusion. Figures from the Harvard Business Review Meeting Cost Calculator suggest that employers pay £28 for every hour spent per employee in a meeting. This means that if a meeting lasts for an hour, it adds up to nearly £6,000 per employee every year.

And if an SME has up to 250 employees, it means time-wasting meetings could be costing them about £973,000 a year, before travel, transport fees and other expenses are factored in as well.

It shows there's a clear business case for overhauling how SMEs run meetings, beyond simply setting a clear agenda, not dragging it out for longer than necessary and making sure only those who actually need to be there are attending.

Adopting a new approach to where you carry out meetings could make a big difference, and the kitchen might be an ideal alternative location that you already have available.

As Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of virtual assistant platform Time etc, recently told the Telegraph: "Think of this relatively new kitchen culture as an upgrade to the office 'watercooler moment' - it's a widespread recognition that a quick chat can lead to bigger things.

"My team regularly heads to the kitchen to collaborate in our 'break-out- area.'

"And most of the high-spec serviced offices for SMEs that have popped up in the past couple of years have designed their communal spaces around a bustling open kitchen area serving excellent coffee."

This, he said, is not an accident, but instead a part of a new workplace culture that promotes networking.

Rob Tomkinson, PR manager at Harvey Water Softeners, agrees that a kitchen can be a great collaborative space, as his firm uses it as a meeting room, training area and traditional kitchen "all in the same open-plan space".

"It's a room that sums up the values of the company's founder Harvey Bowden," he commented.

"He's always wanted the people who work for him to enjoy work while doing a great job; this is one of the ways to help people do that."

So if you are looking to encourage collaborative working and get more out of your employees, overhauling your kitchen space could be a great step to take.

With this in mind, think of it as more than a functional space. Ideally, an SME's kitchen now needs to be in a good state of repair with attractive design choices, so occupants actually feel relaxed and free to express themselves.

Office kitchen essentials
While some kitchen items are extremely cheap and could be paid for by petty cash, it's fair to say that some of it - such as a coffee machine - can be a hefty investment for an SME.

But given the impact on productivity, both in meetings and in general day-to-day work, it should certainly be a consideration.

SMEs that are worried about the upfront cost could perhaps look instead at the option of leasing kitchen equipment, as this is an affordable way of bringing in the machines they need without paying for it in one go.

By turning kitchen spaces into a well-equipped and inspiring place to be, the days of unproductive meetings and wasted time and money could be consigned well and truly to the past.