Why your workplace should incorporate tech-free zones

Support your wellness goals and fuel performance with tech-free spaces where employees can focus, collaborate or simply relax.

March 09, 2022

In a world of endless texts, emails and calls, sometimes the most productive thing to do is step back and go offline.

Americans check their phones more than 250 times a day—that’s about every four minutes, according to The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. This level of always-on connectivity has yielded major benefits across the world of work, from seamless collaboration to more efficient workflows.

But there’s a major catch: The continuous distraction of our smartphones robs us of the ability to think more critically, to do the deep dive it sometimes takes to crack a problem or develop a game-changing idea. It also keeps us from settling into relaxation, because we know that at any second, our peaceful state will be broken by a random message or social media alert.

It’s a vicious cycle, because one distraction invariably leads to another. Checking texts, social media and email can activate the addiction pathways in the brain, which makes the impulse to check them again stronger than the urge to dig deeper into an idea, or rethink a challenge from a new angle.

Yet the freedom to deeply focus and/or relax helps employees feel more empowered to do their best work. After all, a little heads-down time can go a long way in fueling business growth and innovation, and a vast body of research points to the value of taking brain breaks at work. 

Organizations that help their teams practice and hone these skills will stay ahead of the competition in terms of overall performance as well as winning the ongoing war for talent. They’ll also strengthen employee well-being and mental health by mitigating the harm of digital addiction.

Enter the tech-free zone.

How to create technology-free zones

The idea of a tech-free zone is simple in theory: Give employees dedicated space where they can be free of the environmental stresses of our digital world.

One type of tech-free space facilitates collaboration with space designed for team discussions and interaction. Consider design aspects that will help employees stay engaged in discussions, like strong insulation to keep outside noise at bay, comfortable seating and a good old-fashioned, non-digital whiteboard.

The Ideastorm, part of JLL's Experience / Spaces solution, is a designated tech-free space to host wider team discussions and interactions.

Other tech-free zones make space for employees to not only disconnect, but fully decompress too. This might include a meditation room or a thoughtfully designed lounge area where people can go to unwind after an intense meeting. But beware the trap of simply recreating the corporate break room of decades gone by.

The Oasis, part of JLL's Experience / Spaces solution, puts wellness out in the open, encouraging employees to take a break from tech and emphasize personal wellness.

A random assemblage of chairs and tables in an area set aside as an afterthought will do little to help people relax and recharge—and as such these rooms are likely to be left empty.

Instead, take time to evaluate what best inspires your employees to relax. For example, a welcoming rejuvenating area might have surround sound to deliver calming music, include soothing nature images and ample natural light, and feature a mix of comfortable seating.

Three ways to ensure a tech-free zone actually stays tech-free

Signage is a good place to start, but even the most artful “tech-free zone” banner will be ignored if it’s not backed by deeper strategy. Following are key ways to promote adoption for tech-free zones in your workplace:

  1. Get choosy about tech-free zone locations. Convenience is key. A recent study of hospital break rooms revealed that nurses are more likely to use a break area that’s close to their workstation. They also prefer break areas that offer access to private outdoor space. If offering private outdoor space isn’t viable, bring the outdoors in with potted plants and expansive windows.

  2. Build your strategy with care. Today’s top talent won’t be inspired to put down their phones only to enter a bland, disarrayed space. But they might be equally uninspired by the latest sleek design. So before you commit to any one design solution, it’s important to first pilot and validate your tech-free zone concept, then invest in bringing it to life.

  3. Lead by example. Once you’ve opened the doors to your tech-free zones, make sure people feel confident using them. Ask managers to encourage their staff to use these spaces—and walk the walk by spending a few minutes there each day, too. Consider a messaging campaign that spells out the wellness and business benefits of unplugged time.

Today’s knowledge workers are inundated by digital distractions. You can change that for the benefit of employees and your organization alike by providing thoughtfully designed spaces to unplug when needed.

To learn more about how experiential workplace design can support your organizational goals, download our white paper, “Workforce readiness must include workplace wellness.”