Technology has transformed the relationship of employees with their workplace. If they have a decent Wi-Fi connection, they can set up office in a café, their living room or a train carriage. Welcome to the age of the nomadic office.
Open space, flex office, working from home, etc. Innovations for providing greater flexibility arrive in quick succession, but perhaps at the expense of human interaction. The key priority of companies is to bring teams together, but how can social bonding take place in an increasingly fragmented professional environment? What if redesigning the lunch break was the answer?
New generations, new habits
Generation Y and Z have grown up in a digitally transformed society. Accustomed to the tailor-made and hyper-personalised, they thrive in organisational models where individual habits, constraints and wishes can be accommodated. They do not want the one-size-fits-all staff restaurant; they expect their employers to adapt to accommodate their eating habits.
One such habit is DIY, i.e. taking your own lunchbox to work. Whether for financial, personal or nutritional reasons, this trend is gathering pace across the world. In 2018, 22%* of employees in France took their own lunch to work. This figure, rising all the time, flags up catering services that no longer offer what employees want, and this is making companies rethink their restaurant spaces.
All the rage among these new generations, food deliveries to the workplace are likewise on the increase. Growing by 20% over three years, the lunchtime meal delivery market is setting itself up as a must-have option in company catering.
These developments are in sharp contrast with a far more worrying trend: the increase in employees lunching at their desks (see our article “The lunch break: an endangered habit?”). Effectively, 65% of American employees say that they eat sitting in front of their screens, or don’t take a lunch break at all.
This figure should not be taken lightly by employers. Studies on the harm done by this habit are numerous and all unanimous in their conclusions: eating in front of a screen is not good for health, causes a drop in productivity and creativity, leads to burn-out, and diminished employee loyalty.
There are, however, solutions to this.
Changing habits, increasingly demanding careers; employers have a hard time trying to come up with a framework for organising these new practices and encouraging employees to bond with each other.
27% of employees in Europe regularly shut themselves away in their office so they can eat more quickly and without interruptions. In France, 15% of employees even consider the work lunch break to be an “obligation” rather than a “convivial moment”.
So, the challenge is considerable: rethinking work breaks to create a sense of bonding inside the company. But beyond the basic experience of taking a break and building spaces for in-house bonding, the most important consideration is ultimately the purpose. Collaboration.
…for better collaboration
Although compartmentalised in the past, personal and professional lives now tend to overlap each other and sometimes even become indistinguishable.
From the employer point of view, this is excellent news. Numerous studies on workplace socialisation have been carried out, and all reach the same conclusion: “colleagues who are friends make for good bosses”. In a study published by Gallup, 50% of employees who have a “best friend” at work state that they feel strong loyalty towards their company and genuinely enjoy coming to work. By contrast, only 10% of people who do not feel particularly close to their colleagues show the same degree of loyalty to their company.
Whilst it may be difficult to create friendships from scratch, it is certainly possible at least to create the framework for encouraging them.
Overview of emerging open-space mechanisms across the world.
Creating moments… for getting together
Breakfast with colleagues, taking a break and easing off the pressure. This might seem obvious. However, individual rhythms and habits can make such an apparently simple activity quite complicated. To address this problem, a number of restaurant voucher stakeholders such as Sodexo are making changes to the way vouchers can be used: group orders, bookings and deliveries are just a few of the services that make lunching with colleagues easier to do. Staff can get together, without having to worry about where they are going to eat.
Designing moments… for getting together
Lunchtime meetings between managers and staff, half-day workshops on teamwork or the classic seminar run over several days: the opportunities for fostering team spirit are numerous and must be seized. These moments are ideal for galvanising teams but are not frequently used. Daily rituals can easily be set up in any kind of organisation for promoting employee bonding.
The company Soul Bottles has grasped this idea well, and since day one has implemented “cooking lunch together” activities. The name says it all: getting staff to cook and eat lunch together, every day. These moments serve both as an icebreaker for new members of staff, and as a daily event for bringing together more veteran employees. The lunch break thus becomes an opportunity to socialize and relax, whilst simultaneously ensuring that all staff enjoy a wholesome, balanced and free meal.
Inventing moments… for chilling. The work environment can be a stressful one. Whether it’s chatting around the office coffee machine or doing sport, taking regular breaks keeps staff motivated and improves their performance. These welcome breathers are the chance for staff to take a step back from their projects for a moment, and then go back to them revitalised and refreshed.
And this is why companies are becoming ever more ingenious as regards redesigning their offices and creating well-being spaces in them. Examples of this can be found in WeWork and Spaces, who provide their tenants with rooms for relaxation or taking a nap, monitor-free areas and 15-minute meditation sessions. An innovative model that makes employee well-being synonymous with productivity.
So how can social interaction be combined with working from home?
For the majority of employees around the world, lockdown has been a slightly forced experiment in what tomorrow’s world of work might be like. No more physical offices, everybody connected using collaborative tools, but not much in the way of face-to-face social interaction. This last point is of the most concern and has the most serious consequences. Loss of motivation and engagement, ghost worker, breakdown in trust… the list is long, and it is vital to build and maintain bonds between colleagues, even when working remotely.
Consultancy firm KPMG has analyzed this thorny issue and identified three essential tools and simple activities to introduce:
- Be safe and healthy: set up “food” routines with colleagues, share meals even at a distance, and meet up to play sport.
- Be digital and flexible: 100% online communication can sometimes be difficult to get used to, so do not hesitate to use different communication channels according to projects and the individuals working on them – email, telephone, messaging, videoconferencing.
- Be actively engaged: help colleagues/employees to maintain their team commitment by redefining and tailoring their goals and daily rituals to this new way of doing things.
In an increasingly modular and fragmented professional environment, organisations are rethinking their workspaces with a view to creating, nurturing and strengthening bonds between members of staff. Aware that employee well-being impacts positively on productivity, they are investing in and giving a new angle to working time not spent at the desk: mealtimes and breaks are no longer just add-ons during the working day but are now an integral part of the employee experience. Short gaps that have the power to refresh, unite and motivate employees, and that have a major impact on the entire company. There is no doubt about it, implementing new mechanisms for facilitating such opportunities to meet up and bond on a daily basis will therefore be a core component of major organisational changes in the near future.