Concepts Drive Workplace Refreshment Revolution

Guest post by Emily Jed,

Businesses are breaking away from traditional breakrooms and replacing them with innovative, inviting destinations that foster collaboration and provide alternative spaces to work away from the desk. Coffeehouse-quality beverages and other fresh, wholesome refreshments that rival the local gourmet coffee shop are also giving today’s demanding millennials little reason to leave the premises.

Google took a bold step in reinventing the office environment as a place where employees are encouraged to take a ping pong break, and are lavished with free smoothies after working out at its onsite fitness center. What seemed like a vision isolated to attracting and keeping tech talent at the height of the “dot-com” boom is becoming more widespread throughout all industries and geographies. With this paradigm shift come boundless possibilities for workplace refreshment providers.

This concept of the “The Workplace Café of Today” was explored at the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s Coffee Tea and Water conference in Nashville, TN. Todd Heiser, a principal of A href=”” target=”_blank”>Gensler, a global architecture and design firm headquartered in San Francisco, was one of the experts who shared his insights. Heiser, who is based in the firm’s Washington, DC, office, specializes in the design of next-generation corporate workplaces and co-working environments.

“Workplace happiness focuses around coffee, food and water, and this is changing the design of work environments across the globe,” Heiser said. He stressed that refreshment providers are in a prime position to work hand in hand with design firms to take food and beverage services in the workplace to a whole new level.

Alongside its architects, interior designers and engineers, Gensler has a team of workplace experts who benchmark trends around the world. It has more than 2,770 clients spanning every market sector across diverse geographies. Based on Gensler’s insight, Heiser identified hospitality, authenticity, variety and choice, health and wellness as the top trends driving workplace design and function.

Workplace Evolution

Heiser provided a summary of the ways in which the look and activity flow of the work environment has evolved over the past century-plus. The modern era’s concern with task-based workspace design began with the “Taylor Office,” the dominant model between 1880 and 1960, in which office work was treated as nearly as possible to an industrial assembly line. Workplace layouts were based on manufacturing models influenced by the U.S. time and motion studies of Frederick Winslow, an American mechanical engineer, who sought to improve manufacturing efficiency.

The “Dilbert World” design followed, involving cubicles that lined the office. The concept was introduced in Germany in 1950 and in the U.S. a decade later, at the Federal Reserve in New York.

The next design trend to transform the office was the “Universal Space,” which reigned from 1995 to 2003 with the explosion of the technology industries. The workplace evolved to accommodate the flexibility and information sharing that networks encouraged.

This morphed into the “Connected Office,” a change impelled by growing wireless connectivity in offices between 1998 and 2011. Two recessions brought about cost cutting, encouraging the portability of work inside and outside the office and inspiring substantial changes in work settings.

The new frontier in workplace design that has come to the forefront since then is the “Activity-Based Office.” Millennials’ lifestyle habits of sharing, preferring digital over material goods and favoring city-centered living, has altered the way they work, putting a premium on natural light, amenities and an active workplace.

“We see the desk shrinking, but the square footage is not going away. It’s replaced with amenities that employees expect the workplace to provide,” Heiser observed. “People want to experience at work what they have at home.”

That includes personal comforts, flexibility, a domestic and informal feel, and for the work environment to be adaptable and inspirational, according to the workplace design expert. Gensler has found that there’s a direct link between workplaces that focus on creating this type of environment and the innovation they strive to foster.

Unlocking Creativity

Heiser shared the key findings of Gensler’s 2016 Workplace Survey of more than 4,000 office operatives in 11 industries. The principal takeaway is that the most innovative companies provide their employees with a diversity of well-designed spaces inside and outside the office in which they can collaborate and concentrate. Such companies also empower employees with the ability to work wherever and whenever it best suits their work needs. That could mean the need for individual space to focus, a conference room to brainstorm or learn a new skill, or a social space to chat with coworkers during a coffee break.

Many companies are taking this a step further by diversifying to a group of buildings. They’re also facilitating flexibility that enables employees to work in nontraditional spaces with more access to Wi-Fi and electrical outlets, and comfortable lounge-style furniture.

“Innovative companies also report better relationships with management and greater meaning in employees’ day-to-day work,” Heiser said. “They’re improving the workspace by expanding choice and autonomy across the organization to drive innovation. This ties into food and beverages. They’re providing $5 bottles of Odwalla juice for free to employees. Think about how what you do can drive these things.”

Workspace And Work Habits

Gensler’s survey found that top innovators report spending only 74% of the workweek at the office, while employees short on innovation spend 86% of their time there. Likewise, as they diversify their surroundings beyond the desk, innovators are at least two times more likely to have access to, and use, onsite cafeterias, coffee shops, gyms and outdoor spaces.

Most importantly, of the onsite amenities upon which employees rely most involve food, including a restaurant or bar, café and specialty coffee. Following in rank are an on-premise grocery store, outdoor space, pharmacy, gym, medical facilities and childcare. Gensler found that people expect and value the same workplace amenities, whether they’re in rural, urban or suburban environments.

Heiser believes that there’s a big opportunity for workplace designers and refreshment providers to cooperate on tailored solutions for mutual clients, based on the location’s square footage, budget and desires.

Beyond the basic solution of free snacks and beverages, Gensler has clients that provide outside space for food trucks. Those with larger environments are taking it to another level by installing coffee bars, cafés, cafeterias and outdoor seating.

“Look for the notion of a barista becoming a receptionist who gets you coffee, juice or sparking water when you walk through the door and shuttles you to the conference room,” Heiser instanced. “It’s happening. How can you be a part of that? How can you work with firms like ours?”

Food For Thought

Motorola Mobility in Chicago is among the forward-thinking employers that is investing heavily in the workplace environment, where food and beverages are central. Motorola Mobility’s one million square-foot headquarters has nine “micro kitchens.” Each has a different aesthetic that carries over to the food and beverage selections available. One is themed to the marine life in Lake Michigan, another to space travel, while a third captures the feel of a popular Chicago park, with a ready supply of free ice pops available in the freezer.

Conde Nast at 1 World Trade Center in New York City features complimentary food and beverages just opposite the reception area. “The notion of hospitality is much more important for clients,” Heiser emphasized. “Fewer rooms are catered for meetings. Instead, when you walk in you’re offered something, but you’re not going to sit in a room with a few sodas and a pot of coffee.”

Gensler’s own office in Washington, DC, features a high-end Nespresso machine, accompanied with a selection of 20 pods that cost the company $1.15 apiece, along with a constant supply of fresh milk. There are also a few selections of bottled water, both still and sparkling, and cubed and chipped ice.

“It was a big discussion, with a cost analysis of having this versus having employees walking to Starbucks, and we decided it was worth it,” Heiser said. Café-styled break areas are central in Gensler’s Oakland, CA, and Philadelphia offices. At its Washington office, a café-style lounge is the midpoint of the reception area.

Heiser pointed out that there are many smaller locations, like law offices with fewer than 50 attorneys, that want to provide premium amenities to their clients and employees alike, suggesting that workplace refreshment providers may have more opportunity than they realize.

“They lose attorneys every day to companies like Google and Yahoo, and they’re looking at more of these amenities,” he said. “You can create smaller spaces like this at the low end; it’s about choice. The office manager is going to Costco to buy coffee and tea; it’s a job for someone. How can you offer a greater range of choices, with more upscale options than they have now, and let them know the office manager doesn’t have to do it?”

He emphasized that top-line companies with limited space may simply want to enhance the look of the areas they have, to give it a coffeehouse feel, and to raise the bar with the complimentary snacks and beverages for employees and clients. “An office with 10 people isn’t going to put in a $60,000 espresso machine or offer 20 kinds of tea, but maybe you can bring in espresso and fresh milk,” he advised. “Maybe employees can even put $1 in a cup to help offset the cost.”

Another noteworthy trend is that people typically no longer have classic nine-to-five work routines. They may be working from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., or 5 p.m. to midnight. This opens the door for workplace refreshment operators to provide more food items, especially healthier fare like fresh salads. “The opportunity for you is all in the offering, and there’s a big opportunity for micromarkets to meet the need for fresh foods,” Heiser said.

Getting In On The Action

The workplace design expert reported that Gensler works with Chicago’s Mark Vend Co. to meet clients’ workplace refreshment needs. Likewise, he encourages operators to establish similar relationships with design firms in their areas. Mark Vend is a second-generation vending company that’s been serving the Windy City for more than 50 years.

On its website, Mark Vend offers “expert space planning at no extra charge” and challenges clients and prospects to reimagine the ways in which they can cater to their employees’ needs. The company differentiates itself from its competitors right up front on its homepage with the following: “Will the espresso machine fit under your cabinets? We’ll never overlook details like this. Let us help you refresh and reimagine your vending area, office pantry or coffee service with expert assistance on sizes, specs, power and technology requirements.”

“There aren’t enough of you going to design firms and partnering with them, like Mark Vend does with us,” Heiser pointed out. “I’ve had to have architects design dividers for Sweet’N Low packets when that’s something you can do. Mark Vend is meeting with clients in Chicago as we design their spaces. I’m in Washington, and I wish we could bring in a coffee and foodservice consultant like all of you who can ask the client: Will you want granola bars, and how many types of coffee and tea, and espresso?”

Heiser pointed out that Gensler works with consultants for fixtures and carpets and LCD TVs, but there’s a void when it comes to refreshment providers. “You are the experts when it comes to planning things like where the drain should go for coffee machines,” he observed. “We have tech providers billing $300 an hour meeting with clients as we design. It makes sense to have someone other than an engineer or architect do the same with food — talking with employees about the range of products and equipment you’ll provide and how you’ll service the location and keep it stocked.”

He emphasized that the most well-designed contemporary workplace environments can only live up to their vision when serviced by a top-notch food and coffee provider to ensure the right assortment of products are available to satisfy the employee base from facilities that always are fully stocked in a visually appealing way. “When it’s empty, fatigue sets in and the next thing you know, you’re down to black coffee and tea,” he said.

The workplace design expert said car dealerships are an important segment of Gensler’s business, and they’re upping their game in the amenities they offer their customers. This is a market that office coffee service providers have long served, and there may be an opportunity for them to upsell, he said.

“Luxury and even ‘not-luxury’ dealers realize they have a captive audience,” Heiser pointed out. “Major stores are also turning the retail experience on its side, offering coffee and wine to shoppers. They know that the hospitality they can provide at low cost will spur shoppers to linger longer, and probably buy something. The Apple store in Union Square in San Francisco has turned into more of a ‘town center’ than a retail experience. I guarantee you will see more of this in the next five years.”

The Wellness Factor

Heiser underscored the role of health and wellness in today’s workplace and the opportunity it presents for food and beverage providers. “Sit-and-stand desks, for example, cost an extra $1,000 per person, and many companies are making that investment for the wellbeing of their people. Lounge furniture and fresh juice bars are setting new standards,” he instanced. “How does that translate for you? They want more fresh options than ever, and you can deliver them.

He added that some of Gensler’s clients are taking big steps to bring “healthier” foods to their employees. A San Francisco Bay area company, for example, hired two people to prepare fresh guacamole and chips, and to walk through the office daily from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. to serve them, and water, to employees.

Workplace pantries that were traditionally filled with complimentary chips and cookies have been replaced by refrigerators or coolers stocked with individually packaged hardboiled eggs, hummus and carrots, Heiser observed.

Another example of the healthier movement is Farmer’s Fridge, a new company. It operates vending machines used exclusively to sell fresh salads throughout Chicago. Heiser added that some companies only want natural, unrefined sugar and Stevia, and they are nixing artificial sweeteners in the office all together. And many of Gensler’s clients have pure water available on each floor, so employees can easily fill their bottles and cups.

Data Don’t Lie

Heiser emphasized that reliable, solid data are the best way to convey the value of the “workplace café of today” to companies considering giving employees more autonomy in more settings, along with more amenities like trendy, quality food and beverages onsite.

“People sitting in cafés might not look productive, but most knowledgeable CEOs understand when they see the data, which is shocking,” he said. “A knowledgeable worker doesn’t have to sit at a desk any more; when we go to a café and sit down, a lot of work gets done — conversations happen and “minute meetings” are held in sticky spaces. At a party, everyone wants to be in the kitchen; it’s no different in the workplace.”

Those short, informal meetings in nontraditional spaces save time and money, and employers can easily quantify that savings by having employees track such encounters via employees’ smartphones, Heiser noted.

“Some companies now get that they have to think and act differently; others don’t,” Heiser said. “The war on talent is huge, and those who keep doing things the same way eventually won’t be able to expand and compete.”

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