We, Facility Managers, have seen how the experience of remote working has changed the way our colleagues (and probably we ourselves) look at workplaces. Many of the bees in our hives will be happy to come back to the office for some days per week at least, but our gut feeling tells us that things will never be the same anymore as before the pandemic.
Many among us are busy reorganizing spaces, moving tables and equipment around to assign flexible “hot desks”, with some extra space between them. We also have heard of offices being turned around completely. Some facility managers create distinct workspaces: blue zones for silence and concentration focused hours and red zones for teams working together lively and loudly. Others are buying fancy furniture. Of course, it has been years that we all have our minds marked by those fashionable Silicon Valley offices with foosballs and coffee tables strewn comfortably around and we might feel obliged to adopt the same in our offices. And now, catering wise, this idea of the office as a “corporate town hall” has emerged.
A workplace where there is easy access to good food
The corporate town hall idea was branded this way in a 2019 study of Sodexo in collaboration with Wyman. The study revealed that: “The workplace cafeteria is no longer viewed as just a place to have meals; instead, it is now looked upon as a space to encourage interaction, collaboration and employee engagement. Therefore, the entire design of the cafeteria has changed; the concept of corporate town halls is trending, so that employees can move around the workplace with ease, and even work in the cafeteria while sipping a cup of coffee.”
The ”Corporate Town Hall Concept” can be taken to a broader level. Innovative thinking is turning things around so let’s shift the concept from a cafeteria where people are able to work a bit while eating, to a workplace where there is easy access to food.
Think of it as an office where people come in when they feel to or when they are asked to do so. Let us imagine that our colleagues can take a seat in a blue-zoned hot desk for full concentration or a red-signaled meeting area with more informal, even sofa-like seating. Coffee corners all around! Oh, those coffee machines that are missed so much for informal but constructive chatting. And a food corner. An informal, easy to reach food corner, no need to pass through doors into a canteen-like area, with its typical smells and sounds.
Food Corners – Office Food Delivery with a Twist
Leading the charge in providing easy access to food in the workplace is French startup Totem with their food corners. Dubbed as “office convenience stores”, Totem food corners serve anything from coffee, tea, chilled drinks, cereals, breads, fruits and quick meals that are organic, healthy and gourmet quality. Also available are small convenient articles like umbrellas, batteries and headphones. Totem’s ‘stores’ are currently installed in over 100 workplaces in Paris. Some of those companies have just 10 employees; one has 1,200 employees. Using the B2B2C model, companies pay a monthly subscription fee, which covers the fixed costs of running a Totem store and employees pay for the items themselves with their phones - there is no cashier on the spot. You can think of Totem stores as healthy snacking on-the-go while employees are going about with their daily tasks and meetings – a relatively inexpensive perk to enhance employee experience. “The fixed cost is just one tenth of the cost of a traditional cafeteria and nearly one tenth of the cost of connected fridges,” reveals Raphael De Lavergne, Totem’s CEO and Co-Founder in an interview with Sifted.
Currently, Totem’s stores are placed in environments of trust - within a corporate building and not in a public space. In the near future this can be different, depending on sensors that will be developed that can detect things while installed on a ceiling. This is in keeping with Totem’s goal to minimize workers stepping out to go to local convenience stores. In September 2020, Totem received €4 million in a round led by Maki.vc and joined by prior backers Samaipata Ventures and Tekton Ventures, as it continues to disrupt the corporate food service industry.
Shift from Nutrition to Experience
The same Sodexo/Wyman study further supports the “Corporate Townhall Concept” where employee food experience precedes nutrition concerns. Corporate food services transitioned from the subsidized model to one in which the employee experiences food, much like in cafeterias outside the office. The food experience outside the office has entered the organization, seamlessly, to fulfill employee aspirations. Low-cost, fixed menus are out; employees now want a host of options - varied in taste and genre. Food has now become an exciting experience rather than just a means to meet ordinary nutrition needs.
If you can imagine a corporate town hall with employees of different gender, age, backgrounds and culture, then it is easy to imagine how food services are shifting towards hyperpersonalized food offerings. Hyperpersonalized food menus are easier with digitalization. It has helped food services track the employee’s food journey in 2019; from browsing food options to ordering and paying conveniently through mobile apps. Data gathered from these apps regarding user preferences has helped in hyperpersonalization. Menus are tailored and new food items are suggested based on previous choices giving consumers more options suited to their taste. For example, if an employee has been ordering more Chinese food items, food services companies ensure that a wide selection of Chinese food is showcased to the user on the app with more variety to satisfy the employee.
The food market is also one of the sectors undergoing major disruption – from food options, delivery, quality and availability - it has been largely driven by evolving direct consumers and client expectations within the corporate segment. For us facility managers, food service in the workplace is one of the crucial roles we play. With disruptions like these, we have the choice to innovate, adaptand enhance the experience of the workers in our workplaces!