image courtesy of Steelcase

How can we combine food and our most underutilised spaces at work to improve productivity? This is the second of my Encore Episodes where I publish an extract from my archive of previously published posts. In this festive season, I am following the Food at Work theme covered by FM World this month. In a previous post 2 Practical Ways Workplace Can Improve Employee Engagement I outlined that one of the practical ways in which to improve employee engagement, productivity and engagement was to provide an ecosystem of different spaces in the corporate workplace so as to encourage movement and variety for staff engaging in different types of work be it either individual concentrated private work, collaboration or group meetings.

A number of recent workplace studies support the view that a change of environment can provide the stimulation necessary in order to catalyse creativity and inspiration. Employers, however, are slow to invest and take up the challenge of providing the types of spaces necessary.

On the one hand, this sounds expensive and the move to different types of workspace will have a negative effect on your overall space utilisation metrics.

But what if I were to tell you that you can achieve greater engagement with staff as well as improved productivity AND better utilisation by overhauling the one place that is often excluded from your utilisation stats?

Work is becoming ever more fluid in its nature and place, and staff members are increasingly mobile and distributed and are looking to spaces outside the organisation to fulfil their needs. 31% of full-time employees do most of their work away from their employers’ location and so the social ties between the employee and organisation are coming under pressure as employees are often left with little choice but to leave the office for a coffee shop or other third place, which separates them from coworkers, organisational resources and culture.

Even in the most awesome of offices, we can fall into a routine, and a routine is the enemy of creativity. Rather than try to hammer out tired old solutions in the same environment, external stimulus is required and can be achieved by changing your environment, even just for an hour or so. Immanuel Kant the renown philosopher said  “All our knowledge begins with the senses…” and so a new environment brings new types of input and stimulation, which in turn arouses creativity and inspiration. It is clear that the modern office needs to be vibrant and attractive, drawing those with a choice of where to work in, whilst providing everyone with a motivating connection to the organisation and it’s culture.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but working from a bustling coffee shop can be less distracting than working from a quiet office where we are always at risk of being interrupted, and being interrupted kills productivity and imagination. The coffee shop environment combines the benefit of anonymity with the dull buzz of exciting activity. Unlike working at home, with the ever-present black hole of solitude and procrastination, a coffee shop provides the opportunity of human interaction, on your terms. Yet off-site locations such as coffee shops sacrifice easy collaboration with coworkers and offer little in the way of privacy, ergonomics or effective workspace.


To meet the need of an onsite facility with the benefits of the offsite coffee shop, the workplace furniture solutions company Steelcase have come up with an interesting concept of the WorkCafé. A WorkCafé transforms the traditional Cafeteria into an on-site third place where people can meet, work, network, socialise and re-energise. It offers employees an on-site third place instead, where they can take a break from their usual workspace and choose from spaces ranging from individual to large group settings, and maintain close connections with colleagues and the organisation.

A WorkCafé is a dynamic space that connects people with colleagues, their work, and their organisation. Unlike a typical corporate cafeteria, a WorkCafé provides a combination of working and dining that activates underutilised real estate and fosters employee productivity and well-being in measurable ways. It transforms spaces that were often seen as a ‘grab N go’  into destinations for connection, collaboration, focus and innovation. James Ludwig, Steelcase’s vice president of global design who envisioned the concept, summed up the philosophy in the phrase “People bring their lunch to work. We’ll bring work to their lunch.”

Space influences behaviour and if we invent a space that nurtures and inspires, you can get great things, so organisations need to invest in those spaces. Maybe your organisation have invested in the traditional cafeteria where the only new twist is reminiscent of the Oliver variety complete with Mr Bumble and a Dickensian workhouse atmosphere?

The ability to choose and control workspace is essential to cognitive well-being and so in the Steelcase example, a WorkCafé is a multi-sensory environment where workers can choose the level of stimulation that they want, from bright high energy areas to more contemplative spaces based on their mood and task. To help refresh the mind and body, a WorkCafé offers refreshment, not only during meal times but also during early and late work sessions, as well as access to outdoor spaces. It also supports a healthy palette of postures sitting, standing and moving.

Emotional space can encourage social interactions that are important to emotional health by helping people connect over coffee or a meal, making it easier to meet and collaborate in a variety of settings, and offering simple ways for distributed users to connect via well-integrated technology.

In most cultures around the world, food has a central place in not only our daily well-being but also in our interactions with others and so to see it as just a necessary refuelling is to miss most of its potential. Not just a pre-packed, but a prepared experience, not just a dining hall, but the heartbeat of a community.

The Business Case

The power of the WorkCafé is backed up by some compelling stats

    • Employees who eat together in large groups are 36% likely to communicate outside lunch hours.
    • 84% of workers say they stay connected to organisational information most via team meetings.
    • 91% of employees say it is important to have a space where they can recharge and re-energise.

More than this the space that the traditional cafeteria takes up is an expensive investment in costly real estate and yet this is often overlooked in the ubiquitous utilisation surveys we undertake to squeeze the last drop of efficiency out of the workplace. The Steelcase study shows that other than the traditional spike at breakfast and lunch times the cafeteria space is largely unused and totally under-utilised. With the change in concept to a WorkCafé, the utilisation rose dramatically as shown in the chart below.


3 Elements

Steelcase maintains that there are three key elements needed to create atmosphere, infrastructure and a method of operation for a successful WorkCafé

1. Design Attributes

The ambience of the WorkCafé is created by the design elements and greatly influences the reaction of the workers. Unless the space creates a unique and complimentary atmosphere then the space will not work. However, the atmosphere needs to complement the different types of work that are to be undertaken in the  individual zones within the WorkCafé. Employees consistently identify “atmosphere” as the number one reason for using the WorkCafé for both individual and group work. The elements of a WorkCafé design will be specific to each company and brand and so you will need to explore the design attributes with key partners to ensure that they reflect desired branding, organisational culture and the intended overall WorkCafé experience. Those elements will typically include staging, lighting, music, scent, inspiring artefacts, white spaces for collaborative work as well as visual stimulation and artwork.

2. Technology Integration

All technology must be seamlessly integrated in order to support the effective use of the different zones in a WorkCafé. The WorkCafé should be serviced by technology in the same way as the normal workspace and should provide a seamless transition between the two in order to support information sharing, content creation, effective collaboration for local and distributed workers, and a better work experience. Technology should  provide services for workers at both a personal as well as at an organisational level power, wi-fi, presentation support, content sharing tools, etc. should be immediately apparent, available and useful.

3. Hosting Characteristics

Hosting services, help employees feel connected to the organisation and to each other. When people feel welcomed and assisted with their needs, they know they are valued. Hosting facilitates the breakdown of silos within groups by connecting people, activating relationships and assisting with the correct use of tools, technology and space. In addition, WorkCafé hosting services, whether self-service or facilitated, symbolises how an organisation values its workers and recognises the challenges of work/life integration for employees working in a 24/7 global environment.

The WorkCafé Ideabook from Steelcase will provide you more detail on how to design and set up your WorkCafé with sample layouts and zoning information and much more.

How often do you leave the workplace to seek a different environment and what do you look for? ….please leave a comment below.