Subjects: Just another day at the office, more power to your elbow, why it’s time the catering industry reassesses its sustainable commitments
Authors: Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott, Matt Ephgrave
Just another day at the office by Glynn Davis
For hospitality companies in London, and in some of the UK’s other major conurbations, the potential for future prosperity remains very much in the balance because of, arguably, the most seismic long-term impact of covid-19 – the changing role of the workplace and the acceptance of working from home (WFH). The WFH phenomenon and its full impact on foodservice companies in major cities is yet to be played out in any meaningful way.
Not until well into September, and the end of the school holidays, will we see a true picture emerge of how companies are dealing with this incredibly sensitive situation. To date, some organisations, including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, have mandated a full return to the office. This is a tough one to commit to and Goldman has, rather cleverly, partly defended its decision on the basis that it can better care for the well-being of its younger employees if it can look them in the eye and identity when they are mentally and physically exhausted. Others, including tech firms like Twitter, have rather bravely suggested nobody has to return to the office again if they choose not to.
The easiest option for companies is to go for the hybrid model. Needless to say the majority (63%, according to Robert Walters) have indicated this is their preferred route in the future. It might be easy to say they are going hybrid but I’m guessing it’s going to be incredibly tough to implement. I don’t feel it’s an understatement to say it is a potential can of worms and the ramifications of operating some sort of laissez-faire system will be seriously problematic for many businesses.
The model most widely discussed is one where visits to the office are focused around meetings and where the so-called water cooler moments can be maximised. But with a newly disparate workforce, the co-ordination of this is likely to be challenging to deliver. I’ve already heard of people not being able to make it to the office because it is their day at home supervising the new puppy or they’ve slipped it into the conversation with their bosses that during lockdown they moved to Somerset.
There is also the potential issue of promotions being given to employees who are predominantly in the office and, therefore, more visible to management. This represents an opportunity for legal claims by any WFH candidate aggrieved at being overlooked for a role. Such an eventuality has already been recognised in the US, where some firms are considering banning employees from entering the office on their WFH days. This all sounds rather messy to me.
The easiest option to date for companies has been to simply say nothing about their workplace plans. According to the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, as many as 40% of employees are yet to hear from their employers about the future way of working. This is no doubt because it’s such a tough challenge.
Most interestingly, the research found 31% of respondents felt their employer was forcing them back to the office. Nobody is going to suggest force is the correct way to go about things but growing evidence during this ongoing WFH debate does point to the fact that, through the inevitable demands and requirements of both employers and employees, there will be a more than meaningful return to the office. Recent murmurings from government also suggest they prefer a broader return. With this, of course, come the positive knock-on effects to the foodservice industry that supports the traditional office-heavy environments in major cities and towns.
One of the most positive elements revealed so far is that the grouping most keen to return to the office is the cohort that is most valuable to the hospitality industry – youngsters with more disposable income than family responsibility and mortgages. As many as 75% of workers in the 18 to 26-year-old grouping stated the workplace is their number one source of meaning and social connection, and 50% would likely leave their employer within 12 months if a workplace culture does not return, according to Robert Walters.
We’re clearly still some way off having decent visibility of the post-covid-19 workplace scenario in our cities but I reckon some comfort should be taken from the way that things are slowly beginning to play out in the media and government. It suggests the doomsday scenario for office life (and the supporting hospitality businesses) that has been predicted in some quarters, will be some way off the mark.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends
More power to your elbow by Ann Elliott
The wonderful Marta P, managing director of Gail’s Bakery, has recommended two great books to me; one of which is called Powerful by Patty McCord, ex-chief talent officer at Netflix. I listened to it on Audible first and am now reading the book. It really did challenge my thinking on how to develop the culture in a business, the role of the “people” team in recruiting the right individuals to live this culture and the unflinchingly honest communication needed from top to bottom to use the culture to drive performance.
There is, sometimes, an assumption in business that people who are technically good at their jobs can successfully manage others – often without direction and training – but there is (as everyone knows) a real skill in being able to do it well. The management of individuals and teams will differ, by company, in line with their differences in culture. The “powerful” way of driving performance is certainly not how Whitbread, where I started my career in hospitality, asked you to lead teams. The “Whitbread way” wanted its employees to behave in a “gentlemanly” manner – not words found in this book.
The key messages, summed up in brief at the end of each chapter, were very helpful. I won’t lay them all out here but some of the more salient ones for me were:
• Individuals derive their satisfaction at work from having great team members to work with – ones who they can trust and challenge. This is significantly more motivating than bonuses, stock options and perks.
• Companies should always employ the very best possible talent possible and pay them accordingly.
• Businesses should have the leanest possible processes, policies, rules and approvals to be truly agile. They should eliminate those that hamper the ability of the business to be quick – even better still, don’t introduce them in the first place. Every process left in place should have a clear rationale for its existence.
• Truly understanding how a business works is the most valuable training employees can receive.
• Everyone in an organisation should be encouraged to challenge, question and suggest ideas. Communication must flow both ways and must be constant. People can handle being told the truth. Lack of truth leaves the team to fill the gap.
• Radical honesty is vital and critical feedback must be specific and constructive. Don’t allow colleagues to talk about one another behind their backs or to you. They must speak to one another face to face, honestly and openly about how they are feeling.
• Admit when you are wrong and encourage the team to do the same. “That encourages employees to share ideas and opposing view with you, even if they directly contradict your position”.
• Encourage intense and open debate over business decisions, expect arguments to be supported with facts not personal assumptions and let the team know that it’s OK to lose arguments and to admit when they have.
• Build a team that can deliver future plans, not current ones. Recruit a team that, just like any sports team, will change constantly to ensure the very best players are on the pitch. The business is “building a team not raising a family”. Proactively replenish the talent pool.
• It is not the job of the business to invest in developing its high performers – the job is to develop the product and to be successful. People should take charge of developing themselves.
• Hiring great performers is the hiring manager’s most important job. HR must truly understand the way the business works to ensure they can do this. People should be actively encouraged to constantly explore opportunities outside of the business – only great performers who are a great fit with the business should stay.
• Do away with the annual review process. It is a waste of time. Performance improvement plans should genuinely help people improve performance. If they aren’t doing that then stop using them.
• There isn’t a correlation between high engagement and high performance.
In summary, “People have power. It’s not your job to give it to them. Appreciate their power, unleash it from hidebound policies, approvals and procedures and they will be powerful".
Great book. Very provocative and extremely relevant for today’s issues and opportunities.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser
Why it’s time the catering industry reassesses its sustainable commitments by Matt Ephgrave
It’s hard to use the words “pandemic” and “hospitality” in the same sentence without being reminded of the devastating effects it has had on the industry. We saw many restaurants and bars pivot quickly to survive – letterbox pizza kits, at-home meal kits and virtual wine tasting, to name a few. The office catering industry also shifted its focus, quickly delivering meals and treats to employee’s homes while they worked remotely, all just to get by.
From what seemed like a quick fix has turned out to be a permanent change, and a very good one. Businesses like ours have been able to diversify their offerings and accelerate their business into a position they were heading for, a few years ahead of schedule.
For example, flexible working had always been on the cards but was not as widely implemented across the country. Fast forward to 2021 and 85% now want to work in a hybrid working model. For us, this means providing food packages to employees both at the office and at home, which the pandemic has prepared us well for. We quickly pivoted our office orders to workers’ homes to arrive at their doors. However, what comes with this is a host of environmental challenges that workplace catering businesses like ours need to consider.
We’re seeing companies placing a huge emphasis on lunchtime. Businesses are increasingly conscious about maintaining a sense of culture as hybrid working takes effect by connecting those at home with those in the office. They are also realising an effective way to bring people together is through a mutually enjoyable activity – food – and, as a result, are ordering more food to different locations. However, delivering food packages to both the office and people’s homes coupled with individual packaging for hygiene and transportation purposes poses businesses with unavoidable environmental challenges.
There are two factors to consider when evaluating sustainable practice for office catering – the preparation and delivery of food, both of which can, if not properly addressed, can have a huge impact on the environment.
When I reflect on our own sustainable journey, we’ve always had an environmental awareness and did already have some initiatives in place but, undoubtedly, the pandemic has been a catalyst for us to reassess these priorities and make meaningful changes to the way we operate.
Even pre-pandemic, we were seeing demand for planet-friendly packaging from vendors and clients. Understanding this need, we partnered with eco-friendly compostable catering company Green Man Packaging to give our vendors exclusive offers on planet-friendly packaging. But we felt we could always do more.
Post-pandemic, the hybrid workforce forced many businesses to work harder at being sustainable. Hours have gone into innovating technology and platforms to support initiatives that reduce carbon footprints and support the local communities the businesses operate in. Offline, changes to recyclable packaging material took a big step forward in response to increased deliveries, as we made a further permanent shift to use recyclable cardboard delivery boxes.
Last year also shifted focus to the ways in which deliveries were made. The number of walking and e-cargo bike couriers skyrocketed, and we can already see the benefits. Our partners Urb-it and Pedal Me have allowed 700-plus miles of walking deliveries and 200-plus deliveries delivered via e-cargo bike – a step towards sustainable delivery in the sector. A recent study showed that e-cargo bikes deliver about 60% faster than vans in city centres so not only are they more sustainable for food deliveries, they’re more efficient in reaching employees in different locations at one time.
There are many steps businesses can take to ensure they are contributing to sustainable office catering. Monitoring who and when will be coming into the office can influence food orders to arrange for just the right amount of food, reducing waste. Strategically organising deliveries to deliver to people’s homes clustered in close proximity at the same time can also reduce a business’ carbon footprint, as can ordering from local vendors (and will help local, independent businesses at the same time).
The pandemic has brought on many realisations among businesses. It has certainly highlighted sustainability issues in the catering industry and has forced businesses to address them, which can only be a positive thing. While we know we can diversify our offering to accommodate a changing world, we must also recognise our responsibility as business leaders to ensure these practices are sustainable and are protecting future generations.
Matt Ephgrave is managing director at Just Eat for Business
Just Eat is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member