Coffee (and Tea) are Cheap


I’m in lovely Perth, Australia this weekend, staying with some friends of mine. The husband was explaining how he makes sure his department buys coffee, tea, milk, sugar for everyone in the department. “It costs us about $2000 to supply the department for a year. In return, people congregate around the coffee, discussing work. They feel as if the department cares for them as people.” Contrast that with a friend of mine whose company (in the US) who doesn’t supply coffee. “I make coffee, paying out of my own pocket. People used to come in when I was in a meeting, and sneak coffee from my supply. I finally had to go to a single-serving coffee maker.”

Here’s the scoop (sorry, pun intended). When companies make a reasonable effort to make the workplace easier to work in, their employees appreciate it. Coffee, tea, and water are the minimum requirements. Providing juice and soft drinks is nice, and can be quite expensive. And, when you stop providing it, people grumble. “The company is changed, they don’t love us anymore,” is a comment I heard at one client.

If you’re organizing a workplace, consider how people will drink their morning’s hot/cold drinks and where they will eat lunch. Companies who plan for a place where people can congregate to get coffee and eat their lunches will have the extra benefit of people continuing to work through lunch — but in a way that benefits the whole company’s productivity, not a single person’s.

When you provide a local (on every floor) coffee station (ok, for those of you in tea-drinking countries, a tea station), you’ve provided easy access to something people will spend time acquiring anyway. When you make it easy to get that cup of coffee or tea, you’ve reduced the non-working time. And, you might find that people talk about work at the coffee station. Sure, they’ll talk about sports too, but in my experience, the work conversations outnumber the sports conversations.

A cafeteria is even more important. When people have a place to eat together, they tend to discuss the funny things that happened on their projects, or the pieces of work that were challenging, or they’ll take the time to explain how something works to someone in another group. When I was a developer, I had lunch with other developers who told me about their gotcha’s. In one company where I was a tester, I always had lunch with the developers, who frequently told me something interesting that I could use for my testing work. When I was a project and people manager, other people would take me aside and let me know things they didn’t want to tell me in my office.

So, don’t let the price of tea and coffee and water prevent you from supplying it to your staff. And, if you can, create a lunchroom for people to congregate. You’ll find overall productivity goes up. Who wouldn’t want that?

3 Replies to “Coffee (and Tea) are Cheap”

  1. I’ve been coincidentally thinking about this. The Shared Food pattern is not quite the same as (though it may be misinterpreted as the same as) lunch-time meetings, or even a project team lunch.

  2. Regarding coffee, the issue is more than conversation. People often value small things more than large things. When the company provides the coffee or the soda, its sends the message that they care about little things which make life nicer.
    It has always struck me that people will accept an increase in health insurance with a little grumpiness but will REALLY get annoyed when the coffee or the free soda is taken away. (Something Mr. Ebbers apparently didn’t realize)

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