Gradually, we’re getting back to ‘normal’ after the unprecedented disruption to our daily lives that Covid brought us. Now that many of the restrictions have been lifted, our focus can return to work. The big question is, ‘what happens next?’ Will the office resume its status as the hub of daily commercial activity, or will it take on a new status as a meeting place; a collaborative space in which people gather to undertake tasks which cannot be achieved effectively in work-from-home isolation?

So, what can employers do to welcome people back, either full-time or when needs must? Refreshment services are set to become the focus of office interaction. As an expert in the important Office Coffee Services sector, Planet Vending interviewed Ashley Weller, UK Market Director at Lavazza Professional, shares his thoughts.

Return to Work Ashley Weller in front of our Bean to Cup Coffee Corner Coffee Machine in the office

Do you think that people in general will be happy to return to the office?

I know I will! Talk about ‘Zoom fatigue!’ I want my home to be ‘home’, not an annex of the office. People are naturally sociable creatures and we’ve missed the physical proximity of working with colleagues. You only realise how important those water cooler or coffee machine moments are when they no longer happen. Having said that, you can understand that some people are anxious about going back, consequently many businesses have made workplace well-being a top priority.

‘You can see this illustrated in the leveraging of the collaborative spaces in the office: they are being upgraded to improve an employee’s break time or break out experience. You’re likely to see much more for coffee machines that offer household name brands and coffee-shop quality in the office today than you would, say, just a couple of years ago.

‘As people start to return to work they are looking at the office environment differently to how they did previously and this creates new dynamics for retaining good staff and attracting new talent’

Is coffee quality genuinely a consideration when employees assess the ambience of a workspace?

Absolutely. Coffee is a central part of most workplace interactions and good coffee adds value to those experiences, creating a tangible sense of well-being. It’s a positive addition to the overall package and benefits as people compare workplaces and ask themselves, ‘would I like working here?’’

The recent UK Vending Industry 2020 Census found that many employers were looking to ‘enhance their facilities’ to improve the break time experience. Does that correlate with your recent personal experience?

It does and as I said before, we are already seeing positive changes implemented.  Lockdown gave Lavazza Professional an opportunity to take a long look at our business. Consequently, we’ve broadened and enhanced our offer to reflect the changing demands of consumers. We’ve added value across our entire offer, for instance by up-grading our portfolio and by adding top-quality bean-to-cup and capsule products to our offer.

Do you think employee expectations have changed as a direct consequence of habits formed during lockdown?

Yes, especially those of people who have a comfortable home, a space that can be dedicated to work and a serious coffee machine in the kitchen! They’re asking themselves why they should subject themselves to a commute, when the last 18 months or so have convinced them that it’s unnecessary. To overcome that reticence, employers are now concentrating on improving the office ‘experience’, in much the same way as retail premises or leisure destinations have always done, to encourage people to come in. The issue of mental health has come to the fore during lock down and personal well-being has become a top priority. It means that the workplace will become a more supportive environment. Coffee breaks have been identified by many employers as a target for improvement, because quite frankly, providing a better breaktime experience is one of the simplest ways in which an employer can demonstrate that the health and well-being of staff really is a business priority.

What would be your advice to business leaders looking to make the most of their office space?

Meeting spaces will become more important than ever. When people get together in a comfortable environment, over a cup of coffee, that’s when the creative juices begin to flow. For those businesses who are adopting hybrid working, with people in the office less frequently than before, it really is crucial that when people do come together, it’s a positive experience.

‘My advice to employers is to create a coffee ‘corner’, a soft collaboration area somewhere in the workplace and say to people, ‘when you’re at work, you can enjoy a good cup of coffee in comfortable surroundings’. And up-grading the vending machine and coffee offers is a simple and very visible way in which an employer can demonstrate ‘your wellbeing is important to us’.

Surely not every employer has the space, or the staff numbers, to achieve that?

It’s true, you can’t create a ‘coffee shop’ when you have just a handful of employees! But you can improve the ambience of any workplace if you improve the quality of the coffee. That’s been our focus at Lavazza Professional. ‘It’s about ensuring that the office is a better, more exciting place to return to.’  We’ve taken every drinks offer we have and we’ve improved it. For larger locations, we’ve developed our ‘Coffee Corner’, serving top-quality Lavazza drinks. The same applies to our capsules solution, which is perfect for smaller workplaces. Our new Lavazza BLUE machines now serve Lavazza coffees and some of the machines come with the facility to create coffee-shop drinks, with fresh milk, from a capsule. On top of that, Lavazza Professional has introduced a Bean-to-Cup solution that also ticks the ‘quality’ box, thanks to our brand-new ‘Expert’ range of coffee beans. We want to improve the experience incumbent in having a cup of coffee any workplace, great or small, just as employers are keen to improve the experience of coming into the office.

There are those who are afraid of the virus and are reluctant to enter a crowded room. Also, employers are doing everything they can to eliminate the risk of infection in the office. Do you have any suggestions as to how both employees and employers can be reassured, in terms of health and safety?

We’ve thought long and hard about this. We predict that in the future, ‘the new normal’ in terms of Safety at Work will see the emergence of departmental ‘bubbles’ in the office. It’ll be like this: the people in Customer Services will not rub shoulders with Accounts, Sales Admin, Human Resources or Logistics. People will be encouraged to stay within their teams. Keyword? ‘Safety’. Instead of one coffee machine that serves a workplace of a hundred plus people, there will be what I’ll call ‘bubble machines’ instead, designed to provide a wide choice of quality beverages for individual departments or teams. I think we’ll see a significant move in this direction over the next 12-18 months.

Another consequence of the pandemic is a swing towards single-use cups that’s being driven by a reluctance among some people to share crockery. Many of our drinks now use the KLIX Eco Cup. It’s a first in vending and helps to maximise recyclability and reduce plastic waste. With minimal touch points between you and your next coffee, it’s the perfect solution.’

So, is it fair to say that Lavazza Professional believes that ‘the carrot’ will be more effective in encouraging people back to the office than ‘the stick’?

That’s exactly where we’re coming from. I read an article recently* recently that said 85% of employees agree that quality coffee increases productivity and improves morale. That’s a Big Number and I would encourage all businesses, large, small and in-between, to take heed. Increased productivity and high morale is the Holy Grail of every employer and as I said before, quality coffee at work is a simple and tangible way for an employer to demonstrate that people are indeed their most precious asset.

‘When people finally return to the office they’ll discover a space that’s largely been re-imagined. For employers, it’s about ensuring that the office is a better, more exciting place to return to.’

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