It’s been almost two years since the start of the pandemic, and people have gotten used to working from home. So now the big question for companies is, how do you engage with them? How do you bring that company culture into remote or hybrid teams? The world is changing now, and people want more time for themselves. With the increase in gas prices, people don’t want to be going to work every day. This is the new normal that companies need to adjust to.
Join Sam Reeve, Char Miller, & Sumit Singla as they talk to Eric Hermeling about how he uses food and beverages to engage with remote and hybrid teams. Eric is the CEO of Belmont, where he helps companies connect with their employees through food and drinks. Team lunches and happy hours, that’s just a timeless tradition. Discover how Eric uses Break Time to build company culture.
For those that are not familiar with us, one of our main mantras here is to make sure that we are sharing ideas that help leaders and HR practitioners develop better environments to work, live, and so forth for their employees to engage, energize and elevate your workforce. We bring in experts from all over the different fields that bring in lots of different ideas on how to make those work-life better for their people. We have a real special guest that I want to introduce you to in a moment.
A little bit about our team here. We have our hosts. A few of us are not able to make it. Jules was not able to join us. She usually kicks off these sessions and does a lot better job than I do. Also, Howard, unfortunately, will not be able to join us. He’s not feeling well. We do have Char Miller, who is a people strategist. She’s also an entrepreneur. She has several small businesses that she runs. She has a deep background as an HR professional and large healthcare firms. Char, you are coaching and healthcare advocacy mountain to sea. It’s a pleasure to have you on as a host.
It has been a pleasure to be here for the last several years. It has been a joy to work with CompTeam.
We also have Sumit Singla, who is also our people strategist out of India. Sumit brings the international perspective on working from a company such as Accenture, Aon, and different types of consulting practices. He is deep expertise in international business and what different businesses face in the multinational realm. Welcome, Sumit.
Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
I would love to introduce you to Eric Hermeling. He is the CEO of Belmont, which is a company that focuses on making sure that those break rooms and experiences in companies have been well established in the past. Now that there has been a change in the way that we work and live as our workers are both remote and hybrid. Eric has brought his company to bring that culture or those remote environments to home.
That warm, inviting type of culture, whether you are in or outside the office, Belmont can bring that culture to you. We are going to be talking about how to maintain that culture and those remote environments. There’s a lot to talk about here. First, as we get started here, Eric, I would love to know a little bit about you and how did you got started in your company and bring that to life?
Thank you, Sam. I appreciate the warm introduction, especially the special guest. It always feels good to feel special. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, uncles, dads, mothers, etc., who have worked for themselves and built that. Coming out of college, I always knew I wanted to start a business. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do but after some long, deep nights of thinking, I got a good idea for creating food and beverage experiences in offices.
Back in 2007, when I originally started, there was definitely this antiquated way of looking at it. As long as the coffee was hot and black, and that’s pretty much all people serve, people would be happy. As we started to morph into focusing on company culture and creating a workplace that people wanted to go to, we started to see this shift in how companies viewed their break rooms. They wanted to provide a wonderful experience that would keep their teams engaged and happy.
The goal was to get them to want to come in early in the morning and stay late in the evenings. The concept was, “If they are here, they will be working. As long as they are not going to Starbucks, we can make them happy.” That’s where our company came in. We started creating wonderful programs for them, focusing mainly on coffee. We started to adopt new product lines and services that we could offer to create that.
We brought in cold brew, kombucha, espresso machines, catering services, snack, and pantry-related items as that became more popular. A lot of the companies we worked with were high-end technology companies. They were definitely the groundbreakers of this mantra of getting people to want to stay in the workspace. As I started to trickle into other industries, we started seeing more marketing firms, advertising firms, and engineering as well.
Some of the companies that we’ve worked with are Nike, Wieden+Kennedy, AWS Elemental, SurveyMonkey, Squarespace, Squareup, etc. We have a long history of working with large organizations that we want to create a wonderful food and beverage experience. As we started to get into 2020, the pandemic happened, and we were all forced to work from home. Especially for these companies who had the ability to work from home, the people without them going to the office, we needed to create a new model to allow their teams to still get that wonderful food and beverage experience while working from home.
At that point, we created Breaktime, which was a unique program at the time to send a food and beverage experience that was customized by the employee to them while they were working from home. We created our own platform that makes it easy for HR leaders, team leaders, and anybody who wants to reward their team for choosing an experience through our website and creates a link for them to share with their team.
They send the link on chat, Slack, MS Team chat, and email, and then each employee gets to click on that link and then customize the box the way they want it. You can have somebody who has a dark roast coffee drinker with their gluten-free snacks, other people who want their green tea with their vegan snacks. There’s something for everybody, which is obviously important in this day and age when inclusion is important.
One of the things that are all the buzz in rewards is customizing the experience. It looks like you are providing this straight out of the box there. What trends are you seeing overall in the employee experience that you are trying to address?
If we take a step back away from our specific business model, obviously, a big topic is diversity, equality, and inclusion, and we want to make sure that everybody feels recognized within a company. Often we can try to put everybody in a box but no two people are exactly alike and want to feel like they are seen for who they are. A lot of companies are looking for different ways of engaging with their teams and creating those experiences to make people feel like they are part of the company. That ultimately is what it comes down to. Some of the trends that I’ve seen, and I get to talk to a lot of HR leaders and team leaders from all around the country, is creating experiences.
Experience is a big thing that’s something that we can all share and that we can all appreciate. One of the things that are challenging for companies when they look for different experiences or gifts and service is to allow for that variety of experiences to be available. One of the ones I’ve heard there was the fun of a company that did. They found a company that does virtual live tours of fun places around the world.
They did one for the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Everybody got on a Zoom call, and then a person took them on a virtual tour of the Eiffel Tower. That’s something that we can all appreciate. Unless you live in Paris, you might be like, “I go there all the time.” For the rest of us, it was a wonderful experience. Another trend that I’m also seeing is focusing on the health side of things, whether it’s your mental health or your physical health.
Companies I’ve seen called Gympass allow them to provide a gym experience but it allows people access to different gyms around the country. It’s not just one chain of gyms that somebody who’s in a rural part of Kansas can access. They were allowing people to get all across the country. Those are some of the different ways that people are trying to connect with their teams and create a very inclusive environment.
Food and beverages are a timeless tradition for building company culture. Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best solution. Click To Tweet
One of the big pieces that we were talking about in-depth with our internal team was the importance of connecting and having that experience where we can all share. As people are looking for this new or custom experience, you mentioned a couple of good ones. I mean, the virtual tours, health, diversity, inclusion, and whatever it may be. What is the most popular piece that you are seeing out there? Is it still centered around bringing the Breaktime into the home?
One of those things that’s fun is that sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. Food and beverage is definitely a timeless tradition. We can all think back to moments in our lives when we’ve gathered around some food or beverage experience, whether it’s a happy hour after work or having a team lunch. Those are things that really bring people together.
With everybody shifted around, we are starting to see these trends of we are going back to the office in a hybrid way. Companies who made before did not want to invest highly in that are now wanting to invest more in that because they want to encourage people to come back to the office to create a cohesive environment where people are connected together.
Now that they’ve hired many people outside of the organization. For example, if your HQ is in Portland, Oregon but you hired a tech developer in Kansas, how are they going to be able to share in that same experience? With our product or other products similar to ours, you can send that same experience and allow them to have something that’s meaningful to them, so they don’t feel like they are being left out. It’s tying back to that inclusion.
They are trying to create a holistic approach. During the pandemic, it was fun to come up with a lot of creative ideas for ways to connect people with virtual tourists. The challenge was that the engagement rates started off very high when Zoom and everything were very fresh. As we started to get the fatigue of being on camera and another meeting, people wanted something they could consume and have at their own leisure.
That’s where we found a lot of positive feedback from a Breaktime. They get to choose and customize their box, and it comes to their door. It’s a surprise. There’s a fun unboxing element. There’s a nice card in there that welcomes them or tells them something that they appreciate about them. That box is customized by them, so it’s something that they would want as opposed to, “I don’t even care for these types of products. Why did you send me these you don’t even know me?” That was the part of the missing link that is creating a special experience for them.
There are a lot of services out there that we are getting used to, such as food delivery services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron, where you can select what you want, and it comes to you. There are other types of club shipping where they put things in a box and send it to you as a surprise. It’s things that are catered to your preferences. This is definitely a new thing that people are enjoying. Do you find that companies like to do this on a weekly basis or a monthly basis? What’s the most common cadence for something like this?
If you are thinking of an in-office service, it’s always constant, and it needs to be there, available, and ready. We still haven’t seen quite the shift where people want to send out a weekly box. We have some of our clients sending it out weekly but more often than not, they send it out quarterly. They will choose a quarterly experience but we also have people using our boxes for different reasons too.
If it’s a work anniversary, a birthday or some other sort of milestone related to their professional career, they will use these boxes to send them out. Something else that’s interesting, Sam, that I only know of you and I got to talk about last time was that there is a certain tax application for different gifts and experiences that are not top of mind when we are thinking about doing it.
Something interesting about snacks and beverages is that the IRS has said that if you are sending snacks and beverages, are you providing those in your offices? Those are actually a tax write-off. There’s no limit to that. You can provide these small snacks and beverages to people without having to worry about tax implications. Whereas if you are delivering full meals like the HelloFresh or bringing in even catered lunches, those can be sometimes considered a taxable event.
Those pieces can be cost-efficient for companies.
With the way that we set it up, our least expensive option is $24.95 per box. It allows for an inexpensive way to recognize somebody that provides you with either a full bag of snacks or their own favorite, two beverages that they can choose from, then that captures into a price point that allows people to feel like they are not breaking the bank. We do also have larger experiences. It depends on the company’s budget and how much they want to encourage their team. A lot of companies use this with their wellness budget too because we are focused on high-quality, healthier food options.
We are all looking at that from a healthy standpoint. You are not going to find a lot of like Lay’s potato chips or any high-sugar snacks. We are looking to keep it clean and good energy for people because we all understand that a hanger is a real thing, and you need to keep your blood sugars monitor quite right so that you can get through the day.
Sending food and beverage is one thing but as companies and leaders, how do they deliver the brand and culture that they want?
As a leader of a company, culture is always at the forefront of your mind. How do you foster a positive culture within your company? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that within my own company. These things like sending out appreciation rewards or experiences are important but if you don’t have a foundation built around culture, communication, and allowing people to feel like they can be who they are, it becomes window dressing. It’s very surface level. In my opinion, one of the things that big companies need to focus on is starting at the ground floor and building a strong foundation of culture within a company.
It comes down to trust. You need to be able to trust each other to do each other’s jobs because we are all one unit. Communication, so that the people can communicate and feel open. Also, to be able to feel like you can be who you are at work is the same person you are at home. If people are conscious of those things, then these other extra benefits, as we like to call them, become less window dressing and much more building blocks to building a strong company culture. I will even transparently say that if you’ve got a bad company culture and you are not doing a great job of building trust, communication, and allowing people to be who they are in your company. You just send them a box. That’s not going to fix it.
There are bigger problems that you have to start to address. With people working remotely, it can be hard to sometimes create these connection points. A lot of HR leaders are finding it challenging to create the one-on-ones and make them feel a part of the team when we are focused on a screen. When I spend some time chatting with HR leaders, I ask them what their largest challenges are with this new work environment. The number one thing that comes back is, “How do I make people who are not within the organization or outside the HQ geography feel they are connected and part of the team?” I’ve come across a lot of interesting things that we can talk about and how people do foster that strong company culture.
Let’s dive a little bit more into that. What are some of the elements that some of these leaders have shared with you?
The ones that have really stood out in my mind, and I’ve heard this on a few different occasions. It’s being mindful. Top of mind or creating those one-on-ones with HR leaders to check in with them, say, “How are things going?” Open the lines of communication. Ask them what we could be doing better to make their remote experience be a stronger connection to their team?
Beyond that, how do you create and foster communication across teams who may not communicate all the time? You probably have people within your own company. I talked to Char every single day because we work on a lot of the same projects but Bill over in accounting, there’s not much that he and I talk about. How do we create those environments to allow people to do?
Whether it’s being very mindful to create a little coffee chat for people like, “Take a 30-minute break. This is scheduled on our calendar. We are matching you up with these two people whom you may not have time with. We want you guys to talk about anything but work.” A lot of the time, they are like, “Talk about whatever you want to do but it can’t be about work. Let’s get to know each other.” Creating these water-cooler moments and trying to create them organically through the construct of having it be digital has been positive for these companies making it a priority.
The last thing is creating those team events together like, “How can we get everybody together and create these team events?” They will put on quarterly virtual events to talk about how things went through the quarter. During that time, then they broke off into small groups and, once again, tried to pair people up who normally wouldn’t have as many opportunities to connect but had them talk more about their work-related things. There’s a three-part thing. The one-on-ones, small groups that meet weekly, and then large organizational groups, and then breaking people into these different sections to talk amongst themselves.
Some leaders are creating groups or special type interest groups, whether they have certain hobbies that they enjoy, book clubs or different things like that, so they can get to know their colleagues a little bit better. Is that right?
Yeah. You nailed it right there. The special interest things helped shape those conversations and get people talking. We took it for granted when we were all in the office, 9:00 to 5:00, 90% of the time that those conversations have happened naturally as you walk to the Breakroom, and then you meet Bill from accounting like, “How’s it going?” You start talking about your kids or what you guys did on the weekend. When we are not doing that forcefully and not in a bad way but making it happen, that’s where those connection points get lost.
Companies need to focus on building a strong foundation of company culture, which comes down to trust. Click To Tweet
If you remember, early on in the pandemic, a lot of people were saying, “The hardest challenge is keeping people connected because we are so reliant on those bumping into somebody and be like, ‘I remember I meant to talk to you about this. Let’s go over this project and have a brainstorming session.’” Now people need to be much more mindful and schedule those brainstorming sessions, which comes with its own challenges as well with that aspect. The people that put the effort and energy into creating those times for people to connect are the ones who are seeing the best results from it.
There are a lot of leaders that are feeling a bit of fatigue with the remote or hybrid environments, specifically. They have people in or outside the office, and there are different ways of juggling communication, rewards, and customization of those rewards. The news about Elon Musk, wanting everybody to show up at work and show up at the workplace instead of being remote. There are certain environments like manufacturing companies, where that is more required. The largest trend that we are seeing out there is that employees definitely want that flexibility.
Especially with prices going up and getting around, commuting is quite difficult. Frankly, the pandemic looms. Being around people is always a concern for some individuals. Solutions like this that make remote work and delivering rewards easier is a huge benefit. When we are thinking about the way companies are reacting to a lot of remote benefits, whether they are Telehealth or different things like that. I don’t think that’s going away. What’s your thought?
The traditional aspect of benefits is the core, your health benefits, your basic employee wellness benefits, etc. Employers definitely need to think out of the box and more with ingenuity as far as what’s going to be appealed to the personalization of customizing some type of benefit for an employee that appreciates their lifestyle.
I have to tease Sumit here because when we finally got together as Com Team, Sumit gave me a taste of his vegan snacks. Sumit, you found some cupcakes, as well as some vegan jerky. As we were sitting there, he said, “Char, Have a taste of this.” He’s trying to turn me into a vegan. They were pretty good. What kind of vegan snack did you have me try? It was fun to try it.
I was thinking, and personally, it felt quite amazing to be included because one of the teammates, who knew that I’m a vegan, took the travel of going all the way and getting me a couple of vegan chocolates. Based on what Eric said, it’s very easy to recognize somebody to make them feel valued. If you take these factors into account, somebody could be a fan of a particular kind of coffee.
If one could find that, it’s a fantastic way of customizing the recognition that one is bringing to people and saying, “I hear the stuff that you were saying.” We might have different lifestyle preferences or dietary preferences but we included you and were on the same page when it comes to including you on that front. That’s my little example of how that made me feel valued. The snacks are good, so you better try them some time. I’m not trying to preach veganism here.
I thought that it was great, Sumit, to learn that about you. It would open my eyes to all the dietary options out there. I have a special mug for you. This cow mug has my lashes. Do we also give people free mugs and other things other than food or is it mainly focused on food with that?
It’s fun. We’ve had a lot of companies who have wanted to opt-in and put branded materials in there too. A lot of companies really focus on trying to send home the swag. It’s 50/50 bags. Some people enjoy getting swag. Other people are like, “Why are you sending me this stuff?”
You mean junk mugs are going to end up in the back of the mug cabinet.
It’s hit or miss. A lot of companies think, “We have to bring us to them. They need to know that they work for ABC technology company and they’ve got a backpack and all these different things.” This is a personal opinion but I would prefer to be like, “Why don’t you give me some voucher to go get myself my own backpack that matches me because this neon green with a weird logo on it and walking around like a fanboy doesn’t seem that fun to me?” Other people do appreciate it. That’s going back to what Sumit was saying. It was like, “Are you seeing me for who I am or are you assuming that I’m like everybody else?”
I have a chance to get to try a lot of vegan snacks now. I’m like, “There are so many great vegan snacks out there.” We partnered with a vegan chocolate tier company out of Portland, Oregon, for Valentine’s Day. We made these wonderful vegan chocolate bundles. We chose that specifically, and we put them in every single box because, 1) They are delicious, but, 2) They check all the things. They were gluten-free, vegan, and nut-free. Even if you did or have no dietary restrictions, you will still love them.
The biggest feedback we’ve got is people are saying, “It’s nice that we’re able to recognize everybody within a company all using the same service. We all get to share the experience together while still being individuals.” That’s important. It’s still feeling like an individual but a part of a team. If you can capture that with whatever program you are doing, you are two steps ahead of most other people out there.
It’s a great conversation piece and starter. You didn’t know, Sumit, we are going to talk about your vegan snacks. It’s like, “This is cool. This is neat to learn about different things.” If the person likes beef jerky, then send them a package of beef jerky.
We were just talking about diversity and inclusion. As Sumit shows, this is a way for us to get to know about different lifestyle choices, social awareness of what it means to be a vegan, and different cultural practices in sharing products even from across the globe. Sumit is thoughtful. He was sharing some of this culture. He brought some special snacks from India that were delicious. Sharing that is very educational, and we learned a little bit more about Sumit, the Indian culture or what it means to be vegan. All those things are quite viable as a team.
One thing tying back to food and beverages, all cultures have their own food and drinks that they appreciate, whether it’s culture or your own personal diet, or however people consume their food. It’s a very personal experience then. When you think about it, it’s simple. It’s coffee and snacks, but no. It’s a personal experience. When you wake up in the morning and brew your coffee, it’s for you. It’s something that you enjoy, and you are doing it just for you.
When your company is recognizing you and being like, “I know that these moments are special to you. Here’s something that you can enjoy within them,” it has been a positive experience as well. More than I even expected when we first started this, I used to joke that we take stuff from a large box, put it in a small box, and then ship it to you. It’s so much more than that when you add this personal element into it.
It’s also a conversation starter in a different sense altogether. As many people bond over the neon backpack that you mentioned, you see the boxes that you are talking about. If you see a unique food experience, it happened a week ago, and we are still talking about it. We would have had this conversation if it had been a set of branded pens, mugs or something of that sort.
I have to share this story because one of my best friends works with a major healthcare system that I also used to work with. I was happy to be at her house. She got a couple of packages in her mail and was super excited. She goes, “I’m getting this special lighted camera. I selected it from a catalog. I’m excited.” It’s something that she was going to get some special technology because she’s an IT manager.
She opened the box, and there was the ugliest brown, gray, backpack-looking thing with the big fat logo on the front. Not only that, 1) She didn’t pick it, and, 2) She got two boxes of the same thing, which was weird. It was a shipping issue, and 3) The first thing she wanted to do was throw it away but because she’s into recycling, she decided to donate it. Who wants to even get a donated ugly backpack with a big old logo on it? That’s not meaningful to them.
I feel like although the company was trying to do something very nice and generous, it backfired. It left a negative stigma. It wasn’t personalized. In fact, they messed up on the shipment. Back when I was doing more traditional HR practices, I remember all the times that we would do all those employee luncheons and a particularly focused on longevity, the 30-year award. Even though it might have been a nice little watch, let’s say it still had the big logo in the middle of it. Who’s going to wear a watch with their company logo and be reminded of work 24/7?
There are certain things that companies can do if they are being thoughtful about sending out. It could be a reminder of great culture and so forth. Eric, when you look at the demographics and their desires of what they like to see, are you coming out with some information there?
Do you mean in terms of Gen Z versus a Millennial versus Gen Y type of demographics?
Yes, or even in different types of companies as well, such as those in manufacturing environments versus technical environments. Do you see certain trends that are interesting?
Companies should see their employees for who they are and not assume they're like everybody else. Click To Tweet
I alluded to this earlier but if we were to look back into the hybrid environment, a lot of companies before who were not interested in providing an enhanced experience of a food and beverage experience in their office are now opting to want to bring in snacks. They are focusing on vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free, bringing in higher quality products to encourage people to come back to the office or at least when they are that they’re excited about being there.
In terms of demographics and the tech companies, and higher-end companies, they have been doing that for a while. They are now starting to look for creative ways to create a fun environment for people who are working outside of those organizations, I don’t know in your guys’ market but especially on the West Coast, a lot of the high-end companies, technology still haven’t returned to work in a meaningful way, even in these hybrid environments.
A couple of examples, a lot of these companies that we would work for would have 200 to 300 people in the office every single day, Monday through Friday, now have about 20 to 30. We are looking at about 10% at this point. We are into June 2022 and almost two and a half years into the pandemic. This seems to be the new norm. We see these people are like, “Gas is $5 a gallon. I don’t want to drive 30 minutes in traffic, waste by morning, and try to get home in time for the kids when they get home from school. I would rather stay at home, be more productive, be here when my kids get home from school, make it easy for them and me.”
There’s a small section of the very extroverted people that want to be in the office or maybe don’t have a great home office and want to go in. For the most part, people want to stay at home. Honestly, beyond the fun things that we do for them, that is now the new benefit that Char was alluding to. It’s like, “We all know you are supposed to get paid time off at this point. We all know you are supposed to have a 401(k). You should have healthcare. You should have these benefits.” They’re taken for granted. If you don’t do those things, there’s something wrong with your company, not something that somebody else is doing better.
Now, it’s the remote thing like, “Are you going to allow me to work remotely when I want? Don’t tell me when I’m supposed to go to the office. I will go to the office when I want to.” That’s the new norm. Especially with the younger generation of workers, there’s not much company loyalty. Talking about what Char was saying, “Who wants to be reminded of work or who wants to get something that they know within two years, ‘I’m still company hoping. I’m going to go to the next company that’s going to pay me more. I don’t need an ABC technology backpack because, in two years, I won’t be working for them anyway.’” That’s their new norm.
Daniel, one of our readers, is very good to point out once again the story from Elon Musk requiring Tesla employees to put in their 40 hours in the office. I know there are some companies that are trying the trend to return back to normal, especially those that are in the manufacturing environments, where people do that to be on-site to do some of that work. Overall, we are still seeing that a lot of information workers are desiring and continuing to want that work-life flexibility of being remote.
There are downsides to being fully remote. People feel excluded. They want some connection. Some of that can be accomplished to a certain percentage, maybe through Zoom or other types of virtual platforms. What are companies doing? Do you see a greater trend or some ideas of where companies are trying to do something through Zoom or in the office?
I think so. I can think of probably out-of-clients that used to always have an office environment. 20% to 30% of them let their leases go. A big component that we are not even talking about is that physical space is very expensive. They are saying, “How can we use that budget that we would normally allocate towards rent and create that environment?” Now they are doing more quarterly team get-togethers like, “Let’s fly everybody into a conference area now that we are able to do that and get together.”
Char was saying it makes it a unique and fun experience. It’s a little different. It’s like, “I talked to you all the time over the camera. It’s strange to see you in person but that creates a new element of connection.” You go back to the remote and feel a bit more connected to these people because they are real and tangible and are not just faces on a screen.
However, companies decide to move in which direction they want to, being mindful that we still need to be getting together in person to create those community bonds, where we can have a joke, laugh, and be more of a relaxed environment is going to be important. Whether they are wanting to do a hybrid, they need to continue to bring company events together.
That’s going to be important, and thinking about how they can use those budgets to create team-building exercises. I see a lot of team building and companies out there moving, especially now that we are able to give back together, creating those environments. Fly people in. It’s not that cheap to fly anymore because of the gas. We will eventually get back there.
Some of my fondest memories, as far as some of the team building activities that myself and my HR team would do, one of the fun ones was coming together and cooking like going to a commercial kitchen, cooking, and everyone would teach each other. It was a great activity. It was a teamwork activity. We would have lessons learned. Those were great times. I don’t know if that’s taxable or not.
I’m sure they could figure out a way around it. A lot of companies are seeing a lot of realized savings from downsizing their footprints or not having as many locations. Real estate is getting cheap, and some of these bigger companies are gobbling it up. For a mid-size company with 100 employees, it’s like, “Does it make sense to have a 20,000 square-foot office space anymore if there are ten people coming in every day? Let’s do the math here and figure out how we can realize these savings but invest it back into the company.”
This is a bit of an off tangent but more than ever, as leaders, we need to be focusing on, “How can we invest in our people and not just our bottom line?” That’s important to create a quality workspace where not the top 1% of a company make all the money, and everybody else is working to make everybody else rich. If people start to take a more mindful approach to investing in their people, whether it’s through food and beverage, Breaktime Boxes or company experiences, they will reap a very strong culture from that.
One of the big things that we have been talking about is experiences and also having those experiences be meaningful, whether you are remote or in the office, and the difference there. One thing that bothers people about going into the office is the thought, “I could be doing this at home now. Why did I have to do this commute?” When we are thinking about whether we require people to go to the office or whatever, we want to make that time meaningful.
It’s either we are getting together to go through this project, do this brainstorming or whatever it may be. It’s also important for us to realize that those things can take place in other places. You can enhance the experience by going to a certain coworking site, a coffee house, or certain things like this that change up the environment and keep things interesting instead of going back into the cubicle that you might be experiencing in your workplace.
It tied into the comment when we got about Elon Musk. It reminds me of a story back when we thought the pandemic first ended, which was in 2021. There was a company in Portland called Pacific Power company. It’s a large power company there. They were going to require everybody to go back to work or take a 10% pay cut. It created a huge PR nightmare for them. There was tons of backlash from people. You nailed it on the head when you said, “Why would I come to work when I can do this at home?” The next part of that question is, “Don’t you trust me?”
That trust part is the aspect that people forget when like, “You have to come into work.” “Why do I have to come to work?” “That we can watch you work.” “You don’t trust me. If you don’t trust me, then I don’t trust you.” How does that build a company culture if you are not building on trust? In my opinion, trust is one of the biggest foundational blocks of company culture. When you hear Elon Musk requiring people to go back to work, not everybody is like an Elon Musk, who wants to sleep under their desk and be at work 24/7.
People want to have this work-life balance and these things that we were talking about. I liked your idea of finding new areas to do work or having a purpose for when you come into work like, “We are coming in now so we can get together as a team, work on this project, come up with creative ideas, and then let’s go back and execute on those ideas.” That’s a wonderful idea. It’s an interesting way to save money on having your own physical space and use these coworking spaces that are everywhere.
One of the interesting things that you said about trust is also a lot of these companies that we are talking about had shown better results or comparable results to the numbers they had before the pandemic. “As an employee, for two years, you were forced to get me to work from home, and now suddenly, you don’t trust me despite the fact that we have been doing exceptionally well. Had we been struggling? Had there been any challenges in terms of me not being able to deliver the right kind of work because you are not watching over my shoulder? It’s a different story but we’ve done so well, and now you still want me back to the office? It doesn’t make sense.” That’s where what you are saying makes absolutely perfect sense.
The important thing is the trust factor. When we are in an office, I find myself getting more distracted. I will be sitting at a computer and be like, “Bill just walked by. Now he wants to have a fifteen-minute conversation about baseball. I don’t care about baseball. Let me get back to work.” You are not so distracted at home. In the early stages, it might be easy but I find myself being much more productive when I’m working from home. We all inherently want to work. That’s not the problem. We like our jobs. We want to put the energy into it and give us a quiet space to work with not very many distractions. We will do great at that.
I have another friend who is an executive assistant for a tech space company. With that, she said that she was the executive assistant. She was frustrated because all the executive assistants had to be at work where all the VPs and the other types of specialties could have the flexibility, the hybrid setup or work from home, whereas the executive assistants were required to be sitting in a little cubicle area. Also, the ping pong tables for the employees were right next to the executive assistants. Imagine trying to be an executive assistant with the sound of ping pong all day long and how distracting that would be. She describes her experience.
In addition, back in during the pandemic, they had to wear their masks, and I know we are getting over the mask issue. If we talk about equity and inclusion or diversity, it’s certain segments of the employee population were required to sit at their desk and have their masks where other departments could have more flexibility. It was a bone of contention. It’s frustrating, and feeling unfairly treated. In that particular organization, then people started applying out of that department because they wanted to go work in other, more flexible departments. It became a retention issue.
That segues into another thing that we haven’t touched on but diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of this. People take for granted that people feel comfortable being at the office. The office environment is a little bit like thinking back to high school. It can get cliquey. If you are 1 of 2 or 3 people of 1 ethnicity and are not seeing other people around you that are like you, going into that environment doesn’t feel comfortable. You feel like, “I have to be on guard. I have to act differently, so I can be accepted by the cool people at the office.”
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That is a real thing that people do. Now allowing them to work from home allows them, “I can focus on my work. I don’t have to feel anxiety going into a space where I might not feel perfectly comfortable.” There are still people who have health problems, who are afraid of COVID, and if they are like, “Do I have to go into an office again?” It’s getting to be a smaller population but those are important people too. We can’t ignore them. We can’t be like, “Get over your fear about your health of dying from COVID.” It’s a real thing. We need to be conscious of that.
There’s still a segment of our population that is very adamant about wearing their masks.
That sparks two thoughts. Talking about inclusion and diversity. I was gathering out some research on LGBT inclusion, and I interviewed a lot of people. The interesting thing they said was that we are much happier working from the office than from home because, “The office is a more accepting space because of our inclusion policies out there. We feel more comfortable. We haven’t come out to folks at home. Therefore, constantly being at home is more stressful. We would absolutely love to get back to the office.” That’s one.
This goes back to the earlier point we were discussing that there’s no one size fits all. There’s no single prescription saying work fully remote or go fully back to the office. We need to figure out what people require and what would be the most meaningful for their workforce experience and do that accordingly. That’s one of the primary things to you.
The second one, which also ties in, is people with medical conditions. I have been one of them, where because of medical complications, I couldn’t get vaccinated, though I wanted to. One of my clients insisted on leaving back in the office. They happened to make a statement as offensive as, “Not just because there’s a virus in the air that hasn’t stopped people from protecting our borders and fighting for national security. How is our job any different? We got simply short work because you are afraid of a virus.” There still are people like that who believe it.
There are definitely different types of perspectives out there, and that’s part of the reason why I want to acknowledge our sponsor here, TMA. Part of their processes is to provide assessments out to your people, not to test them on things but to get to know them more and better and to understand how they like to work, communicate, and all those different things.
Most importantly, be rewarded and understand what they are concerned about. As Sumit mentioned, there are some people that are concerned about COVID and others that want you in the office and different things like this. It’s good to have these conversations early on and often so we understand the best way to work and maintain happiness in the workplace.
TMA Method definitely allows for this, and it’s a way to keep close to your employees on a regular basis. If you are interested in learning more about TMA, please reach out to me. I can send you an assessment but it is important to know that there are plenty of resources out there. There’s the CompetencyLibrary.com that TMA provides free of charge that anybody can go take a look at. There are also a variety of different apps that you can use for recruiting and coaching your people. There are a lot of great free resources.
This is a great component. I call it the retention toolkit. I was trying to develop retention toolkits back into my talent days. Eric, your concept of sending home a box or information, a lot of our employees are looking for technology, apps, links, and customize. TMA definitely offers that. I’ve worked in those companies where the coffee was strong up in Tacoma, Washington, that it was like drinking tar out of a jar.
I’m Colorado or from Minnesota, where the coffee is weak. It’s water-down coffee. You don’t drink stuff like that. How my leader had a little bit more of a conversation with me and opened it up, it’s like, “What are your preferences? What do you like?” Back to the TMA, this is a great way to start those friendly, positive psychology, open dialogues, and then you will learn about what type of coffee people like to drink.
Before we wrap up here, Eric, tell us a little bit more about how people can learn more about your services and your company?
This is a great segue from our diversity and inclusion. We will provide you with a free box if you would like to sample one out. That’s a great way we create brand awareness as we send out free boxes. How I got connected with CompTeam is I sent out a free box to Wendy. When you get that, what we will do is we will send you a link. You get to customize the box like your employee as well. You get to experience what your team will experience before they do. You can see if this is going to be a good fit for your company. You get to customize it, choose your favorite coffee or tea, pick your snack, selections, whichever combination you want, then you put your address in, and we will ship it directly.
It takes about a minute to do. It’s a fun experience. After you get the box, you will have a much better understanding of what it means to receive one. When it’s time, and you are ready to place an order with us, we do a first-time discount of 10%. Feel free to reach out to me directly for that code. We have a great customer success team. If you need any help getting your order set up, we are happy to help you there. We do a 100% guarantee on all of our boxes. If anything should go wrong, maybe getting two boxes shipped, we have a 100% guaranteed policy where we will fix it and make sure that your team gets exactly what they want.
Where do they go to sign up for that?
Can you get a Breaktime Box anywhere in the world?
Yes, that has been one of the most fun things we’ve got to do this. We’ve changed from a regional company to international. We’ve shipped all over the world. We do free shipping in the United States. There is an additional charge for international shipping but we can ship all over the globe.
I know that there are some other programs you say that they have on your websites, such as the appreciation and so forth. How do you help companies understand those pieces? Does the Breaktime In A Box still the main vehicle for those elements?
The way that we do that is you can create the same Breaktime Box experience but we have fun and different cards that have been designed for those appreciation moments. If it’s a birthday, there’s a birthday card stock that says, “Happy birthday,” on the other side of the card. On the backside will be your message that you type to the recipient. It’s a way to create that personal connection.
Eric, thank you very much. This has been a wonderful discussion. Thank you for keeping the culture alive at those places, your clients, and so forth.
At the moment, we don’t have specific country boxes, if you are getting snacks from India, that would be a fun thing. It’s something that we would love to be able to include. Systematically and logistically, we are not quite there yet, but hopefully, someday soon, we will.
Thank you very much, everyone. Thank you for reading, and we will see you next time at People Strategy Forum.
Thank you. I appreciate it.
As CEO of Belmont, I have been helping companies connect with their employees through food and drink since 2007. We focus on listening to our clients and curating specific programs that meet their individual needs.
As the office culture has changed to working from home during the pandemic, we have shifted our service to meet the demands of the WFH employee.