Companies spend billions of dollars every year in a never-ending quest to help employees collaborate and innovate. They update their office floor plans, implement new tech infrastructure, send staff to training and team-building--all to help them work together more quickly and effectively.
Ironically, many otherwise brilliant executives never think to improve what's arguably the most powerful engine of collaboration and innovation inside every office--a productivity super-tool that exists literally (and I do mean literally) right under their noses: the office coffee service.
Consider: unless you live somewhere that favors tea (which plays the same role in business), I'll bet that almost every great decision you've made, every really productive meeting you've held, and every great idea you've ever had took place when you were sipping at a cup o' jo.
Given that undeniable fact, if you really want to increase your firm's collaboration and innovation capabilities, here are the three things you should do today (if you haven't already done them):
1. Make it free.
Most companies already do this but I still run across firms where they've decided that employees should pay for their own coffee. This is insane. From a standpoint of productivity, alertness, and creativity, you want your employees to drink as much coffee as they can tolerate, so creating any barrier whatsoever to having that next cup is just plain stupid.
Second and just as important, any company that nickle and dimes employees for such a petty expense is self-identifying as either ludicrously cheap or, worse, about to go bankrupt. Seriously, if you're thinking of doing business with, or working for, a company that charges employees for coffee, you should definitely think again.
2. Make it better.
There are substantial health benefits to drinking high-quality, well-brewed coffee rather than the pre-ground rot-gut that's served in most offices. If prepared correctly, coffee is naturally sweet and requires neither sweetener nor creamer. But there's another reason to serve truly coffee--it enhances your talent brand.
Every company wants to recruit the best and brightest. Therefore, when you're interviewing, your company wants to put its metaphorical best foot forward. Why in the name of heaven, then, when you're presenting what your company is all about, would you want to literally (and I do mean literally) leave a bad taste in that candidate's mouth?
Beyond that, we've already established that it's in your company's interest to keep your many coffee-drinkers properly loaded up, and that it's penny-wise and pound-foolish to skimp on the coffee service. It may seem like a little thing, but I'll bet there are cases, when a top employee thinking to leave, where lousy coffee was the straw that broke the camel's back.
3. Make it sociable.
I have frequently observed office coffee services crammed into hallways or inside a pokey kitchen closet next to a fridge full of unintentional science projects. I suspect the logic here is that management wants employees to grab their coffee and get back to work, rather than sit and chat. Ay-yi-yi, that is SO stupid.
The coffee service is the one area of the workplace where employees from ALL departments, all pay levels, and both genders serendipitously run into each other. That's EXACTLY the situation where non-stovepiped collaborative conversations might take place. According to recent study conducted by the Industrial Design Engineering department at the Delft University of Technology:
"A coffee corner with screens, tables and a possibility to sit, resulted in more conversation than a coffee corner that is open and had no seats. In both coffee corners, more than 4 out of 5 were conversations about work. These informal discussions could contribute to productivity, as many informal conversations increase creativity."