Evolving workplace food services amidst COVID 19 pandemic

JLL, India’s largest real estate consultancy firm, and Compass Group, the world’s leading provider of contract food and support services, have come together to launch a whitepaper on (re)imagine Workplace food services: What’s next?. The whitepaper highlights the ideas for leaders on transforming the workplace, to meet the expectations of the workforce and changing consumer preferences. The report captures best practices for C-suite and business leaders, who are now looking for solutions in workplace food services.

The impact of COVID 19 on all aspects of our lives, including workplace environment has been the most disruptive in recent times. As India gears up for the unlock phase, workplaces are gradually prepping themselves to begin functioning with minimal staff, and with required safety measures in place. We are witnessing a major transformation in the corporate workspace wherein employee health and wellbeing is at the core.  Amidst the pandemic, leaders are gearing to adapt the next normal by framing strategies to (re)imagine workplaces and create a safe and welcoming office environment.

Sandeep Sethi, Managing Director, Corporate Solutions, West Asia, JLL, said, “The rise in COVID-19 cases in the country means that organisations will need to reimagine the workplaces and facilities while they continue to work with a lesser staff in offices. The pandemic has also forced the organisations to re-think their real estate portfolios and invest in tech infrastructure. The two key pillars of this experience – interaction in office and food services, which used to drive collaboration and innovation will no longer be the same.”

A recent survey conducted by JLL reveals that of all the services that an employee enjoys at the workplace, food and beverage services always come at the top of everyone’s concern list. A Compass Group study, “Eating at Work”, also showed that food was chosen as the preferred non-monetary perk over of flexible working hours, onsite fitness and employee wellness programmes which are perceived as vital non-monetary benefits. As per the study, 73% ranked café meals as a top priority, demonstrating the power of food at the workplace.

However, one of the biggest dilemmas in each of our minds while returning to offices is that the workplace experience is undergoing a paradigm shift. The white paper thus, addresses the apprehensions and anxiety among employees around safety and security, and health and hygiene as they return to work. There is a need to evolve and adapt to digital technology to promote touchless dining operations. The resurrection of the workplace café will call for disruptive models of working, innovation around the food itself, embracing digital, contactless ordering, creative and smart choice of ingredients which may help boost immunity and promote wellness.

With sector-focused businesses, global best practices and experience and expertise across 450+ client locations in India, Compass India endeavours to continue to innovate and design relevant concepts to nourish workplaces and aid the transition to better workplace food habits and choices. Dev Amritesh, Managing Director for Compass Group in India says “We understand the importance of cafeterias in workplaces. A camaraderie shared over a quick coffee-break play a very important role in bringing the workforce together. As the pandemic pivoted our needs towards a healthier lifestyle and a safe environment, it is not surprising to see employees being hesitant on returning to work. There are growing apprehensions which calls for a resurrection of the workplace café through disruptive models. Through the paper, we present some innovative ideas for leaders on transforming the workplace, to meet the expectations of the dynamic workforce and changing consumer preferences.”

According to a JLL Global (WFH) Experience Survey (May 2020), almost 82 percent of the people in India in a survey have shown their eagerness to go back to their workplaces. Taking this into consideration, the whitepaper lays down new protocols to be put in place for enhanced safety of the workforce. It would involve a combination of measures to improve workplace confidence along with workplace design upgrade such as:

Food Safety – The integrity of supply chain, quality of food, traceability of raw materials and contactless food delivery mechanisms amidst a changing consumer behaviour are making the corporate food services players re-strategize

Change in consumers’ behavioral pattern – Food will be prepared under strict health and safety norms, transferred hygienically to workplaces for employees, instead of the open serving or buffet model 

Use of technology to make wiser decisions – Healthy and immunity-boosting options, meaningful variety and ready-to-eat items are making it more acceptable to consumers. Use of technology like the Internet of Things (IoT) and online payment windows have given strength to the applicable social distancing norms.

Flexible design spaces with integrated safety features – The future workplaces will also be designed differently, use of more linear designs, surfaces which can be cleaned easily and a serving counter and seating design to avoid overcrowding will be practised.

Factors such as customer data security concerns and business continuity requirements have been compelling the C-suite to guide their employees back. As we begin to come out of the pandemic, several emerging themes can be seen around business change, shifting consumer behaviour leading to adoption of significant operational model changes. Companies are taking several measures to manage their food services in times of  COVID19 pandemic:

Statutory compliances to safety norms: Physical distancing norms and measures to reduce transmission of the disease will be followed

Reconfigured cafeteria and the new strategy: There will be a dire need to reimagine and re-boot the workplace café – prompting companies to reconfigure the workspace and the workplace café

Renew Supply Chain: Creating a smart and quick supply chain involving minimal touch-intervention.  The present scenario has highlighted the importance of quality and reliability of the regular supply chain

Touch-free digitized transactions: With the help of evolving digitally enabled food services rapidly, each stage in the food chain can be enhanced to adapt to a smarter, touchless operation or quality assurance.

Enhanced cleaning and disinfection: Enhancing the cleaning process in the food production and serving cycle including production area, storage, packaging area, transportation, service area, restrooms and waste disposal area etc.

Maintaining a business continuity plan: Companies will strategise for the post lockdown and recovery phase, streamlining of internal operations, completing reviews, running e-learning and e-trainings have emerged as the possible tools to growth.

Recently, Compass Group India announced the launch of SafeSphere program to provide a safer and healthier workplace. As India prepares to return to office, SafeSphereTM aims to support organisations in reassuring wellbeing and hygiene of their employees, through adaptable and customisable program of food, safety and hygiene solutions.

SafeSphere program enables Re-imagining workplace food services – scalability, quality of food, contactless food delivery mechanisms amidst a changing consumer behaviour making the corporate food service players re-strategize. SafeSphere , is a trademarked framework developed in association with fourteen independent, health, safety and audit specialists across the Asia Pacific region that offers assurance on the safety of all interactions with food in the work environment and uses an operating model with a set of certifiable standards.

Whilst the current environment is challenging, organizations are transforming their way of working by fast-tracking innovation and new working practices. It’s an endeavour to design the future of food at work, to help keep people productive, healthy and happy.

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