How can a coffee break help the bottom line?

Communal coffee breaks, whether working from home or in the office, are an increasingly important way to relax and unwind, and boost productivity

In Sweden, they call it fika. Essentially it is a coming together where staff take a break and time out to socialise and promote wellbeing. York-based staff management software company RotaCloud introduced fika to the workplace in 2018, to “help make people’s days better”, according to co-founder James Lintern. “It’s a time when everyone can make a cup of coffee, have a snack and talk,” he says. 

“We don’t force people to take a break, but we strongly encourage it and we use automated alerts on Slack to remind people.” Lintern says the practice has had a positive impact on staff and, in turn, productivity. 

“Having this time set aside within the working day is very important,” he continues, “because it creates an environment of sharing and learning, and helps employees build a support system within the office. This is about fostering a mentality that makes it OK to stop, slow down and reflect.”

While the coronavirus has driven new ways of working and triggered an initial exodus from the office, this practice is even more important for both people and businesses. The stress of having to work away from the office, possibly juggling family commitments in addition to the uncertainty of the future, has led many people to work harder than before. This approach is counter-productive, says Dr Argyro Avgoustaki, associate professor of management at ESCP Business School.

“The more the employee is working, especially if there is no break or resting time, the more the productivity decreases, because they do not get the chance to recover physically, mentally or emotionally,” she says. “Working constantly without taking any breaks between or within working days may result in employees who are exhausted, fatigued and stressed.”

Healthy body, healthy mind

Given the sudden shift to mass home working, where conditions might not be optimal, there is even more reason to take regular breaks, argues Mark Fletcher, clinical director at occupational physiotherapy provider Physio Med. 

“Sitting for longer than 20 minutes has negative effects on your body, including an increase in musculoskeletal problems such as back and neck pain, while extended periods of sitting can affect the spine, neck and shoulders. This, in turn, can also affect the arms, elbows and wrists,” he says, suggesting employees should move away from their desks every 30 minutes, even if just for a few paces.

When it comes to better managing remote-working teams, regular check-ins are vital, to ensure employees are happy with their work and also, arguably more importantly, that their mental health is supported. Business leaders should view this as an opportunity to show their human, compassionate side, says Susan Hodkinson, chief operating officer at Canadian accounting firm Crowe Soberman in Toronto. 

“Communication should be frequent and transparent,” she says. “We have a virtual coffee event, which replicates the kitchen coffee chat with co-workers. You’re trying to have those touchpoints you would have in the office.

Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at Facebook, agrees that virtual coffee meet-ups help keep colleagues connected, even virtually. She enjoys “coffee roulette”, using videoconferencing tools. “You enter your name and then play coffee roulette with colleagues. The random nature of it creates surprise. It’s a great way to get to know people in 15 minutes,” says Mendelsohn, adding it’s especially good for people joining the company.

Benefits of informal catch-ups

Tania Garrett, vice president of international employee experience at Adobe, says relaxing coffee breaks, whether in the office or while remote working, with other members of the team are essential for boosting morale. “One of the things we hear a lot from our employees is that they are missing their colleagues and the informal catch-ups,” she says. “As such, we have strongly encouraged our people managers to create opportunities for non-work catch-ups like ‘coffee chats’ or team events.” 

For the more introverted employees, Garrett encourages small groups for coffee chats so “everyone can feel safe and included in conversation and managers can ensure everyone’s voice is heard”. She adds: “These informal moments are critical for our teams to take time out from work and connect on a personal level.”

Organisations seeking to make their offices more welcoming to staff should think about the provision of quality coffee, says Beth Hampson, commercial director of The Argyll Club, which offers more than 35 flex-work spaces in London. “Coffee at work isn’t just for the caffeine-fanatic anymore; most professionals now want a quality hot beverage every day so offices can no longer afford to have below-par coffee,” she says. 

Coffee at work isn’t just for the caffeine-fanatic anymore; most professionals now want a quality hot beverage every day

Members of The Argyll Club can now take advantage of Nespresso on offer at their workplaces. “We’ve even had all of our teams retrained on how to make an exceptional cup of coffee,” says Hampson.

Ultimately, it’s people who power any business, so looking after them, in the office or at home, and providing them with ample opportunity to take coffee breaks creates a win-win situation. And as employees do return to the office, those workplaces that can offer quality coffee on-site will claim the hearts and minds of staff.
“After months at home, members told us they miss the city’s quality coffee shops, bars and restaurants as well as their offices and teammates,” adds Hampson. “So bringing all these much-loved elements together in one safe destination is the future of work for us.”