The future of the workplace is about sparking connections over coffee

This article is sponsored by iris Singapore.

In a little over a year, the definition of a workplace has changed.

The physical boundaries separating our work and personal life blurred phenomenally as we adjusted to a new world in the wake of the pandemic. With the normalisation of remote working, and the demand for flexible hours and arrangements, the virtual workplace has meant there are lesser opportunities for building rapport with colleagues and maximising employee engagement. 

Coffee has always been a cornerstone of an office culture, and a key component of a wellbeing-centric workplace, acting as a trusted friend, and helping us to bond with our colleagues and focus on work. As a facilitator of human connections, coffee moments can go a long way in building the workplace of the future, as we found out through our study.

To delve deeper into some of the key insights about the future of work, and the coffee culture in Singapore, Nespresso Professional, Nespresso’s business-to-business arm, conducted a study that revealed four key shifts.

This helped shed light on changes happening to the perception and association of the workplace and the meaning that coffee brings to professionals who are trying to navigate this “new normal”.

An intangible workplace

A recent poll conducted by The Straits Times found that three out four people who are working out of home would like to continue to do so, and those who wish to return to the office would prefer to adopt a hybrid model of working from home and the office. 

This echoes global trends in remote working, and combined with the proliferation of alternative spaces such as home, cafés and co-working spaces – the fluidity of the workspace that’s not limited to the physical environment is increasingly more pronounced. 

As a result, the intangible aspects of going into the office takes the spotlight with 68% of the respondents stating that coffee breaks are fundamental to their work and routine. 

Workplace burnout has been recognised as a health condition by the World Health Organization, and as people work in less structured formats in a hyper-connected, always-on work culture, the ritual of preparing a cup of coffee provides that momentary separation from work that more people are craving for in this “new normal”. 

It also provides the opportunity of being a key moment in everyday routines that helps people focus on their tasks (and sanity), amid a chaotic work environment. 

Productivity and a flexible frontier

The office is the last frontier separating work and life so a major role for the office is about minimising distractions for productivity. However, at the same time, people want the flexibility to choose when, where and how they work. 

Despite the fact that people can work from anywhere, the office is still the ultimate purpose-made environment to enhance productivity, especially in one particular area: the pantry. 

Fifty five per cent stated their productivity is driven by access to the right tools – among them – nearly half cite the pantry as one of the key tools. 

To get a sense of what the future workplace looks like, we spoke to business professionals such as Ong Choon Fah, chief executive officer, Edmund Tie & Company, on the importance of this space, who said the pantry will have a bigger role to play. 

“Why do we give the best part of the office to the pantry? Because it inspires people. It’s a less formal space, but it’s a very important part of the creative process,” she said. 

“While the pantry is not a formal workspace, it’s designed to help people take breaks and build connections, which has an indirect and invisible impact on productivity.” 

From a transactional workspace to a community hub

While technology is an effective collaborator – collapsing the physical boundaries and challenging the need for meeting in-person – we found that people are most motivated by intrinsic and higher order values such as a sense of belonging and purpose, rather than external perks and recognition.

While the workplace is increasingly becoming more digitised, technology can’t replace the deep human connection that sharing a cup of coffee with a colleague can create. 

Sixty six per cent stated that grabbing coffee with colleagues makes them feel part of a community at the workplace and strengthens office relationships. 

Even though you can have virtual catch-ups with your colleagues, there’s something magical about a spontaneous coffee break in person. A sense of belonging and purpose are key drivers for productivity, which are easier to foster in the office than in a virtual workplace.

From a competitive arena to a safe space

Singapore is ranked as the world’s most competitive economy. It is also known to have a competitive work culture focused on career growth which sometimes come at the cost of wellbeing. 

Sixty seven per cent ranked relationships and wellbeing as top life priorities, while 81% stated that flexible work arrangements reduces stress. 

If wellbeing is becoming a top priority for employees, the office must become more than a place of work – a flexible safe space that values people’s personal needs and reduces stress (20% take coffee breaks to cope with stress). 

Taking coffee breaks is a key coping mechanism for dealing with stress, especially amid the uncertain job and economic climate facing the workforce today. It encourages people to consciously decelerate and remove themselves from their work desk and into a different environment.

Coffee has always been associated with boosting productivity. However, in a changing world, it takes a new purpose as a fluid and flexible workplace future adds more distractions to our plate. 

Now the office is not the central workplace, these distractions become contextual, intimately personal and not distributed equally across the team. So, the path to productivity starts first with being resilient in the face of constant disruptions. 

A coffee break becomes the first line of defence against the perils of blurring boundaries. It’s an essential tool that employers can provide their employees who are choosing to go to the office. 

Coffee-centric perks such as coffee catch-ups, happy hours and care packs that promote human connections can play an instrumental role in building workplace resilience and culture.

After all, there is nothing like great coffee. With new safety guidelines shifting everyone’s habits in the workplace, creating a workplace that recreates strong social connections can be as simple as getting together over a cup of coffee. So, what are you waiting for?

The writer is Peilin Lee, head of marketing, Nespresso Singapore.

Note: The Future of the Workplace is a study conducted by Nespresso Professional, Nespresso’s business-to-business arm, conducted specifically in Singapore with a sample size of 1,000 working professionals across industries, including finance, technology, marketing and human resources, surveyed for their insights on the current workplace, future trends, wellbeing in the office, productivity, and their attitudes towards coffee.