When COVID-19 keeps offices apart, food brings us together

At the beginning of last year, many of us were looking forward to a year filled with friends, family and travel. Of course, 2020 didn’t quite pan out how we expected. Now, at the start of 2021, it’s been nearly 12 months of living with a global pandemic, topped off with a Christmas season that coincided with Hong Kong’s fourth wave; once again leading to work from home arrangements.

Indeed, working from home is the new normal. Even before the government tightened restrictions in early December, many offices had already closed. Employers, especially the HR or people team understand the importance of keeping employees safe, and moreover, we’ve learned that going into an office everyday isn’t always necessary. We can still connect virtually and get the job done. This kind of change and innovation is exciting for the future of work, but it also presents challenges. In particular – how to ensure that employees feel engaged, connected and rewarded while working remotely?

Nothing brings people together like good food. When working from home, some of the pleasures and benefits that food can bring are denied. Colleagues are unable to grab lunch together, gather around the office fruit basket or catch-up over afternoon tea. Companies, therefore, have a real opportunity to bring people together while at home through food-based rewards and activities. With virtual gift cards for meals, drinks and grocery deliveries, businesses can help overcome the disappointment of not being able to enjoy Christmas dinner or Chinese New Year lunch with teammates, and give employees a gift that’s all about connection, delicious food, and comes from the heart.

Indeed, many organisations are already rewarding their people with the gift of great food. Since April 2020, Deliveroo Hong Kong has seen an 18x increase in sales of virtual gift cards as firms in the city look for new ways to engage and reward employees amid COVID-19. This has been accompanied by a 400% increase in organisations in Hong Kong joining Deliveroo for Business, which helps companies access office catering, corporate food delivery, and digital gift cards to reward employees. Our data also shows that HK$500 gift cards are most commonly gifted in Hong Kong, while companies have moved away from providing a shared catered lunch in the office to individual meal allowances for virtual team lunches.

There are many benefits to offering food delivery gift cards and vouchers. They are easy to use and enable each employee to select how best to spend their reward; so it’s a personalised gift for everyone. One employee might choose a daily sandwich, another might choose a special meal to share with their spouse, or have a virtual lunch with a colleague, or someone could even use their gift to purchase grocery items from 7-Eleven, Marks & Spencer or DON DON DONKI, all of which have recently joined Deliveroo Hong Kong. Moreover, the gift of food is something special that feels like a treat, but also responds to the challenges many employees may be facing; often having access to a hot meal for themselves or their family can make all the difference.

Particularly in Hong Kong, getting together for a meal with friends or colleagues is an important way to bond, let off steam, and generate new kinds of creative energy. It’s telling that Deliveroo Hong Kong data shows that corporates in the city are five times more likely to purchase virtual gift cards for staff than corporates in Singapore – perhaps proving once and for all which city is really home to the most foodies!

Back in the first few months of 2020, many offices postponed their annual dinners, hoping to reschedule later on in the year. Now that we’re coming up to a full 12 months of living with the virus, it’s clear that workplaces need another option to enjoy a meal together, instead of indefinitely postponing this meaningful occasion. Delivery options make it easy for every employee to order their own meal courtesy of the office, then gather together virtually for some games, performances, or lucky draws as a group while they partake in a new kind of team dinner event.

Of course, we’re all hopeful about recent developments around the vaccine and we want to meet in person as soon as we can; but at the same time, we know that COVID-19 won’t disappear overnight. We fear we will continue to live with the virus for some time – and that we’ll continue to work from home. Therefore, now is the time for businesses to utilise digital platforms to help employees feel connected and rewarded for their hard work.

We don’t know what the future holds, but we know that people are at the heart of every business. They are our most valuable asset. The world has seen many changes during the past year, but on a positive note we’ve also had new opportunities to change for the better – including how we reward our people. Virtual food gifts are a powerful way to give employees a special present, filled with meaning, which they truly do deserve.

This article is contributed by Jeanette Smerin, head of Deliveroo for Business, Hong Kong & Singapore.