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The office, everywhere. Are corporate kitchens a thing of the past?

October 12, 2020 / United Kingdom

Managing workplace catering when the workplace isn’t predominantly the office presents new challenges for office managers. 

Demand and expectations have changed. Managing budgets efficiently while ensuring employees are supported to do their best work is critical – to engagement, productivity and the business’ bottom line. 

How office managers support the workforce is changing 

As organisations adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, office managers face new challenges in making sure everyone’s fed and happy:

1 – Helping employees feel safe to eat 

A lot of UK businesses are juggling a hybrid workforce, seeing employees split time between the office and working remotely. When employees start to return to offices in earnest again, office managers need new COVID-secure procedures to ensure people aren’t just fed, but fed safely. 

Getting corporate kitchens up-and-running safely is a mammoth task though. In May 85% of workplace foodservice operators reported their offices were closed.

That could negatively impact wellbeing, especially if employees don’t have the opportunity to eat communally. Especially since 93% of UK employees have faced new wellbeing challenges – most commonly, feeling disconnected and lonely. 

Research has long proved communal eating increases social bonding and feelings of wellbeing. Even if corporate kitchens remain closed, it’s important to give employees the opportunity not only to eat but to eat together. 

That could look like individually packaged team lunches ordered in, for example, with contactless delivery. 

2 – Accommodating flexibility   

In 2019 less than 30% of UK workers had ever worked from home. April 2020 saw 46.6% of UK workers working from home at least once (86% credited these working habits directly to the pandemic).

These figures show the office is no longer the major hub of the business. COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we work – and so the systems to support that work must change too. 

Office managers might find they need to re-evaluate how they allocate budget, to ensure employees are still supported to do their best work, however they work. Equally, to ensure budget isn’t wasted on unused facilities. 

For instance, hospitality lunches might have dwindled to near-zero, while many employees are working atypical hours. 

Corporate kitchens working traditional hours might have ticked the boxes before COVID-19, but they’re likely too rigid for this new, more flexible workforce. Providing employees with an individual or team spend allowance would be more flexible, while maintaining tight control over costs.

3 – Building a food programme with longevity    

60% of UK employees say they’d like to continue working from home at least sometimes after the pandemic. 84% say it’s important for employers to offer the option of remote working. 59% of HR leaders believe work from home policies are likely to remain after the pandemic is over. 

That means we’re likely to need long-term ways to feed employees outside the corporate kitchen model. 

When remote workers are a small minority, those employees don’t expect large-scale changes to accommodate them. If the balance shifts, remote workers’ expectations around how employers support them are likely to change (like we’ve seen with business productivity tools). 

Paid-for home lunches could become a mainstay, for example, along with the technology to simplify creating policies, managing costs and expensing, despite that new complexity. 

This blog is part of The team that Eats together initiative, a content series exploring what normal looks like now, and how to enhance the working world to meet evolved employee expectations.

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The views and opinions expressed are based on the research conducted and they do not intend to present an official policy of Uber or any of its subsidiaries. Examples of advice mentioned in this article are based on open source information and assumptions made within the article are not reflective of Uber’s position.