Companies from Goldman Sachs to Havas are hoping the way to their employees’ hearts is through their stomachs as they try to lure staff back to the office.
At Goldman Sachs, free breakfast, lunch and ice-cream are part of the pitch to convince employees from London to Hong Kong and New York to leave the comfort of their homes, where some have worked since March 2020 when the pandemic took hold. One of the most vocal proponents of bringing everyone back even allows those meals to be enjoyed on Plumtree Court’s landscaped roof garden — once reserved for clients and visiting royalty.
“Food is playing a much more central part in office life and businesses are using their food offers to try and influence behaviour,” said Robin Mills, UK and Ireland managing director at catering company Compass Group. “We are now fully part of these reopening conversations and part of this new world as companies think about how to get people to come back.”
After more than a year of empty offices and zoom calls, pandemic restrictions are easing and businesses are trying to figure out how to manage in-office working plans. With uncertainty over whether Britain’s vaccination program will contain the fast-spreading delta variant, some workers don’t want to return to the office at all. Companies are treading a fine line, allowing flexibility while trying to fill expensive office space and reinvigorate their business culture.
Xavier Rees, chief executive officer of Havas London, said the media group is “demonstrably better when we are in the office” and the priority is to get people back when possible. “Not five days a week, but certainly more often than not – without robbing them of the new-found freedoms discovered in lockdown.”
Havas, a Compass client, is using food to that end, investing in its in-house kitchen, cafe and coffee shop, and allowing employees to make menu suggestions. Revamped and heavily subsidised options include healthier meals on “Wellness Wednesdays” and menus inspired by cultural events, holidays and global cuisines. It will offer free lunches on Mondays and Fridays throughout August.
“We’ve prioritised the kind of amenities that make being in an office attractive – and food is a really important part of that,” Rees said in an emailed statement. “This isn’t new – it was a huge selling point before the pandemic — but this kind of thing has become even more important as we begin to encourage people back into the office.”
Janus Henderson Group, which offered heavily subsidised three-course meals for just a few pounds at its City of London office before the pandemic, is now providing all food for free. The asset management group, which has set a general guidance of spending two days a week in the office, “can’t say what our exact future working model will be, but we want to retain the best of office-based and remote working,” a spokesman said.