It’s one thing to require employees to return to the office two to three days per week. It’s another to ensure they are being productive while there. There is a phenomenon called “coffee badging” in which employees appear at the office just long enough for an engaging coffee break (or two) with colleagues and then return home to do their work. The idea is to appear at the office long enough to get credit for showing up and to engage with work colleagues, but not long enough to negate the benefits of remote work.
Forbes published a piece by Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., on coffee badging that positions this trend as part of the larger challenge of creating a workplace that offers something employees can’t get at home. The article quotes survey results from Owl Labs, a videoconferencing solution provider, which released its 2023 State of Hybrid Work report.
Highlights of the report:
- Some 8 percent of the workers said they haven’t been coffee badging but would like to try it.
- Despite their hesitation, 94 percent of workers are willing to return to the office.
- More than 38 percent would be more likely to go to the office if their companies paid for their commuting costs, while 28 percent could be swayed by daycare or eldercare subsidies or on-site alternatives, a likely result of the caregiver shortage.
- Some 72 percent said a flexible or non-existent dress code is important to them.
- Some 24 percent would be enticed to go to the office if they could wear any clothing or styles they choose, with another 25 percent saying they would even take a 15 percent pay cut for the privilege.
- Some 25 percent of workers are worried AI will steal their jobs but half of them still want their employers to use it.
- Some 31 percent think AI will compete with their jobs, and 23 percent are concerned it will steal their jobs altogether. Another 32 percent believe AI will cause ethical issues in their workplaces.
- Approximately 44 percent of employees believe AI will help them do their jobs faster and more effectively, and 35 percent think it will create new jobs and team growth.
- Augmented or mixed reality devices are on the wish list for 44 percent, while 38 percent said they would like to use holograms or avatars in the workplace.
One reason for coffee badging, Robinson offers, is that commuting at peak times is expensive, whether that is for a peak versus an off-peak train ticket or for the greater amount of gas that will be used on a commute that takes much longer because of traffic during rush hour. It’s easier to come in and leave at any time outside of those peak travel windows. Therefore, showing up at 10:30 a.m. and staying until 3 p.m., for example, makes sense economically. It also can make sense from a childcare standpoint. The parent is there to send off the child in the morning and then they are there again in the late afternoon when the child returns from school. They can be present for their child that way and avoid childcare costs.
Arriving mid-to-late morning and then leaving before the evening rush hour means the employee can enjoy the things they truly can’t get in front of their computer at home—in-person social time with colleagues. They can first say hello to everyone, then share a coffee break with work friends or have lunch with some, or all of them, then maybe have one or two in-person meetings, and then, at around 2:30 or 3 p.m., call it a day. Though they leave two to three hours earlier than they would have before the pandemic, many of these employees will work for two to three more hours after they get home, in between caring for family and pets, ensuring they meet all their work responsibilities.
Benefits of Socializing in the Office
Employees increasingly are telling companies that there is no compelling reason for them to incur commuting, childcare, and quality-of-life costs by coming into the office a few days per week. Coffee badging, however, shows us that in-person socializing with work colleagues is still a motivation. The social element of the workplace is sometimes downplayed, and some companies even discourage it for fear of negatively impacting productivity. What they are missing is the usefulness of the social element. If you accept that people are incentivized to enjoy the in-person company of peers more than they are incentivized to travel to an office just to sit in front of a computer, you have found the key to bringing back the in-person workplace. Coffee badging may not be a bad thing if you also can work in most meetings when the employees are in the office. Before and after the coffee klatches can come a week’s worth of meetings. After all, how does it make sense for employees to be required to come in a few days per week and then still have a significant number of videoconference meetings with colleagues?
How do you ensure in-person time at the office is optimized so employees who make the trek are doing things they truly couldn’t do sitting at home?