What’s better—brewing your teams better coffee in the workplace or leaving that task to Starbucks? Is it better to provide an onsite mini-cafe or let employees grab a joe on the way to work? The answer may impact your bottom line.
The decision is not particularly hard to make with the right information and an understanding of your own corporate culture. But companies can make the wrong choice and either spend frivolously and fail to impress, or go cheap and miss an opportunity to provide easy benefits for employees.
It’s really a simplified form of the outsourcing decision, where the product is for your employees rather than your customers. Will you provide your staff with the better cup or will someone else? The right decision isn’t always to do it yourself, but when it makes sense to do so, do it right.
The Place of Coffee In the Workplace
First, some background. Coffee is a staple of hardworking people everywhere. Bustling offices have for decades had famed (or infamous) water cooler conversations, and right there in the background on a counter by the sink, the humble coffeemaker silently brewed servings for entire departments at a time. These were the workhorses of coffee machines. They never complained, rarely broke down, and always obeyed the law of “garbage-in, garbage-out.”
Sawdust-like particulate and water in, stale hot fluid out.
The Introduction of Better Coffee
Along came premium and boutique coffee houses and the office worker was no longer satisfied with a five-hour-old cup of tar-colored juice. The everyman and everywoman had discovered fresh, flavorful servings of personalized cups. And as it turns out, employees will pay for their own perks (pardon the pun) if they believe it will help them do their job better or enjoy it more fully.
Entrepreneurs vs. Corporate Budget Managers
This is where smart employers come in and recognize that companies have for decades provided coffee for their people. But while they ditched their mainframe computers in 1984 and their glass brick office dividers in 1990, too many continue to brew toxic sludge while their employees go to Starbucks, Tim Horton’s, or a boutique roaster-brewer—even at some distance from the office.
When simply a budgeting matter, the ordinary manager will often resist change and continue the decades-old tradition of mass brewing for the simple utility of a brewed cup for the minions. However, entrepreneurial leaders will not approach the problem as though only the old way makes financial sense.
Happy workers make more productive workers, and more productive workers improve bottom line finances. This is not about millennials vs. baby boomers. It’s not even as much about coffee as it is about providing benefits to employees according to their preferences and in ways that improve morale. The same decision-making in this post could apply to numerous employee retention discussions.
A Holistic Perspective On Worker Perks
When viewing the problem more like an outsourcing question, some simple questions will assist in making the right decision based on the bigger picture:
1. Is there a high-end coffee shop in the building or within a 5-minute walk of the office?
If so, unless you can produce better coffee in-house (unlikely), don’t try to recreate that atmosphere. It’s good for productivity for everyone to get up and stretch about as often as they feel the need for a coffee. A basic coffee option with quality beans should suffice for those who need a quick cup in-house as desired but are willing to walk a short distance for something top-notch.
2. Is good coffee farther than walking distance from the office?
You might want to provide better options right where you are. If there are coffee shops within a short driving distance, you won’t necessarily need to build an on-campus Starbucks, but you’ll need to determine how high-end to go. The better your coffee, the less they’ll feel they need to leave for prolonged periods of the day to find a satisfactory beverage.
3. Are you a large firm or SME?
Larger companies will always save by having more advanced machinery and contracts for bulk coffee. Smaller firms at times can get away with Keurig-style single-serving systems. In both cases the quality of coffee is important. Remember, garbage in, garbage out.
4. Do many of your workers go beyond the hours of 9am-5pm?
This is huge. If you have an entrepreneurial, self-motivated workforce spending late evenings or abnormally early mornings serving your company, coffee and tea options that serve them well are essential. Again, it depends on your answer to #1, but consider that even if you have a coffee shop nearby, their hours of operation will partly determine whether you offer better options in-house.
5. Does your company depend upon teamwork and collaboration?
As mentioned, the water cooler has always been a conversation point in the building, and coffee has a way of connecting people also. Ask yourself whether you want to foster those kinds of conversations and how you want to facilitate them.
You Know Your People Best
Add to these questions the additional variables for your industry and you’ll make a more profitable decision every time.
In reality, you are more likely to want some combination of coffee services. For example, there will always be some employees satisfied with very simple coffee options and for them, the convenience of a basic, utilitarian cup should be preserved. On the other hand, some will only drink the highest quality at any time. Figure out how to achieve the best mix for the diverse teams you employ.
Why such a serious analysis of the coffee-buying decision? By 2015, “The total economic impact of the coffee industry in the United States in 2015 was $225.2 billion” (National Coffee Association USA). In the US and around the world, coffee is part of each working day for most people.
There’s no shame in doing the right thing by your employees and being budget-conscious. This decision has to be as much about a return on investment as about benefiting your employees. Your profitability will enable you to provide better perks for them over the long-term, not just over one decision. So make your choice based on the needs of your people and your business.