The key theme post coronavirus appears to be flexibility and Australian employers will need to adapt their workplace accordingly. 

It’s fair to say that our way of working may never be the same, but will it be as dramatic as some now forecast? I agree with Phil Kirschner, Workplace Strategist @ WeWork that “COVID has simply accelerated (not altered) the trajectory that we were already on; the only significant change may be corporate and managerial acceptance of remote working as an option for people who want it to take advantage of it.” 

Working from home certainly has its benefits. But as we see right now, prolonged periods of working from home can become incredibly lonely, with the discussion on mental health at an all-time high. Let’s admit it. When we finally come out of home isolation, we will have a renewed appreciation for our work colleagues, a bout of new material for the office banter and a new-found joy for sitting in a meeting room with people other than our kids. 

Transitioning staff back to the office 

Unfortunately, the transition back into the office won’t be an immediate one. As the Australian Government recently declared, social-distancing restrictions will likely stay ‘until a vaccine is found’. 

What does that mean for the workplace? It is expected employees will start coming back in stages. Employers will likely provide staff the flexibility to work outside usual working hours and some may elect to work from home a few days a week. The key theme post coronavirus appears to be flexibility and Australian employers will need to adapt their workplace accordingly. 

In addition to flexibility, there will also be a renewed focus by staff on their health and wellbeing. Some companies have already moved employee wellness to a higher strategic priority. I think we can perhaps expect employees to start demanding more benefits that promote better health. Improved access to healthy food would be quick win for employers, providing access to nutritious and healthy products that not only boost energy levels and increase brain function but improve gut health and overall immunity. It’s a win for employers and a win for employees. 

The changing face of how employees access food 

With the closure of most in-house cafeterias, cafes and restaurants since March, our way of eating during the workday may never be the same. Sadly, it will likely be some time before we all pile out of the office and go for our usual Friday group lunch. The question is, how can these cafes, in particular the in-house cafeterias, reopen in a way that adapts to a prolonged period of transitioning back to the office and in a new environment of flexible working arrangements.

Another trajectory which is likely to accelerate as a result of COVID-19, is that of self-service food and drink markets. We may not have realised it, but self-service has already become engrained in our everyday lives via the supermarket self-checkouts. It’s fast, it’s contactless and right now it feels safe, which is why 87% of shoppers now prefer to shop in stores with touchless or robust self-checkout options.1

Self-service becoming the new normal

Self-service food and drink markets, otherwise known as unattended markets or micro-markets, were borne out of the US and are often positioned directly in a place of work. In such a market, the employee picks a product from an open rack display, or reach-in refrigerator and scans the item at a self-checkout kiosk or via a mobile phone app. They are designed to offer a broad range of food and drink products which include fresh food such salads, sandwiches and ready meals for example. 

The benefit of such markets is that they are contactless, they are available around the clock and they can ensure staff have convenient access to healthy and nutritious foods. 

Meeting tomorrow’s challenges 

The self-service model is able to respond to the challenges we see in tomorrow’s flexible workplace.

  1. As staff transition back to the workforce, the social distancing rules will likely remain in place for some time
  • The use of a mobile phone app allows for contactless payment at the self-service markets
  • Unattended markets provide a true grab and go solution with no physical contact
  • The onsite convenience allows staff to avoid external sources
  • A 24/7 offer, caters to those staff who want the flexibility to work outside of usual hours

2. It is expected staff will transition back in stages

  • As an unattended market does not incur onsite staffing costs, the market has the flexibility to easily adjust. This means, the stocking levels are adjusted according to the change in staffing numbers.

3. The new workplace will likely have a more flexible workforce

  • Micro markets can operate in locations from 100 people upwards versus in-house cafeterias which require at least 1,000 people onsite every day to be viable
  • A flexible workforce requires less office space. A micro market servicing, 500 people, only needs five square metres.

4. Staff will have a renewed focus on their wellbeing

  • Micro-markets will make it easy for staff to improve their eating habits via the product selection and by its convenience
  • The markets consist of coolers stocked with fresh food ensuring staff can always access fresh and healthy meals 
  • Markets with a healthy philosophy can provide products that boost energy levels, increase brain function, improve gut health and importantly, overall immunity

While we continue to debate what the new norm is, it’s clear that self-service food and drink markets have a renewed purpose in assisting people back into their work lives and to assist in a world where flexibility and enhanced wellness is likely here to stay. 

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200407005086/en/

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