San Francisco Mulls Ban on Employee Cafeterias in New Office Buildings

San Francisco Mulls Ban on Employee Cafeterias in New Office Buildings

The cafeteria is a staple of contemporary corporate office buildings, and providing free or low-cost meals to employees is a common perk, particularly in the tech sector. Of course, if employees are eating breakfast, lunch, and even dinner in the same building where they work, that means they’re not patronizing local shops and restaurants. With that in mind, local lawmakers in San Francisco are proposing an amendment to the city’s zoning code to curb the proliferation of office cafeterias and drive more traffic to downtown eateries, the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

In an attempt to attract employees to local restaurants and businesses, Supervisors Ahsha Safaí and Aaron Peskin are co-sponsoring an ordinance that would ban “employee cafeterias” from new office buildings in the city. This comes as local retailers, particularly those downtown, complain of a drop in business as more companies offer their workers meals in private corporate cafeterias, Safaí said. …

An “employee cafeteria” is defined in the San Francisco health code as a space inside an office where employees are provided or sold tax-free food on a regular basis. These facilities are either operated by company employees or contractors. There are currently 51 such cafeterias around the city, Safaí said. The supervisors’ proposal would put the city at odds with the tech industry, which largely views free food as an essential perk to lure talent. …

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Maybe an Office Seating Manager Is not Such a Crazy Idea

Maybe an Office Seating Manager Is not Such a Crazy Idea

Over the past year, multiple studies have observed an effect whereby employees who work in close proximity to high performers tend to do a better job themselves, generating a lot of interest in the concept of “strategic seating,” or maximizing performance and collaboration merely by rearranging employees’ desks. This notion has led the mobile payment company Square to post a job listing for a “capacity coordinator” for whom workplace seating management” will be a full-time job, as Quartz’s Sarah Kessler discovered earlier this week:

The person in this role will maintain seating records in Office Space, Square’s workplace management tool, perform capacity analysis, and manage cross-functional seating projects in collaboration with a wide range of people, from facilities vendors to team leads. … Square, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story, will be far from the first company to agonize over the optimal placement of its employees (and managing a large seating chart can be a thorny challenge, as anyone who has planned a wedding can attest). But it may be one of the first to need a full-time worker to tell people where to sit.

This role may look silly at first glance, but there seems to me to be a valuable lesson here about how Square is approaching the development of its organizational culture.

Most organizations look to the symbols of a more innovative culture—such as free lunch, or an open-plan office to encourage collaboration—and conclude that putting these in place will automatically create the culture they’re looking for. However, cultural symbols derive their power from previously ingrained behaviors and mindsets. That’s why they’re symbols: Only when they’re taken away are they fully appreciated.

This is what makes Square’s approach so interesting. They are actively managing the symbolism of the office floor plan and now even using the floor plan as an active management tool to foster certain behaviors. It’ll be fascinating to see what they come up with. Here’s to their success.

Office Parks Have Problems Beyond Millennials

Office Parks Have Problems Beyond Millennials

The suburban office park, of the type popularized in the 1980s and ’90s and the subject of many an office comedy ever since, is the latest alleged victim of the millennials, Business Insider’s Chris Weller reports, as companies find they can’t entice younger employees to live in a suburban environment like they could a generation ago:

“Companies want to move to areas where millennials are located,” Robert Bach, director of research at the real-estate advisory firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, tells Business Insider. In 2015, Bach’s firm published a report on the state of office parks around the US. It concluded that between 14% and 22% of the “suburban inventory” in the country faced a degree of risk in becoming obsolete. Some parks needed only a cosmetic changes, while those beyond help were suited for rebuilds.

The report found that two main factors could predict that level of obsolescence: proximity to mass transit and access to amenities like lunch and shopping. Bach says it’s no coincidence that fitness-focused and food-savvy millennials share those preferences. …

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The Hot Desk Is the Hot New Thing—Does It Work?

The Hot Desk Is the Hot New Thing—Does It Work?

As technology has enabled more knowledge workers to work from anywhere, fewer of them need to be in the office every day. This sea change in the way people work has driven the rise of the coworking market, where vendors like WeWork are now even selling their flexible workplace solutions to large corporations. Back in March, Jeanne Sahadi at CNN Money spotted a rising trend of “hoteling,” in which employees don’t have individually assigned desks but have to reserve them each day they want to come into work (or in a “beach toweling” system, take them on a first-come, first-served basis), which saves employers money on expensive office space. Sahadi talked to an employee at EY about how the flexible desk system works there:

Maryella Gockel has worked at global consulting firm EY for 35 years. She said she hasn’t had a permanent office for the past decade. As a member of a global team, Gockel often works from home, in part because she has to be on early morning and late night calls with colleagues in different time zones. Of course, creatures of habit may not love the “work wherever” arrangement. …

If you work in the office at least three days a week, often you’re allowed to make a long-term reservation for the same space if you want, Gockel said. At EY, the only stipulation is that whenever you’re not there, you have to make that space available for someone else’s use.

In April, Denver Post writer Emilie Rusch toured the new Denver offices of commercial real estate firm CBRE, which also did away with assigned desks, even for senior employees, as part of the company’s “Workplace360” transformation:

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Disrupting the Coworking Economy

Disrupting the Coworking Economy

As the market for coworking space continues to grow, the flexible workspace provider WeWork has been courting large corporations to sell them a workplace solution more commonly associated with startups and freelancers. At the same time, however, a group of former WeWork executives are working on a project to disrupt that market by upending their former employer’s business model, Sarah Kessler reports at Fast Company:

WeWork’s basic business model is simple: The company rents large chunks of office space, breaks up that space into tiny offices and communal work spaces, sprinkles in good design and community features, and then subleases it to tenants at a huge mark-up. Landlords could make more money if they skipped the lease with WeWork and directly subleased to tenants, but typically, they don’t want to deal with all of the hassle involved in running a coworking space. “At the end of the day, it’s enormously human-labor intensive and operationally intensive,” says Bryan Woo, the director of acquisitions at real estate developer Young Woo. “[It’s like saying to a landlord], ‘Why don’t you operate the hotel?’”

The former WeWork employees’ new company, which does not yet have a name, removes some of this hassle by offering what Mark Kennedy, a partner on the project who has a background in private equity and real estate, has called “coworking in a box.” …

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More Evidence Against Open Offices

More Evidence Against Open Offices

While the open office was devised as a way to make workplaces more social, creative, and collaborative, many professionals have already soured on the trend, which caught on relatively recently in the US. The promised increases in productivity, happiness, and collaboration haven’t shown up; in fact, some studies have found the opposite. Now opponents of the open office can add another arrow to their quiver of research disproving the theory. At the Conversation, business professor Rachel Morrison shares the findings of her and her colleagues’ research, which showed that employees who don’t have their own space tend to suffer for it:

Our research found that there were increases in “employee social liabilities” in shared working spaces: distractions, uncooperativeness, distrust, and negative relationships. More surprisingly, both coworker friendships and perceptions of supervisor support actually worsened. Although prior researchers have claimed shared work spaces can improve social support, communication, and cooperation, our results indicated that coworker friendships are of the lowest quality in hot-desking and open-plan arrangements when compared to those with their own offices or who share offices with just one or two others. It is possible that these shared offices may increase employees’ use of coping strategies such as withdrawal and create a less friendly environment in a team.

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Where’s the Best Place to Work? Maybe Not the Office!

Where’s the Best Place to Work? Maybe Not the Office!

A new survey from FlexJobs finds that “only 7 percent of workers say the office, during traditional work hours, is their location of choice for optimum productivity on work-related projects”:

More than half (51 percent) of people reported that their home is their preferred place to work. 8 percent said they would choose a coffee shop, coworking space, library, or other place besides the office and another 8 percent would choose the office but only outside regular hours. 26 percent go to the office during regular hours to complete important work only because it’s not an option to go elsewhere.

According to FlexJobs’ survey, 65 percent of workers think they would be more productive telecommuting than working in a traditional workplace. The top reasons people are, or would be, more productive working at home versus the office include fewer interruptions from colleagues (76 percent), fewer distractions (75 percent), and less frequent meetings (69 percent). It’s estimated that up to six hours a day are lost on work interruptions, wasting 28 billion hours a year. Other reasons people prefer their home office include a reduction in office politics (68 percent), reduced stress from commuting (67 percent), and a more comfortable office environment (51 percent).

As a job search site for telecommuting opportunities, FlexJobs of course has an interest in promoting work from home, so these findings should be taken with as much salt as any other vendor survey. Nonetheless, they jibe with what we know about how employees increasingly value flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance. Our own latest preferences research (which CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can read here) finds that employees value increased emphasis on work-life benefits nearly as much as a pay raise. Flexible work-styles are often associated with increased happiness, engagement, and productivity. One recent study found that call center employees in China who worked from home four days a week performed better and were less likely to quit.