Home-baked muffins, bowls of candy and potlucks were a pre-pandemic workplace highlight. As we settle back into office life, there will be an evolution in etiquette when dealing with these shared spaces.
We talked to experts for their tips on how we can adapt to the new lunchroom reality.
When it comes to the new rules, who decides what is right and what’s wrong? “Every place of business is a culture unto itself,” says Julie Blais Comeau, a certified business etiquette expert specializing in interpersonal skills for professional success in the workplace. “What’s important is for the employer or HR to take the lead.” Managers do have some support in finding out how to make common work areas safer. “People want to know how to behave. When in doubt, find out based on your company and government guidelines,” she says.
Collaborate on policies
Before putting a coffee and lunch break policy in place, think about how it will individually impact employees.
“As a manager, it’s important to look at policies through different lenses,” says Sandra Vyse, Staples National Director of Sales and Strategy – Furniture, Tech, Print, Promo. It’s easy to assume that if you don’t feel comfortable using a shared refrigerator you can just get takeout, but others may not have that choice.
Having an open dialogue with your team can enable them to offer solutions to improve the way shared spaces are used. Once you have your guidelines in place, have a meeting with the whole team to talk them out. Then, adds Vyse, “Post the rules so everyone can see them and revisit [as needed].” You may have to adjust the rules as regulations change, so make sure to update employees frequently to avoid confusion.
Invest in safety
“Budget is a challenge,” says Vyse, “but safety is a savvy investment.” Multiple layers of protection, such as physical distancing, hand washing, limiting time near others, good ventilation, and masks have all been proven to help reduce the risk of exposure. According to Vyse, making your breakroom safer “is going to take a multi-faceted approach.”
For example, bring in air filtration devices. Or, reconfigure furniture by adding a large, round table with dividers so that people can eat with an additional layer of protection. Providing employees with items such as hand sanitizer, wipes, sustainable lunch kits, and other PPE essentials can also go a long way in helping your employees stay safe. You might also want to consider swapping high-touch coffee pots to K-Cups, and bulk snacks in containers (like nuts or candy) to individually packaged snacks. Not sure what to buy and where to place it? Staples Professional’s experts can provide guidance on the right furniture and products for your organization.
The goal of good manners is to make people feel comfortable and confident. “It has to do with honouring and celebrating employees,” Dumais Comeau says. And when your policies reflect that philosophy, you’ll find that your team will also be on board.
One of the best ways to get this message across is to show good faith actions. This may mean repurposing a conference room into a lunchroom so that people can practice social distancing while eating. It may mean relaxing rules about taking lunch at your desk. Other solutions could include creating an outdoor eating area or staggering break times.
Employees, likewise, bear a responsibility to be kind and look out for the welfare of their colleagues. Communicating policies through signage can serve as gentle reminders of the COVID-19 procedures in place.
Do what works for your organization
Ultimately there is no right or wrong way to reimagine the breakroom but putting safety and the wellbeing of your employees first will ultimately result in a happier, more productive workplace.