Picture it: you graduated college or finally made the career change you’ve been dreaming about and you move to a new city for your fantastic new job. You’re on top of the world! On your first day, you’re buzzing with excitement. Then you realize, I don’t know who to sit with at lunch…and my deskmate has been giving me a death stare all day. So you sit at your desk and promise yourself that tomorrow will be different. The clock strikes 5 PM and you go home to watch The Office on Netflix because you haven’t built your community yet.
The state of the union
Major metropolitan cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York attract people of all ages looking for their big break. They flock to these cities not only because of the diversity of jobs available, but also higher pay and all the amenities that city life offers.
Today, everything, and we mean everything, is digital. Need to get from the westside of Los Angeles to downtown? There’s an app for that. Need someone to take your precious pup for a walk while you’re stuck at work? Dog walkers are available at the touch of a button. Craving Thai food but don’t want to leave the comfort of your blanket fort? You’re covered.
The technology sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, and is only expected to grow. And it’s not exclusively true to startups and software companies. Technology enables industries like healthcare, manufacturing, and education to grow and adapt with the changing times.
These opportunities are what the so-called American Dream™ is made of! But those who move for jobs often leave behind family, friends, and the communities that shape them. Without that close network of people in their new city, the world can feel big and scary. At work, being the new person is terrifying, especially when you don’t know where the bathroom is. After work, it can get lonely pretty quick if you don’t have friends to decompress with. Yet, we still take the chance because it’s worth it to try.
Community is more than just place
What they don’t tell you about moving to a new city is that it’s not just about the new job. Sure, people do it for a well-paying gig to say they’ve “made it.” Other indicators of success, like travel and strong personal relationships, are just as important, however. The problem is that many feel like they don’t have it all.
The harsh reality is that workers spend more time at work than ever before. Work is the number one stressor in employees’ lives, with one study revealing that 80% of Americans’ jobs do not satisfy them. Pair this with less facetime with coworkers or family and friends, and it’s no wonder that too many Americans say they feel lonely.
So what’s missing from this equation? Community and human connection. In an article for Thrive Global, our CEO, Tracy Lawrence, urges companies to combat young workers’ isolation by inspiring connection to their work and the people around them. Vulnerability and positive feedback loops not only create a strong sense of workplace belonging, they also help retain talented employees.
Even sharing a meal can build trust and cooperation among people. Every major holiday is built around sharing festive foods with the people you love. Why should the office be excluded from building that same kind of community?
You’re better than a Subway sandwich
You’ve all seen it before. Heck, you might have fallen victim to it: the sad desk lunch. Hoards of employees run down the street for, and it pains us to say this, a chicken. salad. sandwich. From Subway! Inevitably, they bring the chicken salad sandwiches and (gulp) eat them at their desk.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Desk-eating is a cry for help, seriously! Over 60% of the American workforce eats lunch at their desk. Not only does desk-eating negatively impact health, it makes people more stressed out. On the flip side, socializing with coworkers increases productivity. And don’t write off water cooler talk. People actually take inspiration from casual chats to tackle a difficult system bug or improve an operational process.
When people disconnect from their work and the people around them, you can’t really blame them for jumping ship. Companies that offer perks beyond a paycheck like flexible vacation time, office snacks, or free lunch catering can make a world of difference.
We find that the research is true! Sharing good food creates closer bonds between people and makes teams feel appreciated. From San Francisco to Los Angeles and Chicago to Austin, more companies offer catered lunches, breakfasts, even happy hours. It’s a first step towards building community among colleagues and making offices a great place to work.
Chain restaurants and craft services don’t cut it
Not all food is created equal, though. Remember that Subway sandwich? Sure, there’s something about the efficiency and flavor-reliability of chain restaurants. But that small window of time between meetings called lunch deserves better.
Generic catering providers like craft services that offer granola bars and turkey wraps are quick and good when you’re on-the-go. But when it comes to sitting down, taking time, and connecting with your coworkers…they just don’t cut it. Worse, if you’re watching your waistline or just on a health kick, it’s difficult to find options at chain restaurants that aren’t salad. And if responsible food sourcing is your thing, maybe skip places like Olive Garden.
Why not try that mom & pop shop you drive past on your way to work every day? The major cities workers are flocking to are home to restaurants for all taste buds. We don’t know about you, but we get satisfaction from finding neighborhood gems like Barzotto in San Francisco or Baja Cantina in Los Angeles.
Local spots not only add variety to your diet, you support the passion of a home cook-turned-restaurateur and the larger community you work in. These days, delivery and third-party catering companies make it super easy to bring the magic of local restaurants to busy offices.
You can sit with us
We get it, it’s really freaking difficult to unchain people from their desk and get them to talk to one another. Changing culture takes time, resources, and, most importantly, buy-in from teammates and decision-makers. Not every company is ready to jump at the chance to invest in community building at work. Employees need more, though, and companies would be wise to listen.
Start out small; sandwiches for an executive team lunch or pastries for a new hire breakfast. Let the money-people know that catered meals attract top talent, boost creativity and morale, and ultimately, make teams more productive. Let’s be real, executives will love what offering a free lunch does for the bottom line!
At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to navigate the awkwardness of the office break room like we did the high school cafeteria (cringe). We think that every office can become a genuine community, without judgment and with a whole lot of love.