With various COVID-19 restrictions imposed throughout 2020, many Australian businesses and their employees have quickly discovered the challenges of working remotely.
Having overcome the initial awkwardness of joining a Zoom meeting from home, many workers have found that despite how well technology connects us, it doesn’t quite replace the frequent and enjoyable interactions experienced within an office environment.
To fill this void, many workers have found a sense of community working from their local cafe. While these changes are mostly temporary and provide little privacy when it comes to confidential meetings and sensitive projects, cafes are often full of energy, a vibrant atmosphere and readily available caffeine.
Despite these challenges, many local cafes are quickly becoming a temporary business centre for remote and freelance workers.
For many employees, this environment is remarkably similar to what they’ve experienced through in-house dining at their office.
Full of like minded individuals and with frequent face to face interactions, local cafes provide an environment that encourages creativity and increases productivity.
The decentralisation from Australia’s CBDs has been largely embraced by small and regional businesses nationwide with an increasing number of vendors now providing, and actively promoting, the availability of free-wifi and power ports. Capitalising on our innate desire to interact with those around us, numerous vendors have found success by mirroring the product offering of many workplace foodservice providers. By focusing on the benefits of an easily accessible and nutritious meal, many remote workers are finding themselves with more energy throughout their day.
However, this transition has not been without its own set of unique obstacles. While there are the obvious benefits of additional customers, many foodservice providers are finding the long-stay, low purchasing habits of their remote working patrons limits their profitability through a slower turnover. Already hamstrung due to their limited seating, COVID-19 has further compounded these issues by limiting the amount of patrons indoors at any time.
In addition to this restriction of trade, foodservice vendors and their employees must contend with the increased costs of providing a COVID-safe environment, both as responsible custodians of their employees, but also to the patrons they serve. Increased cleaning costs, capturing contact details and ensuring patrons comply with social distancing all create an increasingly complex foodservice environment. For remote workers who choose to spend extended hours in the same location, they must also weigh the risks of potentially exposing themselves and those around them to infectious pathogens.
What to expect in 2021
With an increasing decentralisation of workplaces, the future presents an array of new challenges for foodservice providers. For those within Australia’s CBDs and locked in to high-cost rental agreements, the drop in foot-traffic already appears to be turning a corner with many workplaces planning the return of their workers, albeit through a controlled and staggered approach. Vendors on the receiving end of this temporary exodus, primarily local cafes and community hubs, can expect the transition to remain demanding as they juggle changing demand while maintaining COVID-safe practices.
While we can expect most employees to return to their offices in the new year, many businesses are now providing a far greater degree of flexibility and actively encouraging their staff to benefit from working remotely. Yet for many office workers, it’s the face to face interactions that matter most, with many workers actively requesting their return to the office and the atmosphere of a lively dining culture. And while some businesses have begun catering directly towards remote and freelance workers, those within the workplace foodservice industry can expect a continued increase in demand for their services in the following 12 months as employees return to a centralised workplace.
Despite the challenges imposed by COVID-19, Australian businesses have responded well to the ever-changing conditions and provided flexible employment models for their employees. For those who’ve found their community through working and interacting within their local cafe, they’ve stumbled upon exactly why so many employers have invested in workplace foodservice in the last few years. A sense of community, comforting face-to-face interactions, easy access to power, internet and most importantly, coffee!
For the providers who can best meet this market, there’s a wealth of increasing demand searching for their own little community inside and outside the office.