Remember that day when you donned a cap and gown, grabbed your diploma and ran off into the sunset, thrilled that you would never again have to experience the hell that is finding the right table in your high school cafeteria?
No more worrying about whether there would be enough room for you at the cool table or if you’d get stuck sitting with the chronic nose-pickers, food throwers or uber-nerds who preferred doing calculus homework to talking about who they were asking to prom over a sandwich and some homemade cookies.
Well, we’re sorry to be the ones to tell you this, but life in an office ain’t all that much different from life in a high school (minus the prom and calculus homework, of course). There are still group projects where everyone is expected to contribute, even the surliest and least sociable colleagues. There’s still gossip, except now instead of “who dumped who” it’s “who got unfairly promoted this time.”
And there’s still that dreaded moment when you enter the office break room and have to find a place to sit, hopefully far enough away from the guy in accounting who always brings leftover fish and close enough to the window that you can enjoy the view of the duck pond outside the office.
If you’re looking for ways to boost your employee’s morale, improve interpersonal relationships, and ensure that someone’s professional experience is better then their high school experience, then head to one often-overlooked spot in your office: The break room.
We’ve rounded up seven ways to make every lunch table in your office the cool table. Here’s what to do:
1. Offer a variety: From longer tables that can accommodate larger groups to smaller tables that seat two to four employees, it’s wise to offer a few different sized seating options. That way if someone prefers to spend their lunch break reading a good book, they can pick a small table in a quiet portion of the room and not have to worry about appearing rude to a more boisterous group. And on the flip side, if an employee would rather eat with someone, it’s easier for them to grab an open seat with a group at a larger table; this sort of interaction can even help improve relationships between different departments. In addition to different sizes, consider trying different shapes, or even throwing in some bar-like seating around the perimeter.
2. Put tables outside: Experts are routinely touting the importance natural light in the workplace; it’s said to boost morale and productivity. Of course, not everyone can get their own window seat, so it’s nice to offer options that allow all employees to get a little closer to nature at some point during the day. What better than a picnic lunch on a sunny day to rejuvenate this most disenchanted of co-workers?
3. Keep them clean: Nobody wants to eat at a table that’s covered in unidentifiable sticky substances and crumbs. Make sure to purchase lunch tables that are sturdy and easy to clean, and then encourage employees to tidy up after themselves by leaving paper towels and/or sanitizing wipes in an easy-to-find spot.
4. Redecorate: Want more people to take a seat at your lunch tables? Make sure the room they’re in is inviting. Ditch the drab, white cinderblock walls and fluorescent overhead lighting in favor of a more fun (and less sterile) vibe. Paint the walls a happy color, hang up artwork, add a bulletin board that invites employees to share information, use fun lighting fixtures, and throw in a couch and area rug. Make the room look less like an office and more like the neighborhood cafe and everyone will use it more (especially if you throw in a little table tennis or foosball).
5. Leave your devices behind: While technology makes communicating more efficient (send an e-mail here, shoot off a text there, IM in between), it’s not always the ideal choice when trying to nurture interpersonal relationships. Lunch breaks are the perfect time to leave your smartphones, tablets and laptops at your desk and get some actual face time with your colleagues. Catch up about kids, movies, books or troubleshoot work-related projects, whatever you want to talk about, but just do it in person at the lunch table, not over your phone.
6. Invite the boss: This might seem akin to inviting your teacher to sit with you, but actually having lunch with your boss from time to time can help improve your working relationship. The next time you see your supervisor sitting by herself in the break room, ask to sit with her. And rather than pepper her with questions about your latest project, ask her about her life like family, kids, hobbies, etc. Getting to know her on a more personal level might give you a little bit more empathy for her, which you’ll need especially when she asks you to work a shift next Saturday.
7. Don’t eat at your desk: One way to ensure you’ll never eat at the cool table is to never enter the break room to begin with. Sure, we know you’re swamped and feeling antisocial, but crunching on potato chips at your desk will only annoy your coworkers and make a mess of your keyboard. Taking a few minutes to recharge midday and think about something other than the massive pile of things you need to accomplish by 5 o’clock might actually help you work more efficiently and effectively. In our opinion, that is pretty darn smart (but you know, in a cool way, not a solving calculus problems for fun sort of way).
Shop for affordable lunch tables for your office at Arnolds.
Photo courtesy of misteraitch/Flickr