We launched Meal at Work with the mission to create a movement championing healthy, sustainable, and convivial workplace food culture. On Nov, 17th we ran the pilot in workplaces worldwide. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Over the course of last year, we realized that creating change in the status of workplace food is not something we can do alone or by consulting companies one-on-one. We’d need “ambassadors of good food” who promote a healthy and convivial food culture in workplaces. Organizations today are very far from being as creative, innovative, and sustainable as they could be. When traditional ways of leading and organizing get in the way, we aren’t able to bring our whole self to work.
As I’ve written and talked about before, according to Gallup (2017), we spend 1/3 of our life at work, and only 15% of employees are engaged in their work worldwide. Our goal is to stop the unnecessary suffering in workplaces and team up to create a movement that helps people be well.
We decided to develop a global lunch format for organizations. A day in which teams take a break from work, to “work” on their wellbeing: gather around the table to share a meal, have a meaningful conversation, and get to know each other beyond their work title. We called this movement Meal at Work, where “at work” means both “in the workplace” and “in the process of making.”
Here’s what we’ve learned from the pilot.
HOW WE PILOTED MEAL AT WORK
To do this, we knew we had to overcome a few challenges.
- Reaching the hosts globally: We wanted to spread the knowledge worldwide. But with little resources, it became obvious that we had to opt for an online solution. However, we realized that without any physical interaction, it is hard to check the level of quality of host’s delivery regarding preparation and facilitation.
- Mapping the early adopter hosts: From my own experience as a community builder, I knew that we needed to pitch to enthusiastic people, early-adopters, and those who are considered thought-leaders. For Meal at Work, we also looked for health-conscious people and those interested in the topic of future of work.
- Design toolkits with geographic and cultural differences in mind: Another challenge was how to design a program for an incredibly diverse group of aspiring hosts. Each organization has its own business culture and exists within a specific geographic location. And alongside NGOs, aspiring organizations included design agencies, publishing houses, universities, and manufacturing companies. Our toolkits had to be detailed while being suitable for a variety of contexts.
- Finding the right business model: Our team discussed a lot about how to create this community and how to share the content. For the pilot, we decided not to charge any money though we knew that free things are not always the best strategy for a start. We were proved right.
The Making of the Pilot
We shared an open call across our social media channels and newsletter. And we reached out personally to our network. Through piloting the lunch format, we wanted to learn:
- Can we support hosts without physically being in the same space?
- Who is the right host for Meal at Work?
- What should the content of the program be?
- How do we make sure hosts deliver a quality experience?
We ran the pilot on November, 17th on the topic of “Gratitude.” We chose “gratitude” not only because the date was close to Thanksgiving but to give a positive tone to the launch.
Designing the materials of Meal at Work
To start with, we set up a session in which we mapped the journey of the hosts with essential needs and challenges to make the lunch happen. Based on this session, we identified the areas we had to tackle.
Then, we created the materials. The Playbook for Hosting at Work includes general guidelines about hosting a lunch at work, email templates to invite colleagues, suggestions, and tips on what to cook and eat, and how to set up the eating space. We designed a toolkit to Host Meal at Work on Gratitude, with activities and resources to explore the topic of gratitude. We also created a Code of Conduct, formal documentation of our community’s standards of behavior, and a statement of our process for handling breaches of those standards. The materials were available for free through a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
How it worked
19 workplaces in 14 countries and five continents sent their applications to our open call. Those who were accepted received all those resources for free via Google Drive. We invited the hosts to browse the materials and book an online one-on-one mentoring call with me before the event if they needed any support.
On November 17th, teammates gathered around the table at lunchtime to pilot Meal at Work. The hosts took care of the event planning and facilitated the conversation during the lunch. Some teams cooked the food together, while others had it delivered or brought it from home. Those in the Southern Hemisphere had lunch outdoor. Others in a cafè, or in their canteen. After the meal, we sent a questionnaire to both the hosts and the participants to evaluate the quality of the lunch and what could be improved. We asked them to take pictures of their event, which we shared on our Instagram profile and a few live presentations that followed.
What did we learn from running the pilot?
Besides learning the logistics of running an online pilot globally, we had some valuable insights. These are the main ones:
“I ALREADY HAVE COMMUNAL LUNCHES ON FRIDAY. WHAT’S THE ADDED VALUE IF I JOIN THIS?”
Because we decided to provide the materials upon reviewing the applications, we heard such question quite often in the process of pitching the idea to prospective host organizations. Meal at Work is more than a communal lunch on Friday, but rather a community of organizations committed to building more conscious, healthier, and connected work cultures. However, the feedback told us that perhaps it wasn’t clear enough. Our goal for the future is to simplify communication and team up with people who can become Meal at Work ambassadors.
NO COMMUNITY WITH A FREE MODEL
Meal at Work exists to build a community of organizations who care about their employees’ wellbeing and value collaboration and co-creation. With the available financial and human resources –we were two people who nearly worked full-time on this for about a month– we decided to keep the pilot simple. The material was available for free but we didn’t create an online community and didn’t promote them one by one. We learned that people don’t value something free of charge as high as if they had to pay a fee. And, in the last minute, a few workplaces didn’t host the lunch because “something else came up.” Also, to really make a change, we need to create a community that lives every day. In the future, we’re going to charge organizations a membership fee, which will give them access to a dedicated community, toolkits, recipes, support, and promotion on mealatwork.org.
MIX & MATCH CONTENT FOR ENGAGEMENT
The toolkits were Google Docs. Those had detailed texts but little to no engaging visuals. A few hosts told us that they didn’t go through all the content. We already knew that some would be lazy to read it through. But we understood that to have highly digestible toolkits we’ll need to mix material in various medium and include illustrations. To do so, we’ll need to add a considerable amount of production time and cost, which we can cover with our new business model.
Building the new Meal at Work
We have developed about 70% of the content. We need to finish it, proofread it, and design it. We’re also making a new website and building the first toolkit. Our experience with developing the pilot tells us that this next step will require more than double the first investment of funds and time. Luckily, our team can tackle many of those tasks!
More than ever people need to be happy at work. It’s time that business takes a responsibility and prioritize happiness and purpose over profit. We want to be at the forefront of this movement — helping people to be well at work and enable others to do the same.
We have big plans over the coming years. To start with, we are taking all the detailed pilot feedback and financing needs to improve the Meal at Work website and get the ball rolling. We plan to launch in the coming months.
The future looks bright, but we can’t do it alone. With your help, we can make Meal at Work into a global movement. Check out our website for ways to get involved and join our mailing list for updates.
A warm thank you to all our pilot participants and host organizations, for their enthusiasm, feedback, and ideas. And to all the people who wanted to join on Nov, 17th and cheered for us. It wouldn’t have been possible without you!