fbpx

How Any Company Can Build Better Workplace Culture, Productivity & Profit Print

Simply focus on FOOD.

Many companies offer workplace wellness programs, lunch and learn seminars, fitness classes or massages but few companies do what I believe really makes a REAL difference for health, productivity and workplace connectedness.

Thumbtack Engineering, a company in San Francisco really knows how to shift positive change in the workplace.  Read on to find out how they do it with a wonderful post from their website to inspire other companies to do better:

Food Rules For Startups: 8 Delicious Ways to Build a Better Company

fresh saladAt Thumbtack, we make food a priority. It’s amazing what eating does to bring people together. Our team feels like a big family, and this is in large part due to the fact that we share most of our meals: four days a week we eat lunch together around a big table in the center of the office, and once a week we all sit down for a big family-style dinner.

Often startups try to attract talented teammates by offering benefits like ping-pong tables, video games, or gym memberships. While those things are valuable, a culture of good food is an order of magnitude more important. Sharing meals around quality food builds an environment that encourages collaboration and celebrates excellence. The team is excited to come to work because they value and respect the full work environment. We believe every company can benefit from a food-centric culture.

Many of the ideas we have about food are based on the work of UC Berkeley professor and food writer Michael Pollan. His book, Food Rules, documents some interesting, if old-school, ways to think about food. He avoids writing about specific diets or nutritional fads. Before nutritional scientists started writing about cholesterol and calories, people used different guidelines to decide what and how to eat.

At the risk of sounding too Bay Area, these older “rules” can lead to more holistic concepts of meals, nourishment, and health. Rules come in the form of axioms and old wives’ tales: “better to pay the grocer than the doctor,” “eat your colors”, or “the whiter the bread the sooner you’ll be dead.” The new edition, released late last year, features some great illustrations by Maira Kalman and inspired much of this blog post.

With that, we’d like to present the food rules we’ve come to adopt at Thumbtack.

Rule #1 – Eat lunch together around a table

Eating lunch together is the single most important culture-building activity we do. This rule has three distinct and equally valuable parts.

a) Eat lunch. At a basic level, food is fuel. Your team needs to eat so they have raw energy to make awesome things.

b) Together. A team that eats together learns, connects, develops friendships, and collaborates more. Joel Spolsky writes about meals at Fog Creek:

“The importance of eating together with your co-workers is not negotiable, to me. It’s too important to be left to chance. That’s why we eat together at long tables, not a bunch of little round tables. That’s why when new people start work at the company, they’re not allowed to sit off by themselves in a corner. When we have visitors, they eat together with everyone else.”

c) Around a table. This is also Pollan’s rule #58:

“No, a desk is not a table. If we eat while we’re working, or while watching TV or driving, we eat mindlessly — and as a result eat a lot more than we would if we were eating at a table, paying attention to what we’re doing. This phenomenon can be tested (and put to good use): Place a child in front of a television set and place a bowl of fresh vegetables in front of him or her. The child will eat everything in the bowl, often even vegetables that he or she doesn’t ordinarily touch, without noticing what’s going on. Which suggests an exception to the rule: When eating somewhere other than at a table, stick to fruits and vegetables.”

Rule #2 – Have a weekly all-hands dinner

wineWe’ve tried other nights, but we really like Wednesday nights for dinner. People tend not to have conflicting evening plans on Wednesdays, and the midweek perk of a delicious dinner helps break the hump-day doldrums.

At dinner, crack some beers and open a bottle of wine. Encourage your team to relax, stop working for a little while, and get to know each other even better. Celebrate what you’ve accomplished that week. Conversation inevitably comes back to the work you’re all doing; don’t worry when that happens, as you’ll have amazing ideas late in the evenings that (sometimes) turn out to be worthwhile.

After some wine, your engineers might try to argue that the Ballmer Peak is a real thing. You should humor them, but under no circumstance should you let them hit that “deploy” button.

Rule #3 – Hire a chef

We mean it. Get an office with a big kitchen where your chef can work, and buy all the kitchen gadgets, pots, and pans that your chef wants. Make your chef happy and you will receive incredible food. This will become a point of pride for your company. Our chef Thea was trained at Le Cordon Bleu and has been part of the team for almost three years. You’ll be so happy with your chef, you’ll write blog posts about how great it is.

If you can’t hire a chef, you should hire a caterer to provide regular, healthy meals. We’ve had good luck with ZeroCater, and it’s likely a good option if your office is in Silicon Valley. If it’s not, Thumbtack can help you find a caterer no matter where you run your business.

If you think you can’t afford it: think hard about how much efficiency you’re losing by not facilitating interaction in your workplace. When your team members go out for lunch, they’re distracted and have to pay their own money and think about what to order and how much to pay. Spolsky writes that it’s a manager’s job to take away all the pains of everyday life so engineers can focus on what they’re good at: engineering. Take away the hassle of finding food.

Rule #4 – Invite guests

Having awesome meals at your office means people will want to visit you. This is a great way to network, grow awareness about your company, and learn from all sorts of people you wouldn’t know otherwise. If you’re trying to recruit, lunch is a great way to entice new candidates and have them meet your team without the need for formal interviews. It’s also a great excuse to have people over who might not yet know they want to work for you.

One of my colleagues at Thumbtack makes it a priority to invite someone new for lunch every day of the week: this always brings something unique to the conversation and we always end up learning something we didn’t know. We make a point to invite our investors to lunch so they can get to know the team and provide feedback on the business. We have had the occasional celebrity guest to mix things up. I can’t divulge them all, but my personal favorite was Kevin Kelly.

Rule #5 – Don’t buy vending machines

Vending machines are the easy answer for providing food for your employees. But the things that make vending machines good also makes them bad. It’s great that packaged food has a long shelf-life, but it’s also indicative of food that’s packed with preservatives and lacking actual nutrients, not to mention flavor. This kind of food encourages your team to eat alone, at their desks, any time of day. Pollan’s rule is “Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot” and “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

But don’t think this means you should shy away from decadent food. Pollan also writes, “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it for yourself.” Thumbtack often indulges in fried chicken, juicy steak dinners, bread puddings, and chocolate tortes.

Rule #6 – Provide sane breakfasts

wholesome breakfast“Don’t eat breakfast cereals the change the color of the milk” (food rule #36). A hearty breakfast has so many benefits: at a basic level it provides fuel for the morning’s work. Breakfast also prevents metabolic highs and lows that can—let’s be honest—really affect the mood and productivity of your team. Let’s also be honest and admit that your engineers probably won’t be starting work until noon, and breakfast may not be the most important meal of their day. All the more reason to get lunch right, and meanwhile make sure there’s still a good breakfast for all those marketing and business development folks who tend to come in on the early side.

Rule #7 – Coffee, tea, and espresso are good

coffee beansCaffeine is clearly an aid to concentration, inspiration, and productivity. You might try to argue against this, but the reality is that your colleagues will be chugging the stuff and you should learn to understand them.

At Thumbtack, we buy the best beans from local roasters like Blue Bottle, Sightglass, or Four Barrel. We purchased a Nespresso machine that instantly brews delicious single-serving espressos or Americanos. Our in-house tea drinkers place a weekly order for green tea. While we also have a few Cokes in the fridge, but we intentionally don’t make soda a priority.

Rule #8 – Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

This rule is taken straight from Michael Pollan’s classic book Omnivore’s Dilemma. “Eat foods, not nutrients,” Pollan writes. “Stay out of the middle of the supermarket.” Thumbtack’s chef makes all our meals from scratch, starting with fresh, seasonal, and often local ingredients. She works hard to build balanced meals that would make the food pyramid jealous. We stay full, stay healthy, and stay at the office.

And really, eating good, real, fresh food is just better for you and your team any way you look at it. Your doctor will be happy. Your health insurance premium will be happy. You will be happy.

This point is a really big deal for Pollan. “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” “Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.” There are many foods we eat at Thumbtack that can be difficult to pronounce—bo ssam, mee goreng, cioppino—but they are all made fresh that day.

Conclusion

We think a good culture of food can be the #1 driver of company culture. Work hard, eat well. Everything else is just icing on that cake.

Download a printer-friendly PDF of “Food Rules for Startups:  Eight Delicious Ways to Build a Better Company”

As seen in

  •  

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This