A never-ending supply of readily available crispy bacon, sloppy joes, and sausages for breakfast might be out of the question for many SMEs, but one Silicon Valley startup believes a free breakfast for employees can deliver a serious productivity boost.
Writing in Harvard Business Review last month, staff product manager at software development company Pivotal, Jay Hum, outlined the main reason Pivotal offers staff free breakfasts.
“Our startup, Pivotal, calls the South of Market (SOMA) neighbourhood home, alongside companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, Adobe, Slack, Salesforce, and Uber. So, of course, Pivotal serves free, catered meals. It’s just expected,” Hum writes.
“While that’s true, even if no other startup around us served free, catered meals, we still would.”
Pivotal employees work in a pair programming arrangement where two software developers share the same computer but with different peripherals. This level of collaboration requires the two workers to be seamlessly in sync, and that’s where breakfast comes in.
1. Breakfast can sync workers for better productivity
“Free food, during a limited, half-hour window, both saves people some hassle and gets them to show up at the same time to kick off the workday,” explains Hum.
While’s Pivotal’s pair programming system emphasises the importance of developers coming to work on time, getting workers to start the day together is essential in many businesses. If left to their own devices, Hum says Pivotal’s developers would likely “roll into the office around 10 or 11 am” and not start real work until after lunch.
The company also rings a cowbell at 9.06 am to signify the start of the day, followed by a short office-wide meeting before developers get to work.
2. Breakfast gets energy levels aligned
Working closely with a languishing employee who skipped breakfast because they woke up late is no fun for anyone involved. It can affect productivity, and grind work to a halt if the employee needs to leave for an impromptu snack.
For this reason, Hum says the inclusion of a synchronised breakfast time not only gets people into the office on time but makes sure energy is high across the board.
“Pairing only works when you are a pair. Free breakfast aligns not only our employees’ schedules but also their blood sugar levels,” he says.
3. Breakfast encourages collaboration across the business
Employee’s workdays at Pivotal are “intense and highly productive”, which doesn’t leave much room for interacting with workers outside of an employee’s team. Hum says the company’s morning breakfasts give employees time to build a “collaborative atmosphere” while still getting lots of work done.
“We want a collaborative atmosphere that promotes knowledge transfer within and across disciplines. But that only happens when people are communicating and sharing,” he says.
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“That’s the third reason for serving free breakfast. You and I can grab a plate of healthy food and sit down at one of the tables in the cafeteria. It gives Pivotal employees and clients a daily window to discuss what they are currently working on, share war stories, and help each other.”