Office cafeteria safety in the COVID-19 workspace

So much about your workspace has to change when employees return to work post-COVID-19. Open spaces, like your office cafeteria, are not immune.

Closing off your dining area isn’t the ideal solution. Eating together is more than just an office perk. Your office cafeteria keeps employees on campus — reducing time spent away from the office. It encourages social networking — strengthening your workplace culture while improving employee satisfaction and wellness.

But these same benefits of the corporate cafeteria are now seen as liabilities in a post-COVID world.

The benefits of the office cafeteria are now seen as COVID liabilities.

Some options companies are considering include serving boxed lunches, increasing food-service staff (and eliminating self-serve models), and assigning meal times to employees to make it easier to clean and maintain lower space occupancy limits.

While those options vary, one commonality we’ve found is although the pandemic is forcing business owners to rethink their office design — they hope to keep their cafeterias and break rooms open. Many are using real-time occupancy data to make it happen.

Using employee behavior to adjust your food-service strategy

Companies use Density to manage the occupancy levels of their dining areas and to inform future policy changes.

Through Density, they can spot spikes in entrances and occupancy in real-time. They can also enable mobile alerts, so they know immediately if any cafeteria or break room exceeds a safe capacity threshold.

mobile alerts for safe capacity limits in office cafeterias
Mobile alerts for safe capacity limits.

This data then helps them determine the necessary steps to reduce volume swell and maintain social distancing (such as assign lunch-room access by team or department or open up more eating areas).

Monitoring the real-time occupancy of your dining facility can also help you streamline your cleaning schedule.

Tip: Density can email people-count data digests to you, which you can then share with other key stakeholders to quickly assess the effectiveness of policies or programs.

Empower your employees with information

The same real-time data you use to maintain COVID compliance can also give employees more control over their own health and safety at work. This can help them overcome their anxiety over returning to work (PR Newswire, 2020).

Live occupancy dashboard to monitor office cafeteria occupancy

Giving employees access to this real-time data also takes the pressure off of workplace and facilities teams — your employees have the tools to self-regulate.

Your employees can access Density’s Live View Dashboard to identify which cafes are getting busier or quieter — then choose when and where they want to go for lunch.

A growing number of companies are also posting Safe displays outside their cafes that let employees know when a space is safe to enter. These displays also serve as a visual cue — reminding employees of the measures you’re taking to keep them safe.

Using historical data to shape new food service policies (use case)

Existing Density customers have access to pre-COVID historical people-count data. They use this data to discover existing employee behavior patterns that inform new policies.

They can identify when their cafes were busiest pre-COVID, even isolating breakfast, lunch, and dinner service times to identify trends.

The example below (from a Density customer) reveals an interesting correlation between breakfast and lunch:

Density dashboard showing entrances to a cafe at 15-minute intervals.

On Monday and Friday, where breakfast entrances spike earlier in the morning, there is a singular large surge in entrances at 12 PM for lunch, indicating a higher likelihood of people clustering (fine pre-COVID, but not okay for your return to work).

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, the entrances for breakfast spike later in the morning, and there are two smaller surges for lunch, spreading entrances more evenly across the lunch service.

While correlation doesn’t equal causation, this data suggests that when most employees eat in the late morning, their visits for lunch are more evenly spread out through the meal service. These types of signals can help inform your initial food-service strategy as you prepare to return employees back to the office.

For example, extending breakfast and lunch service hours and educating employees about reducing the lunch rush may be sufficient to ease entrance volume.

In more extreme cases, this particular customer may want to reduce the number of employees that enter the cafe at 12 PM and flatten the curve of entrances over the lunch period so that people come at more varied times.

While not every company has access to this historical data, every company can use real-time people counting to make all their open spaces safe.

Read next: How to plan for social distancing in the workplace