The coffee connection

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The coffee connection

  1. 1. The Coffee Connection By Chelse Benham The other day I ran into a friend of mine I had not seen in a while and we both agreed it had been a long time. We fondly reminisced about the morning “coffee central” ritual that had brought us together and all those who daily marched to the third floor of our building for their morning java fix. I work for one of the largest employers in the Valley; The University of Texas-Pan American. Recently, the University has been rearranging offices to accommodate for campus growth. As was expected, all offices on the third floor moved to the Executive Tower and with them the small, but significant daily coffee ritual. Student service replaced the offices and the people - and the industrial size coffee machine? Well, I think it was retired. There was something more taking place than filling up the cup at “coffee central.” It gave people, who otherwise didn’t have much contact with each other, a reason to meet, exchange pleasantries and in the process get to know one another. It was a significant part of networking between the different offices. It had a useful and important function. In essence, coffee central was about the people. There is an adage in the training profession that more than 50 percent of all learning occurs at the water cooler, or while employees are socializing at work according to Internet Time Group in Berkeley, California. The "scuttlebutt," held at the water cooler, coffee machine or in the commissary, provides a place to build connections that become the underpinnings of work relationships and networking. According to the Word Detective Web site, the word “scuttlebutt” dates back to the days of sailing ships. If a sailor wanted a drink of fresh water to quench his thirst, he made his way to the "scuttlebutt," the ships' equivalent of today's water cooler. The "scuttlebutt" was actually a wooden keg with a hole cut in its side, used to hold the crew's daily ration of drinking water. Much like water coolers in today's offices, the "scuttlebutt" aboard a ship served as an impromptu social center and a place to trade the latest news. Over time, the word came to be associated with rumor and gossip. The office gathering place is not just for sharing information. That cup of coffee or drink of water is significant of so much more. It is the place where people gather to nurture relationships. The intrinsic value of socializing is found in the networking accomplished during this daily ritual. Many of today’s most cutting edge work environments endorse the “water cooler” activity.
  2. 2. From their humble roots in a garage to becoming the world’s leading internet information search engine, Google owners, Larry Page and Sergey Brin make every effort to create collaborative areas for their employees. Open floor planning, sitting areas, free gourmet food, a daily volleyball game at noon and a yearly ski trip for all employees are some of the innovative ways Page and Brin keep their employees happy. Tomas Matza in his article, Dotcom Deliverance at MetroActive.com, writes “Never before has informal socializing been such a key part of office protocol on an industry-wide scale(in dotcom businesses). Other perks like in-house pool and ping pong tables, group dinners, bean-bag conference rooms, on-staff masseuses and nap rooms suggest that the foundations beneath traditional starched-white-collar business practices are shifting… these employee trips and activities are hailed as effective ways to promote teamwork and trust.” Encouraging co-workers to get to know each other is meant to introduce a more human dimension to the workplace, increase office efficiency, and foster a sense of enthusiasm for the daily grind. But there's more to these dotcom trips and activities than stress-relief and bonding. In an industry constantly striving to attract young talent, they are tools for recruiting as well as retaining employees. Of course, the majority of employers do not have the resources to provide all those perks to keep employee motivation and productivity high. However, most workplaces still go to the opposite extreme, adhering to the starched-white-collar corporate practice, by reducing naturally occurring socializing even as mounting evidence suggests that it could be counterproductive in the long run. A study at Bell Labs showed that among engineers a higher IQ did not correlate with higher productivity. Initiative and networks counted the most – networks composed of people who cultivated respect so they could trade knowledge with each other. Active workplace communities use conversation to build trust. Yet in the bottom-line industrial environment work-hour socializing and water cooler chat is typically discouraged. While socializing is natural and helps improve the work experience, remember that you are being paid for your time. Everything in balance. If there is too much socializing and work is not getting done or you have to stay at work longer to complete your tasks then reducing the amount of socializing is necessary and required. Furthermore, socializing is not meant to create cliques or a “we versus them” situation. Although water cooler areas are meant to share information, it is not prudent or professional to create mean spirited rumors and paranoia about office policy or people. Within the best spirit of the water cooler environment, it is a place to meet, greet, get to know other people and exchange information and
  3. 3. ideas. When it works in this way, it facilitates the bottom-line and improves the office environment.

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