Could a bowl of breakfast Pho bring people back to the office? featured image

Could a bowl of breakfast Pho bring people back to the office?

How Google Food Labs is answering the need to draw people back to the office using food and beverage experiences

Approximately 150 leaders in the food, tech and agricultural industries gathered for Google Food Lab's 2024 Summit. Google's role as host is to cultivate a space where these creative minds can converge, share ideas, and ignite the changes that will make the world a more nourishing place.

At the summit, the usual suspects were all there - discussions on regenerative agriculture, nutrition, consumer trends, and the role of AI for the food industry. But this year, a new challenge emerged as a central focus: how to bring people back to the office and recruit top talent, with food and beverage serving as the key draw.

Gone are the days of assuming employees would simply return to their desks. The allure of remote work had proven difficult to overcome. Companies are grappling with this new reality, searching for innovative ways to make the office a destination worth the commute.

And it was here, amidst the collective perplexity, that food stepped into the spotlight. Not just as sustenance, but as a transformative force - a means of enticing employees, fostering community, and sparking the kind of in-person collaboration that remote work had so often stifled.

The discussions were charged with a palpable energy, as participants shared their most creative culinary strategies. From craveable biodiverse menus to carefully curated popup lunch experiences, the power of food to reshape the workplace narrative was becoming increasingly clear.

This was no longer just about fueling productivity - it was about reigniting the human connection that had been dimmed by the isolation of the pandemic. And in that crucible of collective problem-solving, the future of the office is being forged, one important dish at a time.

Could the power of food lure us back to the office?

Companies have faced an uphill battle in luring employees back to the office in the wake of the pandemic. The allure of remote work, with its flexibility and lack of commute, has proven hard to overcome. Employees have grown accustomed to the comforts of working from home, be it the ability to work in pajamas or the convenience of being steps away from the fridge.

This is where food is playing a pivotal role. By crafting captivating culinary experiences in the workplace, companies have the power to create a pull that outweighs the push of remote work. A steaming bowl of nourishing pho, bursting with fragrant herbs and zesty citrus, amongst laughter from coworkers who share the table at lunch, can ignite the senses in a way that a lonely desk lunch simply cannot. Carefully curated menus that cater to diverse dietary needs and preferences can foster a sense of community, giving employees a reason to gather and connect over a shared love of food.

Moreover, the act of shared meals can cultivate a spirit of collaboration and creativity that is often harder to achieve through a screen. When colleagues break bread together, ideas have the chance to flourish, and solutions to complex challenges can emerge organically. By making the office a destination for exceptional culinary experiences, companies can entice employees to make the journey, rekindling the magic of in-person interactions and collective problem-solving.

It was the breakfast pho for me.

Breakfast pho lineup at a shop in Hanoi. Photo: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images

On the last day of Google Food Labs this year, I found myself gazing into an offering at breakfast that surprised me - Pho! In that aromatic broth, swirled with rice noodles and garnished with a vibrant array of herbs, chilis, and citrus, I couldn't help but wonder: could this be the key to enticing us away from the comforts of our home offices?

You see, the food at Google has always been a masterful blend of forward-thinking ingenuity, environmental consciousness, and a commitment to wellness, diversity, and transparency. But sometimes, in the pursuit of the new and innovative, they've missed the mark, leaving us longing for the familiar with just a hint of the unexpected.

And that's precisely what this breakfast pho delivered. It was a masterful dance between the comfort of a classic Vietnamese soup and the freshness of a morning meal. With every slurp, I felt my cells come alive, my senses awakened by the interplay of flavors and textures.

As I sat there, bathed in the warm glow of the morning sun, I found myself captivated. I couldn't help but share my discovery, actively encouraging my fellow attendees to experience the magic of this unassuming dish. And even as I departed for the airport, the memory of that pho lingered, refusing to be silenced.

But why does this matter, you ask?

Because the more companies can create these captivating, craveable moments in the workplace, the more likely we are to return to the office. By curating experiences and rituals that make us feel better than we do at home, businesses have the power to overcome the commute, the childcare conundrums, and the siren call of our pajamas.

The topics explored at the Food Labs ranged from climate change to personalized wellness, but at the heart of it all was the recognition that food has the power to heal, to connect, and to bring us together in pursuit of solutions to the world's most pressing challenges. And perhaps, just perhaps, the next big innovation could be sparked over a steaming bowl of pho in the company café.