Picture this — Employees make fleeting appearances at the office, just long enough to savour a cup of coffee, and then promptly retreat to their preferred remote-work sanctuaries. Owl Labs, a 360-degree videoconferencing solutions firm, recently revealed in a survey that as companies like Zoom, Meta, Salesforce, J.P. Morgan, and countless others, are vigorously encouraging, tempting, or even coercing their workforce to return to traditional office spaces, a new form of resistance has emerged, charmingly dubbed ‘coffee badging.’
The trend sees employees’ physical presence in the office, but not for conventional work purposes. Instead, they make brief appearances, engage in casual coffee chats, and then make their way back to their preferred remote work havens, where they often find themselves more productive and focused. This shift toward flexible and hybrid work arrangements, largely catalysed by the pandemic, has ushered in newfound efficiencies and productivity for many employees.
The survey revealed that a significant 58 per cent of hybrid workers readily admit to coffee badging, whereas, and 8 per cent of employees said they would like to try this intriguing practice, hinting that they too might soon join the ranks of coffee badgers.
Ravi Kumar, CPO, Page Industries, observes, “In contemporary times, the term is used to refer to the physical presence of employees in the office or at meetings, to perform only the essential tasks and the bare minimum necessary.” The core objective is to meet employees’ fundamental KPIs or goals.
“In contemporary times, the term is used to refer to the physical presence of employees in the office or at meetings, to perform only the essential tasks and the bare minimum necessary.”
Ravi Kumar, CPO, Page Industries
Pradyumna Pandey, head-HR, manufacturing, Hero Motocorp, presents a different point of view. He believes, “The trend can be viewed as a form of resistance to change where people come to the office, not necessarily to work, but merely to register their presence in office as it is now a mandate.” Simply put, employees make it clear that they have become accustomed to working from home, and that they are only complying with the requirement to come to the office, but not necessarily with the full intent of what’s being asked of them. While the company wants them to be in the office to work, the employees are only coming to the office to mark their attendance and then returning home from where they prefer to work.
The concept has been emerging as a ‘coping mechanism’ for employees. They are coming to office because it’s mandated, but mentally, they may not be in the work mode because they’ve programmed themselves to work in a different environment over the past three years.
“One common assumption that companies make is that since everyone used to work from the office before 2020, it should be an easy transition back. However, that’s not the case. For three years, people have been conditioned to work in a certain way, adapting not just their work habits but also their personal routines and conveniences to this new setup. Now, suddenly they are being called upon to readjust to working in an office setting. This includes sitting at a desk in a certain attire! The switch isn’t easy for people,” enunciates Manish Majumdar, head-HR, Centum Electronics.
“From the cultural aspect, it’s evident that having a shared purpose and fostering synergy often occur when people meet in person and discuss future plans and goals.”
Pradyumna Pandey, head-HR, manufacturing, Hero Motocorp
Additionally, this is more like a social opportunity for them to come and catch up with their colleagues over coffee.
Hence, employees come to the office as required, spend time, have coffee and ‘appear’ to be discussing work, but more often than not, they tackle their actual work only when they return home. This is because they’ve grown comfortable with their home setup and have programmed themselves to work effectively in that setting.
Pandey prefers to view this as a positive trend where employees are willing to be in the office, spend time there and connect with each other. “From the cultural aspect, it’s evident that having a shared purpose and fostering synergy often occur when people meet in person and discuss future plans and goals,” he opines. It can even help with their well-being, as it allows them to connect with people, share concerns and discuss aspirations.
Moreover, being at home every day can lead to a monotonous work life. Therefore, going to the office a couple of times a week and connecting with peers can add excitement and a sense of being part of a team.
However, Kumar and Majumdar strongly believe that the trend can also have serious implications on organisational culture.
“It’s vital for the companies to help employees understand the rationale behind return-to-office, give them the time to make the transition and plan the shift effectively.”
Manish Majumdar, head-HR, Centum Electronics
“Organisational culture encompasses a set of behaviours commonly observed in its members. If, upon returning to the office, employees adopt a behaviour pattern where they simply spend the mandated hours in the office for the heck of it and then continue their work at home, it sets a wrong example, especially for newcomers,” cautions Majumdar. It will essentially teach them that the office is a place to fulfil a requirement rather than a hub for meaningful work and collaboration.
Furthermore, it will create a culture of low engagement within the organisation where people can be easily influenced to adopt the practice. “If, for instance, 100 out of 200 people are practising coffee badging, then the other 100 are likely to follow suit because they perceive it as a common practice within the company,” asserts Kumar.
He also believes that the concept is here to stay until companies can better engage their employees, connect them more effectively to the higher purpose of the business, and establish a stronger link to rewards and recognition that benefit the business.
Agreeing to the same, Majumdar points out, “It’s vital for the companies to help employees understand the rationale behind return-to-office, give them the time to make the transition and plan the shift effectively.” Failing to do so can lead to negative consequences, making employees question why they are being called to the office, wasting time commuting, and then having to extend their work into their personal time to compensate for lost productivity. This situation can generate various negative emotions, such as frustration or even a sense that top management is being unreasonable.
While Kumar and Majumdar feel that the trend does have broader consequences on organisational culture as well as employee engagement and productivity, Pandey feels that the concept may initially raise concerns for employers if the primary focus is on physical presence. In fact, there can be positive aspects to it, as coffee badging itself fosters teamwork, team cohesion and synergy among the team members.