Only last month, Malaysia reopened nearly all economic and social activities after weeks of Movement Control Order (MCO). With most businesses are allowed to resume operations, this means employees are returning to the workplace.
Businesses and employees will need to follow detailed safety protocols when they reopen after COVID-19 closures. Then, this presents a new challenge for: ensuring that employees have safe, convenient access to food everyday. How should employers navigate this? In this interview session, HR in Asia talk with Alessandro Voltolini, the CEO and co-founder of SmartBite to discuss further about this matter.
Studies show that taking lunch breaks is important as it allows our mind to rest, recharge, and refocus. Yet, venturing out to lunch where crowds gather might not be the best idea due to the current health crisis. So Alessandro, what can employers do to mitigate this problem?
Companies need to have a new approach to employee meals in the COVID-19 era where safe access to meals at work is a necessity, being a matter of health, risk reduction, and efficient operations. Employee meal plans are a good solution to this. Established companies such as Zalora and Lazada are on employee meal plans on SmartBite to ensure their employees have safe access to food.
There are various types of employee meal plans that a company can consider to ensure that employees, returning to the office, are not put at unnecessary risk by venturing outside during peak hours.
Companies can arrange meals for the entire office and payment can be fully company-carried, employee-carried, or anywhere in-between. We have been working with our caterer partners to move away from the traditional ‘family style’ buffet and develop special bento box menus. Individually packaged meals, such as boxed lunches, are built for social distancing. Employees have their own set of disposable utensils and they can quickly grab and go their meals as and when they need to.
Employees can individually order their meals and these can be company-paid, partially subsidized, or entirely on an employee opt-in and pay basis. In the instance of SmartBite e-canteen meal plans, employees can order personal meals as they wish and they can choose from new options each day. This helps in accommodating everyone’s dietary needs and preferences. It is possible for team meals to be grouped in a single order so that they will arrive at the same time so the team can eat together.
While employers need to minimise the risk of employees being exposed to COVID-19 outside the office, it is pertinent that the office is a safe environment as well. We recommend the following steps:
How and why do companies need to develop new approaches to provide smart food solutions for employees, regardless if they are based at home or in the office?
Companies that have employee meals budget in place understand the importance of developing meaningful employee perks that take care of their well-being. In doing so, this boosts employee engagement which in turn increases productivity and talent retention. Research has shown that highly-engaged employees are more likely to exceed performance expectations and employers benefit from 2.5x more revenue growth and 40% less churn.
For companies that don’t, it is important to relook at employee engagement strategy. Employee engagement is paramount in normal times, but in a time of crisis, this becomes increasingly critical as morale is low and employee engagement is tied to their level of resilience. Furthermore, some employees may not be happy with working from home as there are increased bills from higher electricity usage as well as a loss of office perks.
When employees have to come back to office, or when they are able to, they will expect a very different approach to safety and cleanliness from their employers as well.
In this regard, a smart food solution will not only ensure employees have safe access to food but also boost morale as food has a direct impact on their well-being, especially in cultures where there is a strong emphasis on food.
As Malaysia’s largest online food catering marketplace, how does SmartBite innovate in order to meet client’s demands while ensuring safety and hygiene?
We are constantly developing new product offerings that are flexible to cater to the changing needs of each of our corporate clients. For companies that began split operations as part of business continuity, we had to develop meal plans that can cater to employees that have been instructed to work from home and employees who have been asked to return to the office. This also means ensuring that food is delivered to teams at the same time so they may eat together on-site alongside team members based at home via Zoom calls. We’ve also developed exclusive welcome back food packages to boost morale amongst employees as well as exciting food collaborations that serve corporate gifts.
An example would be an exclusive SmartBite collaboration with the acclaimed Malaysian chef, Chef Wan, to develop this bento box with reusable cutlery.
Some employers might be reluctant to use corporate lunch catering due to tight food budgets. What do you say about this? Is catering food worth it?’
As mentioned earlier, employee meal plans are flexible to accommodate different budgets. For instance, with SmartBite e-canteen plans, companies can decide how much food budget to allocate to subsidizing meals – whether it be fully subsidized or partially subsidized. We pride ourselves in developing solutions that are flexible, affordable and easy to implement. Our employee meal plans can be customized so we encourage companies to speak to us at SmartBite so we can help them find a suitable solution that fits their budgets.
How is SmartBite using food to help companies strengthen their community in a time of crisis?
The culture in Asia tends to be one of community – of coming together and eating with one another. It is important to maintain this spirit during a time where communities are physically divided and isolated. Having lunch together on Zoom calls is one way teams can stay connected with one another regardless if companies have instructed employees to work from home or divided them to split operations between office and home. For instance, In June 2020, SmartBite delivered a massive delivery of 2,700 meal packages to all AIA employees, scattered across residential addresses, at the same time so that they may eat together.
Furthermore, we also see a trend from clients for food to be delivered in a presentable and eco-friendly way because food is an option for gifts to their own clients and customers. As such, SmartBite has been embarking on collaborations such as developing a special tiffin set with acclaimed Malaysian chef, Chef Wan. As the tiffin is specially designed, the tiffin can be kept and reused as a food container for future meals as well.
In keeping employee’s interests in mind, morale can be raised and employee engagement can be boosted. This helps them stay resilient so that they themselves alongside with the company, can help one another see through the crisis, together.
What are SmartBite’s future commitments and plans for COVID-19 and beyond?
An interesting thing about the catering industry is that it is a high-growth one that has been under-the-radar. The global catering services industry stood at $130B in 2018 and its year-on-year growth rate is estimated at 5.5% of which 45% of the growth is coming from the APAC region. Yet, the catering industry has not been digitally transformed in Asia. In Malaysia, for instance, the catering practices are predominately old-school with no online presence. HR would have to manually get quotes from caterers and there is a lack of transparency in pricing. This is where we come in – we are committed to taking the full spectrum of catering online to be the leading food tech catering marketplace in the SEA region.
We will be expanding throughout the region and currently we are operating in Malaysia and Philippines. Our business model enables us to not only scale quickly without a heavy increase in overhead costs but also to geographically expand fast and at low cost. Caterers exist everywhere and in all sizes, and so far, they have been neglected by the mainstream on-demand services, for both a clear mismatch of value proposition and modus operandi, hence, letting a vast industry for us to grow in, both for value and geographical reach.
SmartBite is also committed to staying agile and adapting to the changing times by developing new product offerings that bring value to our partners and clients. In this regard, we want to make sure that SmartBite, alongside our corporate clients and caterer partners, will not only survive but thrive in the coming months.
Alessandro Voltolini is the CEO and Co-Founder of SmartBite, a curated online catering marketplace and service provider that connects companies and groups to great food. Their vision is to build the largest food catering marketplace in SEA. He is currently based in Jakarta.
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