Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of very interesting people. Amongst my coworkers current and former is a volunteer firefighter, a part-time farmer, a core maintainer of one of the largest open source package management systems, an accomplished woodworker, someone who travels the world specifically to eat good food, a person who built their own boat and then sailed around the open seas for months, a lot of sourdough bread bakers, musicians who play gigs professionally, a former chef, and a lot of immigrants whose stories are always comforting to someone like me who’s in the same boat.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Some of these are people I’ve worked with closely on the same team, but many are just colleagues invested in the same mission as me, working at the same company. You might wonder how I know so much about the personal lives of people I work with; after all, boat building is hardly a topic that comes up in day-to-day programming. However, these are all topics that come up when you socialize with people outside of meetings – say, over lunch.
I’m a big proponent of not eating lunch at my desk, so much so that I have a block on my calendar from noon to 1:00 daily. Taking the time out of your day to get away from your desk and eat lunch in peace shouldn’t be considered a luxury but, rather, a necessity. Not only does it give your brain a chance to decompress, the benefits in forming bonds with your coworkers cannot be overstated. But you don’t have to take my word for it – there are countless articles espousing the virtues of communal lunches.
Over my career, as I’ve sat down and shared meals with colleagues, I’ve learned a lot about topics so out of my field of vision that I couldn’t have fathomed ever getting first-hand accounts (seriously, though, who builds a boat?!), and even gotten answers to questions that I’ve been stuck on at my job (rubber ducks are great, but ones that talk back are incredible!). Most importantly, I’ve found great friends whom I’m blessed to have in my life. These relationships are what make my job feel more than just work, and I owe most of them to the time spent munching on food together.
If your company culture doesn’t include sharing meals together, there are incremental steps you can take to get there. Here are some of the things I’ve found effective at various companies I’ve worked for:
- Get away from your desk. The first step is to not eat at your desk. If you have a lunch room where you can sit and eat, start going there even if no one does. If you don’t have a communal open space, go out of the office and eat at a park nearby. You could even book a conference room just for lunch – something my team did on a daily basis at my last job.
- Start small. You’re not going to get the entire company to join you for lunch overnight, but you could start by asking your team or a few coworkers whom you enjoy spending time with.
- Make it a ritual. The most effective way of snowballing to a bigger group is consistency. If people see you eating at a table everyday, they’re going to be more inclined to join you in your routine. If you find your calendar being co-opted by meetings, put a recurring hold over lunch and be firm.
- Limit work talk. Remember, it’s not a meeting! The less you talk about work, the better.
It might take a while, but I promise you that the exercise is worth the effort. The 40 or so hours a week you spend at your job are a lot better when you’re not in it alone.