What keeps corporate America and government going is not information systems, telephones, computers, or even paper. What keeps our offices going is coffee. Every office that I’ve ever worked in had a community coffee pot and the employees managed to figure out some system of dividing the cost in a satisfactory enough manner to keep it operating and quench the craving for a hot, black, eye-opener in the morning.
Office workers are the most wide-awake bunch in the city.
In one office where I worked, employees paid for their brew by the cup and one person volunteered to collect, count the quarters, buy the coffee, and make the first pot in the morning. The employees in this office were such coffee hounds that decaf was considered an occupational hazard. They had a good system, though. As long as one person is willing to take the time and trouble to manage the fund and people are honest enough to pay when they drink a cup, it works.
In the days before cubicles when the pot was at the front of the office and everyone could see if people paid, voluntary compliance worked better. In the Dilbert style world of cubicle mazes, people seem to have become less inclined to cough up their quarter, and more inclined to “pay later.”
The system in another office where I worked required making a mark by your name on a chart every time you needed a caffeine fix. On payday the marks were counted and people were required to ante up with the coffee person. It worked pretty well, though some complained when payday came around and said they could not possibly owe so much. I always felt a little bit like a kid in school getting black marks for misbehaving, in this case by drinking too much coffee.
In yet another office (I’ve moved around a lot), each drinker was required to bring in a can of coffee for the coffee club. When the supply ran low, word was sent out and everyone brought in another can. The “bring your own can” system seems fair, but people griped because some people drink more coffee than others. Also, some people brought in off-brand of coffee instead of a good kind and others fussed about it and called them cheap.
We actually had a coffee service at one place where I worked. Each person paid a set amount per month for all the coffee they wanted. People who complained and said they work out of the office a lot or do not drink much coffee were asked to pay 25 cents per cup. Where else can you buy a cup of coffee for 25 cents these days? Coffeepot, coffee, and fixings were furnished by the coffee service so no one had to fool with bringing coffee to work. Simple? It should be.
But the coffee service came and picked up the pot. Why? Well, the coffee fund went bankrupt. Not enough people were interested in paying by the month to cover the cost of buying the coffee. It seems easier to pay by the cup than to cough up the $5 per month. But the two-bit people were not dependable. They expected the monthly people to sustain the coffee club. They might pay, or they might “forget.” The person taking care of the club (me) became fed up and quit.
Everybody wanted coffee, but not enough to take care of the coffee fund and apparently not enough to pay for the coffee. And so, the coffee fund declared bankruptcy, liquidated its assets (if you’ll pardon the pun) and existed only as a nervous memory.
Now there is no more drip to hold the mug under when people can’t wait for the coffee to finish. But there is a fine cafeteria in the building where they can’t “pay later.” People now work for paychecks instead of for coffee money. If they were grouchy with a coffeepot, imagine what it is like now when they don’t have one.
Ready for a coffee break yet?