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Coworkers Connecting Through Cooking: A Spotlight on Spiceology, Inc.’s New HR Initiative

Spiceology, Inc. recently partnered with Pixlee and Loop Commerce, a Synchrony solution, on a “Coworkers Connecting Through Cooking” initiative for employers looking for innovative and fun ways to re-energize and deepen connections with their employees.

Chip Overstreet, CEO of Spiceology, the fastest-growing privately owned spice company in America joins TecHRseries to share a few thoughts about his journey and their new initiative in this QnA.

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Hi Chip! Could you tell us about yourself as a starting point and we’d love to know about the idea behind the “Coworkers Connecting Through Cooking” initiative; how many companies are part of this now? How has it been received by employees?

Prior to joining Spiceology, I spent over 25 years in high tech in Silicon Valley, most recently as the head of business development for Affirm. I was always struck by the amount of time, resources and money that technology companies spent on employee appreciation–aka work perks.

At Affirm, we had catered lunches and dinners each day. The kitchens on each floor were chock full of high-end snacks, the coolest drinks, gourmet coffee, beer and wine, and of course, enough fresh avocados every morning to allow for the avocado toast “needs.” We also participated in incredible quarterly events–last year they took nearly the entire company to a production of Hamilton. Hats off to the HR team at Affirm!

But the goal wasn’t just employee appreciation; HR was trying to create deeper community and engagement amongst employees. Having lunches and dinners on site meant spending more casual time with your peers and meeting others in different departments, which helped foster better working relationships across the company.

Now, with most everyone working from home, these impactful opportunities to connect are lost. There is little to no in-person interaction and “connecting” is done via video chat, resulting in less time and opportunity to enjoy casual time together. Across all industries, HR leaders are now seeking fresh ways to help maintain connection and community in this new remote world.

That’s where the initial idea of “Coworkers Connecting Through Cooking” came to be. We thought, what better way to connect than over a delicious meal, albeit virtually? We saw an opportunity to show employees some appreciation by sharing some spice blends that would make cooking from home–an activity most everyone is doing more often–more interesting and fun. Augment that with an interactive, live cooking class for the whole team and a custom digital channel for employees to engage (through sharing photos, recipes, videos and just chatting about life) and you’ve created a new way to foster coworker connections, remotely.

To help support this vision, we partnered with Pixlee, an award-winning UGC platform provider and Loop Commerce, the creators of digital gifting solution Gift Now.  How it works is: each employee selects a variety pack of Spiceology’s innovative spice blends using GiftNow®, the Gift Experience Management™ solution from Loop Commerce®. Spiceology chefs then provide custom, online cooking seminars for each organization, teaching employees some easy ways to use their new spice blends to liven up their meals and have fun experimenting in the kitchen. Pixlee provides a private digital channel, code-named “Quarantine Kitchen,” for each company’s employees to share recipes, photos and videos amongst themselves to help build lasting connections, well past the end of the cooking event.

Sushila Sahay, executive vice president at Lightbend, Inc., was one of the first to experience the program. “Like most every tech company in the world, we now have 100% of our employees working from home,” said “While we spend plenty of time together on Zoom calls, we are missing the bonding opportunities that used to happen over lunch, hanging out in the corporate kitchen, and in the many restaurants we’ve visited together around the world. “Coworkers Connecting Through Cooking” gave us a way for employees to engage in a unique, fun format, and helps us drive community in this new, disconnected workplace.”

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While this initiative has an interesting theme to it; in what other ways would you suggest global companies especially those with distributed teams to use themes such as the “Coworkers Connecting Through Cooking” initiative to boost employee engagement during this downtime; in fact, we’d love to hear any other ideas you may have on what companies can do!

Some other fun ideas that we as a company have done, or heard about other companies doing, include virtual game nights, trivia sessions, yoga classes, etc. These are great ways to have people connect.

Does Spiceology have any other initiatives such as these planned for the next few months?

While we’ve just launched our “Coworkers Connecting Through Cooking” initiative, we have plans to develop a mixology program geared toward capturing the fun and connectivity of a coworker happy hour or cocktail party. The program will feature interactive mixology classes and an employee appreciation gift of ingredients (booze not included) and restaurant quality barware. And, we’ll always have a mocktail version of the recipe.

In addition, we’ll be developing a special holiday version of Coworkers Connecting Through Cooking” to help take the place of company holiday parties that (more than likely) won’t be taking place this year.

Given that most countries affected by the Covid-19 pandemic are still adjusting to the new normal, what would you share with our readers today when it comes to ensuring productivity yet maintaining a balance when working from home?

When we started working from home in mid-March, I initiated a daily 8 a.m. Zoom call with my executive team to check-in and make sure we’re all in sync; we move very fast and have a lot of cross-functional needs that require a lot of coordination and interaction.

We use the time to review objectives, do deep dives on important initiatives, ensure we’re aligned on a steady stream of product and partner launches — such as the “Coworkers Connecting thru Cooking” initiative. But it’s also a time for us to spend a few minutes each day just checking in on each other, seeing what’s new in people’s lives, and keeping the emotional engagement alive.

I initially thought this daily meeting might last only the first couple of weeks, but we haven’t stopped – I think we’ve missed just one call in almost 5 months. Some would call this “an expensive meeting” – it’s one hour each day multiplied by 10 executives. And I would agree. But it’s some of the best “money” I could spend, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

When it comes to maintaining balance, that’s a tough one as it’s harder to gauge individuals work/life balance while working from home. I encourage people to sign off, take breaks throughout the day, etc., as work from home life can turn into all work life without a concerted effort.

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Can you tell us about some of the HR initiatives and measures you’ve taken at Spiceology during this downtime to boost employee culture?

During these strange times, our focus is on a shared strategy for success and maintaining company morale. We’re all in this together at Spiceology.

Our company culture is based on transparency. During a time where our workforce is distributed across the country, we must be even more intentional with how we maintain company-wide communication and keeping all employees in the loop on how our organization is doing. We leverage digital tactics to ensure accessibility. This could be sharing a link to a press article in Forbes about our rapid response to COVID-19 or the exec team hosting an all-hands Zoom meeting to review the deck from our board meetings.

In addition, one of Spiceology’s core values is teamwork. As a food manufacturer, we have many production and fulfilment workers who can’t work from home. This team of incredible individuals has risen to the task as our business has seen phenomenal growth due to more and more consumers cooking at home. To help meet this demand, we’ve augmented this team with members from the sales, marketing and executive teams. Once every few weeks, different teams from sales, marketing, admin and the executives all scrub up, don masks, lab coats and hair nets and get out on the line, filling jars, packing pallets and shipping products.

Any other last tips / thoughts for us?

As a nation, we don’t know when we’ll feel safe enough to return to work. But this forced opportunity to develop a successful and rewarding work from home strategy opens up opportunities for employers to offer more flexibility to their employees. Employers should embrace this time and create a feedback loop for employees to share what’s working and what’s not.

The only other tip I’d end with and I’d suggest is to “experiment with flavor,” which happens to be our tagline. People are spending so much more time at home and in the kitchen (many of them with their kids helping out) and now is the perfect time to try new things, learn some new recipes, and make the meal preparation process part of the journey.