I don’t know how it got there, but in our corner of the office — right beside the printer — lived an espresso maker. It was nothing fancy. I’d be amazed if it had cost even $60, but it was worth its weight in gold.
Roughly once a day, someone would turn that machine on, and a mathematician, an engineer, a statistician, and a chemist would inevitably find their way over to it. No, this isn’t the start of a bad joke. This is the start of an epic networking tool.
Coffee and Rumors of Coffee
Even tucked away in our little corner of the office behind a dividing wall, that espresso machine garnered intrigue. If anyone stopped by to use the printer, the espresso would inevitably catch their eye.
It was a conversation starter, and the conversation always went something like this.
“Does anyone ever use that coffee machine?”
“We sure do. It’s the best espresso in the office. Do you want a cup?”
“Can’t right now”
“Cool. Feel free to stop by anytime. My desk is right over there, and I’d be happy to make you a cup.”
It was mostly pleasantries. I’m bored even writing those words. But those conversations started the magic flowing.
It wasn’t a perfect system. Very few people would come back for anything more than another printout. But some people did.
Fishing isn’t about the hundreds of fish that swim by the bait; it’s about the handful of fish that nibble.
I was on the data science team. We were a part of the analytics department. If I had to guess, I’d say that less than 1/3 of my teammates regularly talked with people outside of the team. Maybe 1/5 of them had regular discussions with those outside of the department.
There were social events at the company, but they weren’t frequent enough to maintain strong connections. The espresso machine had no such frequency limitations. It was available at any time of day.
It was the perfect networking tool.
Moving on Up
Then, disaster struck. It seems that using an espresso machine outside of the kitchen was forbidden. It was a fire hazard. The espresso machine either had to move or be removed.
We couldn’t leave it in the kitchen 24/7. And even if we could, it was too far away for the same people to just organically make their way over there throughout the day.
The age of the ever-available espresso was over.
Instead, we moved to a regular schedule. At 2:30 every afternoon, we would meet for espresso. A calendar invite was created to prevent anyone from scheduling meetings over this important event.
A new venue meant new opportunities. In the olden days, the only people aware of the espresso machine were those that used our printer — mostly the analytics department. Now, the machine was in plain sight for anyone that walked through the kitchen.
What’s more, everyone walked through that kitchen at some point. It was the main thoroughfare for the entire floor. We were on the middle floor of the three leased by the company. We had put down roots in the single most valuable piece of real estate our company had to offer.
If you happened to be walking through between 2:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon, you would inevitably notice a small group of people gathered around a machine that was whirring and shooting out steam. And you would notice the strong aroma of espresso — far superior to the sludge that you were drinking.
Some people would only pause for a moment before moving on. Others would ask what the machine was for. Both of these groups were fair game. We would always offer to make them a fresh cup. Most would say no, but they came to know that the espresso group was always around at 2:30 if they changed their minds.
Even amongst those that turned down the espresso, many stayed for the conversation. We were a hit.
Those of us that frequented the group became known across the company. Sometimes they would just recognize our faces. Other times they knew our names. Either way, it opened doors.
Interns, entry-level employees, VPs and SVPs would come to know us. Even the president of the company — largely due to his office being adjacent to the kitchen — came to recognize our little group.
I had been worried for a time that people would see us as lazy. After all, they only saw us when we were gathered around that machine. And I’m sure a few of them thought that way. But most recognized it for what it was — an opportunity to relax and network.
There was one rule of our little group: no work talk. This wasn’t strictly enforced, of course. You were allowed to talk about your career. But having a discussion with your teammate about a current project was frowned upon. Those discussions were exclusionary, and this was a place of inclusivity.
We were still missing a name for our event. We couldn’t be “those people that make espresso in the green kitchen”. Fortunately, a VP came to our rescue — the same VP that had kicked our group out of the printer corner all those weeks back.
While walking by one day, he commented on how our “coffee klatch has really grown”. None of us were familiar with that word. He explained that it was a german term for a social gathering featuring conversation while drinking coffee. It was perfect. We had a name.
The unnamed coffee group was no more.
The coffee klatch was born.
Our growth didn’t last forever. Eventually, we were back down to 2–3 people most days. The novelty of the machine was no longer enough to draw in most passersby. They would, however, still stop by to say hi if they recognized those of us in the group.
The company always had fresh recruits. Fresh recruits bring fresh excitement, so these people were still pulled in by the power of the espresso machine. New employees always need a way to meet people outside of their teams. This was a service that we were happy to offer.
I don’t fully know what happened with the coffee klatch after I left the company. From what I’ve heard, it still meets every once in a while. I would like to think that it still provides a place for work acquaintances to meet up and become work friends and for new employees to find a home.
I have never seen a tool or event that brought people together in a corporate workplace better than that coffee klatch did.
Corporate culture can feel lonely. Networking can be difficult. In the midst of all that, the coffee klatch was an oasis and an opportunity.
It was a port in a storm.
It was a beacon of hope.
It was pure magic.
It was the coffee klatch.