The Nourishing Workplace podcast

How this podcast inspires workers to set the table to develop connections and belonging at work.

The best-kept secret stories of corporate cultures transformed through food

By spring 2019, I had already interviewed dozens of individuals worldwide who passionately transformed their workplace environments. With modest investments, these entrepreneurs and business leaders harnessed food, community, and hospitality elements to take their work cultures from unappetizing to mouthwatering.

For example, at a New Zealand moving company, the early-rising drivers are offered nutritious bowls of porridge before leaving on their trucks, enabling them to socialize before embarking on an isolated day on the road. A US tech startup teams up with a local farmers market for fresh daily deliveries of fruits and veggies at the office. In Europe, a renowned creative studio gathers the team every day for lunch to fuel the creative process and reset their collective senses.

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They were, unintentionally, the best-kept secrets of the industry. And yet, these efforts had outsized impacts on workplace culture and performance, a key lesson for many organizations. Time to voice those stories!

From planning to write a book to making a podcast

For starters, I had planned to write a book featuring these stories. It was a simple and ambitious plan. 

By voicing those stories of human connection, community, and genuine conviviality, more and more people would learn about them and be inspired to create similar initiatives in their organizations. But I wasn’t happy just collecting and sharing them. I also set out to experience them firsthand by eating together with the teams and individuals responsible for their success.

But once I started receiving a few rejections from publishers, I had to change my plans. 

How might I share those stories without publishing a book? Could I repurpose this content while still making it readily accessible to a wide audience? A podcast ended up being the perfect solution!

Podcasts were gaining in popularity at the time, and it was a medium I had wanted to learn. And while I knew nothing about creating, producing, or distributing a podcast, I was committed to learning. I soon rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

Launching The Nourishing Workplace podcast

In October 2019, I released The Nourishing Workplace, a company culture podcast helping people embrace the art of food, community, and hospitality to create more human and connected employee experiences and businesses.

The program was intentionally holistic, multidisciplinary, and highly curated. I sought out guest speakers from a variety of industries with a one-of-a-kind perspective.

Mixing expert interviews and monologues, the podcast covers topics ranging from workplace design and diversity initiatives to food culture, gastronomic trends, gathering design, and hosting. 

My goal was to introduce my listeners to how professionals channeled the power of food to heal communities, nurture human connections, and create healthy workplaces, and offer a path forward.

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Food as an ingredient of the Airbnb brand recipe

For the first episode of The Nourishing Workplace, I interviewed McKenzie Phelan, the former Global Food Program Manager at Airbnb. McKenzie invited us inside Airbnb’s worldwide office kitchens and canteens and provided precious insight into their inner workings.

She also shared the strategies and ethos behind the globally-inspired, colorful meals they serve every day. From sourcing and waste to the culinary initiatives that bring employees together to support the core business, there’s much to learn from Airbnb’s model.

Here’s what McKenzie shared:

“[23:17] We understand that the core business is all about hospitality and belonging. And as a food team, I think it feels so natural that our philosophy is very embedded in the brand. But we look strategically for moments where there can be a certain resonance between the product and our products, the food. […] 

Each menu that we serve is inspired by an Airbnb listing. Another way is that when we design our food spaces, mostly our smaller tea points or break rooms, we design those after kitchens that exist on Airbnb. Another thing we do bear out of Airbnb experiences, an initiative that began in 2016. One of the OKR for the food team for both 2018 and 2019 is to bring in one of these culinary experience hosts to do their experience in the office.

We will subsidize that cost and let them use our food spaces. It’s a way to expose our employees, not just to our cuisinethe chefs of Airbnbbut to a local expert who invests their time to be on our platform. For me, that has been a magical interpersonal success. I love meeting these experts, these connoisseurs of sorts.

From a food in the workplace standpoint, it reminds folks that food is much more than just a way to get fed, not to be hungry, that people have livelihoods around.”

More simple yet impactful ways to transform corporate cultures

Over successive episodes, I spoke with a number of other guests about workplace dynamics within their own organizations. 

Jenny West, former Knoll’s Workplace Transformation Leader, ensures the manufacturer’s workplaces are versatile. She joined us to discuss how feel-good environments facilitate community. 

Copenhagen-based and Italian-born coffee roaster Francesco Impallomeni explained how to brew the perfect cup of coffee. He also talked about why many Danish startups now invest in making quality coffee available to their employees. 

Rei Chou, the founder of The Feast and a veteran in facilitating conversations over meals, described what great hosting means to her and what she has learned by hosting hundreds of meals. 

Canadian chef and author of Take Back the Tray Joshna Maharaj shared some heartwarming stories from her work in a Toronto hospital. She recalled how an elderly Chinese patient recovered quickly thanks to the comforting bowl of congee that reminded him of his home turf.

She beamed remembering the smile on a new mum’s face when she received cookies as a surprise from the hospital kitchen to celebrate her recent miracle of childbirth. These little food-oriented gestures often go unnoticed, but they brighten someone’s day.

As a reviewer wrote, “each episode introduces enthusiastic (and sometimes unlikely) experts working to transform corporate cultures. Be it comedians or coffee roasters, these professionals Veronica hosts are invested in nurturing human connections in the otherwise dry workspace through their crafts.”

The beauty of a podcast like The Nourishing Workplace lies in its ability to point out how seemingly small initiatives happening all around us every day can make such an impact on our wellbeing, and even healing.

The Nourishing Workplace offers resources to take action

I also took the mic to record a few masterclass-style monologue episodes that answered common questions from listeners and required a more hands-on approach.

For example, with diversity and inclusion efforts growing in importance, how does one plan a more inclusive and diverse office party? I gave eight points to consider, from moving the party to other times of the year outside of the typical Christmas holiday season to rethinking the naming of the party itself. 

Episode 8 focused on workplace trends and expectations for work culture and experiences. I discussed the socio-cultural references, consumer behavior changes, and recurring patterns that lead to new directions in food, culture, and work.

Inspiring a new generation of workplace ‘nourishers’ to launch, refine, and talk about their initiatives

Besides the significant listenership (The Nourishing Workplace received nearly 50,000 downloads within five months of its launch), feedback for the podcast has been positive and encouraging.  

Some listeners were curious to peek inside the kitchens of globally renowned companies. Most people weren’t familiar with any of the initiatives carried out by my guests. They couldn’t believe that such an eclectic group of people dedicates their day to nurture human connections in the workplace. 

Other listeners took a more practical approach, which was my goal with the book. Inspired by the podcast, they designed and kicked off similar food initiatives in their own organizations. 

A master’s student approached me to hear my perspective for her thesis on human resources and food at work. Apparently, published information on the subject is limited, and The Nourishing Workplace proved to be a valuable resource for her.

And, finally, I received messages from a few listeners, self-identifying as foodies and workplace culture enthusiasts. They thanked me for giving space and voice to all of us around the world who use food to facilitate togetherness and all that magic that happens when you nurture human connections.

I recommend this podcast to HR folks in search of fun and meaningful team-building workshops as well as to artists who have never dreamt of corporate spaces as their possible venues to make positive changes in our every day.

VF Clients Setsuko Yokoyama
Setsuko Yokoyamapodcast listener, USA

If you work in culture or own a business and care about your employees, this podcast is a must-listen.

Contact WE Factory
Nadir Z.podcast listener, Italy

Ear curious? Give it a listen!

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