It was my first week in my new role; I had just moved cities and joined a new team. A new teammate invited me to the weekly team social over at the local pub, and I wanted to start getting to know my teammates and integrating into the group, so I accepted the invitation. As I arrived, I noticed the bar where the event took place was loud and uncomfortably crowded. An hour later and a few beers in, my coworkers were, perhaps unintentionally, talking over anything I had to say. As someone who prefers not to drink at work events, I did not have fun, nor did I feel particularly welcome into my new team. That was the first and last time I attended the weekly social gathering. I'm sure it would have been useful career-wise to spend time with my coworkers in a more informal setting, building relationships and socializing ideas, but that experience was not something I was willing to repeat.
There are countless articles and studies discussing how central alcohol and drinking are in tech culture today. There are far-reaching side effects from this culture, which may include undesired pressure to drink and unfortunate behavior from coworkers. Many folks decide not to go to important work events or conferences because they simply don't enjoy or want to put themselves in that kind of environment.
What if companies and organizations chose to center events on tea as a default beverage instead of alcoholic beverages? Companies could offer tea-based events as an option for networking events that might otherwise take place in a bar or revolve around alcohol.
Leaders and team members should feel empowered to initiate conversations about preferred networking venues and refreshments. Often, the "default social gathering" opportunity within a team or organization is alcohol or bar-based, and this may not be inclusive to all within the group. For teams with this default, consider a new default option: a tea party! These can take place offsite in a local tea house, onsite as a simple mid-day warm beverage break or as a specially catered "high tea" event (with tiny finger sandwiches as budget allows).
There are many non-alcoholic drinks to choose from, but tea in particular has a number of advantages. Research shows that holding something warm while interacting with others engenders warm feelings. It never hurts productivity to have warm, positive feelings towards our colleagues. Tea has a calming effect, which is great for de-stressing after a busy pager shift or a technical debate. Tea is a collaborative drink that brings people together; for example, some engineering teams at Google have adopted a tradition of doing the daily stand-up over tea. Tea is a great beverage for sharing knowledge and socializing ideas.
There are a wide variety of teas, serving styles, and preparations to cater to people with different needs and tastes. Tea also provides an opportunity to learn about diverse global cultures and rituals.
Another, more subtle advantage of a tea-based event is that these generally take place in a more serene atmosphere where quieter voices can be heard. In contrast, pubs or bars often feature a loud, rowdy environment which may make it difficult for people without strong voices to feel heard, and can unintentionally indicate a certain type of tech culture (a la Tea and Tech Culture).
Y u be taking my whisk(e)y!?!
By all means, everyone should continue enjoying their beverage of choice within relevant legal / corporate guidelines! There are many successful events which are inclusive to those with a wide range of beverage preferences. You might be thinking, "Why are you bringing back prohibition? It's 2019!" I am not advocating for tea-totaling. Instead, I recommend asking for input from team members about whether the default social option works for them and updating the defaults accordingly. As part of this larger conversation, one piece of feedback that may arise is that, for some people, being mildly buzzed can lubricate social interactions or reduce social anxiety in these kinds of settings. It is critical to collaborate with the team to think through ways to achieve a similar goal of helping conversations flow, for instance by offering more relaxed group activities (e.g., board games) to facilitate people getting to know one another or even preparing conversational topics in advance (e.g., ice breakers).
There's been a lot of talk recently about what can be done to make tech more inclusive for people from diverse backgrounds. Identifying and fostering a comfortable "default social environment" is a tangible, actionable step that teams can introduce as part of broader efforts.
Over the past few years, there has been a significant rise in non-alcoholic venues, bars, and drinks. These attractive alternatives exist and should be leveraged. In some contexts, such as on many college campuses, one solution has been the advent of the EANAB, or "Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverage", which is to be provided along with the beverages that otherwise serve as the "main attraction". Yes, these drinks may be substituted without the drinker feeling left out of the celebration in an alcohol-centered event. While this approach reduces the chances of unintentionally excluding non-drinkers, why not simply choose an activity that is more inclusive from the outset, such as a tea party?
The next time you're planning a social event for your team, before going with the default option, ask for input from the individuals, and consider whether an event centered around tea might be a good fit.
Share this with your team and organization and start a conversation about preferred social gathering options: dinalevitan.com/post/the-case-for-tea
Learn specifically about inclusivi-tea to non-drinkers: blog.alicegoldfuss.com/tea-and-tech-culture/
Plan your next team tech event with non-alcoholic options: modelviewculture.com/pieces/alcohol-and-inclusivity-planning-tech-events-with-non-alcoholic-options
Read more about inclusive company off-sites: geekfeminism.wikia.org/wiki/Inclusive_offsites