I've been told there was a time when everyone was a social smoker and colleagues met together for smoke breaks. Apparently this is where the networking really happened.
Now that smoking is more and more socially unacceptable, offices have found another addictive item around which co-workers can meet for a morning rally (and sometimes an afternoon buzz): coffee.
This is not wholly unfamiliar; the "water-cooler" syndrome is comprable though I propose not entirely the same. No one craves water like people crave cigarettes or coffee, with the exception of someone stranded in a desert. The craving aspect makes certain that the networking will happen consistently. The crazed look that appears in the eyes of someone who didn't quite get enough sleep the night before and has no idea how to face the list of tasks for the day without coffee is specific to the beverage.
"Do you have coffee?" "Did you make coffee?" "Where's the coffee?" and "Gimme some coffee?" are all acceptable conversation starters for getting the "networking" part of the coffee break going. From there, and with a fresh mug in hand, the stimulant goes to work quickly on both the individual and the conversation. The networking occurs both pre- and post-coffee as everyone first waits for the delightful brewing noise to stop, thus signaling the completion of a fresh pot, and then, as everyone slowly regains their balance (its truly like watching Bambi learn how to walk), with coffee coursing through their veins the conversations slowly merge to productive, full-fledged chatter.
This is a conundrum for non-coffee drinkers (similarly to how non-smokers may have felt), and one that perhaps was not as pronounced for water breaks since most everyone drinks water. I am not a coffee drinker but have many friends and family who are so I've developed some coping mechanisms for not being completely left out of the loop:
*Get an office situated next to the coffee pot.
I honestly had nothing to do with this one, but I highly recommend it. People stop by to say hello and sit in a chair to relax. It's close enough that they can hear the cessation of burbling indicating that the coffee is ready and close enough that I get to benefit from the wonderful smell that accompanies the drink. One caveat, if you have to fight an addicted coffee-drinker for the office closest to the coffee pot, I'd stay away. Find another way to cope.
*Speak loudly of how much you love the smell of coffee. I have a good friend who would stop by my office (different office) every day after getting her coffee to chat and drink. Great conversations and my office smelled lovely for a bit of the morning. It may have gotten to the point that I was addicted to the smell since I, on more than one occasion, indicated I was glad to have her back after a vacation since my office didn't smell like coffee when she was gone. Truly, I appreciated her conversation much more than the coffee...somehow the coffee comment always came out of my mouth first. In any case, making yourself open to coffee drinkers bringing their morning beverage to your place for a chat helps to include you in the networking...sort of.
*If the coffee pot is located in a kitchen area, then consider bringing your lunch so you can put it in the kitchen about the same time everyone is congregating for coffee. It's a bit like stalking the coffee pot, but then again, so is everyone else. If you don't pack a lunch consider going to the kitchen periodically to get something. Obviously, this can only be done a couple days a week or you will start to look suspicious. You can only need a fork so many times during the day.
*Start drinking coffee. I'm sure a cup of joe wouldn't hurt me in the morning, and it would be nice to have an extra punch of energy to get me started. I just haven't warmed up to the taste yet, and I have plenty of other habits to break before starting a new one. However, if all else fails, my guess is that this would be a very effective way of not missing out on the coffee pot conversations.
For now, I am happily situated near a coffee pot in an office of fantastic coffee drinkers and content to remain mugless.