A Japanese beverage maker has taken the wraps off a workplace vending machine it hopes will help restore interactions and creativity to offices and factories amid the coronavirus pandemic -- by providing free drinks when two employees scan their ID cards at the same time.

Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd., which unveiled what it has dubbed the "company president's treat" for corporate customers last Tuesday, aims to install the vending machines at 100 companies by 2022, beginning in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The cost of the free drinks will be covered by the client firms

Two people scan their work IDs together at a new vending machine unveiled by Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd. in Tokyo on Oct. 19, 2021. (Kyodo)

The idea for the special vending machine emerged after the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in those working from home, consequently reducing interactions with bosses and colleagues. Suntory said it hopes the machines will increase opportunities for small talk when people do go to the workplace and foster new ideas.

The machines, which otherwise serve as normal vending machines when work IDs are not scanned, can be customized to limit the number of beverages an employee can get per day, or limit the time or day of the week when the free drink service is offered, among other modifications.

It generated positive feedback when office supply manufacturer Kokuyo Co. installed the machine for a trial at its Tokyo office in February.

Altogether, 97.8 percent of surveyed Kokuyo users said the vending machine acted as a nice conversation starter, with employees noting it was both fun to use and raised office morale. One respondent also said it had provided a chance to talk to a colleague for the first time in several years.

"We want to create a little more happiness across a range of different offices," a senior Suntory official said.