Work Hard, Play Harder?

When teams of people work under intense pressure with challenging deadlines it’s understandable they may need to let off steam when the opportunity allows. The team building process is essential to improve the atmosphere in a workplace. It also increases morale, comradeship, and productivity.

Many creative organisations, historically ad agencies but now also those taking a page out of the dot.com playbook, have taken the radical approach of providing breakout rooms containing play activities for their people. This offers the opportunity of cleansing the imaginative juices and rebooting innovation.

Take a break

My first job was in advertising so I am very aware of this industry in particular being mocked mercilessly for installing air hockey tables and games consoles for use by staff needing a short respite between industrious bursts. However, it’s a proven fact that short breakaway pursuits and a conducive environment for creativity to be expressed are safeguards against exhausting mental and imaginative capability. Heaven knows I have more than my fair share of Lego, so I not only fully understand why fun distractions are important, I wholeheartedly support them too.

It therefore came as a bit of a shock when my boot was jammed awkwardly on my other foot recently. I’d called a meeting with a small digital agency to understand why a client’s project was months overdue. I found myself a little bemused to discover their visitors were proudly led to a conference area adjacent to something that resembled a child’s rumpus room. Here I was informed that candidates for an internship or vacant post became very excited at the prospect of having access to space hoppers and hover boards during work time.

“Your job is sooooo cool. You guys get to ride unicycles around the office all day. I want to work here!”

Interestingly, a recent survey by Marketing Week of more than 1,000 employees across various industries and functions found that only 16 per cent felt their work environment presented a barrier to their creativity. Yet more than 33 per cent blamed time constraints for stifling imagination. Oh, the irony.

The waiting game

To the client, or their representative in this case, who is on site to speed up delivery, the display of time-sapping toys is probably not fully thought through. Confronted with the reality their fees are paying for this obvious distraction also smacks a little hard. Ouch.

The reason Pixar, Facebook, and Google’s ‘play’ rooms are the object of acceptance rather than derision is due to their exceptional people who deliver to a truly outstanding level. Customers have no umbrage to bear when their expectations have been exceeded and assignments have been successfully delivered on time and on budget.

A happy medium

The balance is for recreational diversion to be the reward for hard work and client satisfaction. When that hasn’t been achieved, poorly placed toys can appear to present the middle finger to dissatisfied, frustrated customers.

I was left wondering who the ‘uber-cool, totally awesome’ breakout areas are there to impress. Are they genuine and serve a real purpose? Or are they simply a misguided attempt to give the appearance of being fun and creative? Maybe a strategically-placed model of the Millennium Falcon holds a clue?

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