How do you create an environment of play in the workplace?

10th December 2020


As humans all we really want is to feel like we belong. We need to know there’s a place for us, and the workplace is no exception. In our book Be More Kid we argue that the key to living your best life is to reconnect with the resources you had as a child and blend them with the best bits of being an adult. At work it’s no different. It should contain elements of the playground – perhaps not the running around and throwing balls, but everyone should be encouraged to play, interact, and have fun.

One of the cornerstones of a great culture is safety. We’re not talking health and safety here, but rather a safe space to be who you are. This year has been so tough on so many, and a strong culture is one where everyone, from the top down, can openly share their fears, worries and vulnerabilities. It’s amazing how the team spirit can thrive if you make safety one of the key principles. Everything comes from this. It’s the same with kids, an environment where they feel safe is a solid foundation on which to build. They are then free to experiment, push boundaries and try new things. This is where the innovation happens.

I guess I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve worked in radio stations since I was 14 and play and passion are built into the DNA of those places. There is buckets of creativity, and the station output is piped around the whole building – even the toilets! Interesting guests and celebrities are always popping in and the people who work there are often, by their very nature, loud, passionate ‘big kids’!

HDY feels very similar, we have many creative people in the team so it’s a fun place to work. But we are always looking for opportunities to make it feel more like a place people want to come to every day, rather than one they simply have to.

PUT THIS INTO PRACTICE IN YOUR WORKPLACE

Just before the Coronavirus lockdown we started a ‘gratitude wall’.  Along the wall of the office we’ve stuck everyone’s pictures up, and then next to the pictures we all stick a post it note explaining what we appreciate about that colleague. At the end of the week we read them out to remind ourselves of how important we are to each other. It’s a heartening and encouraging feeling when you hear what your colleagues value about you, and it creates a real sense of community hearing the things they say about the whole team.

Another idea to promote play and fun in your workplace would be an annual ‘Play Day’, where everyone is encouraged to have a paid day off to go and ‘play’.  This can be anything they choose, in fact it would be interesting to all report back and see what everyone got up to: fishing, ice skating, bowling, running, reading – anything they have a passion for. It would also make some great content for your social channels!

Look for the opportunities to have fun. If you’re part of multi-site group, instead of just arranging Christmas trees for the sites, arrange a Christmas tree competition: offer a prize for the best one and pick a head judge to go around and choose the best one. If you’re all based in the same place, what about an art class where everyone creates their own Christmas bauble? And if you’re wondering if some of these ideas are a bit too silly: you’re missing the point. Kids wouldn’t find them silly. Being creative and trying something new are some of the most important things you can do to build a strong work culture. 

How do you celebrate birthdays at your office or workplace? I’ve worked in places where on their birthday people bring cakes in for the whole office. They are placed on a central table and it works as another excuse for people to meet, chat and enjoy a slice or two of a Colin the Caterpillar cake. Also don’t let lockdown stop the celebrations. For our second birthday at HDY my co-founder and I drove round to every employee’s house with a cake, birthday card and bottle of fizz – it’s always the personal touches that make the biggest difference.

Look for ways to join together, perhaps with a mutual cause in mind. Movember is a great opportunity for all the guys to grow a moustache and share progress pictures every week with the team.  It’s a great way to support a charity too. You could even turn it into an awards ceremony, with silly prizes for the best moustache, the most creative moustache or the one that most looks like it wouldn’t withstand a stiff breeze!

Why not tap into the skillset of the team and set up daily activities? At HDY we’ve recently launched a wellbeing programme on Zoom where every day one of the team leads a 30 minute session of some description: it could be a workout, a drawing session, or a yoga class. Every Friday we play games for half an hour. One of the most enjoyable was a quiz about the team – it’s amazing the things you didn’t know about the people you work with.

We’d love to hear your ideas on what works for you. We spend so much of our time at work, we owe it to ourselves and our teams to make it as enjoyable as possible.

There’s also a strong business case for this. A team who are engaged, motivated and passionate do their best work, have less days off sick, and it’s amazing how it spreads throughout the company – passion is infectious! It leads to innovation, increased productivity and creativity, will help you hire better people and hugely increases staff retention. 

Most people agree that our schooldays were the best days of our lives, so why not bring the best bits of school into our work lives.

Be More Kid by Ed James, Mark Taylor and Nicky Taylor is out now, published by Wiley

Original article published on Business West.