Should fun come first in the workplace

Technology has seen working practises change dramatically and the office environment is following suit, with savvy bosses enjoying the increased productivity of a happy workforce

The notion that workplaces should have a healthy injection of fun has been gathering momentum since the dotcom era. Before then, the image of the workplace was very much a traditional one, featuring a standard office format of a large, square room with rows of desks and a scattering of corner offices.

All work and no play

However, since the turn of the century, bosses – entrepreneurs in particular – have developed the theory that happy, engaged and enthusiastic workers are more productive than those who are browbeaten, or bored to the very edge of insanity.

Today, few people would argue with the theory that staff members should want to come to work in order for them to produce the goods, but there is a line to be drawn between enjoying work and actually getting the job done. So, what is the optimum combination: a laugh a minute, whoopee cushions on seats and fancy dress Tuesdays – or something a little more subtle and discreet?

It seems opinions vary but according to John Lynch, chief executive of enterprise-class data transfer business Maytech, one thing is certain: work culture must be grounded in a set of principles that are genuine and authentic, otherwise there’s no point even starting.

“At Maytech we promote an open and honest culture first, where every opinion counts and everyone is encouraged to say what they really mean,” he says. “This goes a long way to helping people develop and enjoy where they work. Without this foundation all the fun stuff can feel very contrived.”

Begin with the basics

Having swings in the office doesn’t mean that people will automatically enjoy themselves: in general, a strong voice, a good salary, a clear career path and rewarding job spec are much higher on people’s list of wants. Swings come later.

So, assuming that as a boss you have the contractual fundamentals covered, and you are not secretly a nasty piece of work, what elements of fun can you introduce to inject some excitement into the working week?


“The office is now somewhere that provides a series of terrific environments that support both our work and social activities – and where colleagues have now become friends.”

Andrew Mackenzie, head of design at Area Sq


A good place to start is the design of the working environment. Area Sq is the company behind a number of large-scale office design and fit-out projects involving big brands like Magners, Playfish, Citrix and Sage Pay.

For Andrew Mackenzie, head of design at Area Sq, the key to creating the ideal office environment is understanding that offices don’t really exist any more.

“Technology has had a huge impact on the way we use, and interface with, our working environments,” he explains. “As work-life boundaries continue to erode, technology means we’re all connected all of the time.

“Perhaps it is now more fitting that office space is described as a ‘life space’, compared to the functional work spaces of yesteryear. The office is now somewhere that provides a series of terrific environments that support both our work and social activities – and where colleagues have now become friends.”

Creating office karma 

According to Andrew, the ingredients for a successful and enjoyable office are:

• Creating environments that lift human spirits
• Spaces that allow or promote chance encounters
• Spaces that facilitate communication and interaction
• Spaces that have a connection with the outside world
• Spaces that promote a sense of wellbeing
• Creating a place that people feel proud to be a part of and associated with

So, now you have a swish office environment where fun can be had, what extras need to be installed? Leanne Wookey, associate director at office design business NoChintz, argues that longer hours and more engagement at work mean people need home comforts to stay happy.

“We practice what we preach and have created a studio environment,” she says. “We don't have meeting rooms, we have breakout sheds constructed from plyboard. These are areas where our team can brainstorm, take a break or simply take their laptop to another place to work. We also have an outdoor terrace which we have installed games on – as you can imagine it was used a lot over the summer.”

Perks of the job 

Gavin Wheeler and his brother Craig set up marketing agency WDMP with poor experiences of previous jobs fresh in their memories. They have redesigned the company office space, created an agency bar which stages a ‘cocktail of the week’ and they supply free beer to people working late.

Staff members get a day off on their birthdays and are given £100 when they go on holiday – the only catch is that they have to provide photographic evidence of how they used the money. Perhaps more constructively, the bosses insist that everyone has written job descriptions, annual objectives, six-monthly reviews and bi-weekly one-to-one meetings.

“We foster a ‘work hard, play hard, have fun, make some money and do some good’ culture,” says Gavin. “We are fairly relaxed: there’s no dress code, we have music on in the office, and there’s an open and fairly flat, non-hierarchical structure – all this adds up to a motivating atmosphere.”  

Just rewards 

Meanwhile, Anil Pillai, chief executive of DigitasLBi, has his own views on what promotes a great company culture. In 2012, the business launched the ‘Summer of Love’ to encourage hard-working colleagues to spend more time at home with their families.

Simply put, it involved giving employees Friday afternoons off during July and August to help them enjoy the many sporting and cultural events taking place during the summer months of 2012, including the London Olympics and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

“We understand that for us to be a success our people need to happy and engaged, so we’re constantly looking for new ways to retain the unique feeling of belonging that makes DigitasLBi a place like no other,” says Anil.

Creating a great culture is all about giving staff members the opportunity to enjoy their work, whether that means creating lively spaces, common ground to chat with colleagues, or bonuses and incentives when they work particularly hard.

Technology and communications allow businesses to offer more ‘quid’ for their ‘pro quo’ and bosses striking the right balance between fun and hard work will reap the benefits in the form of happy employees and, as a result, blossoming sales.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK