When’s the last time you played a game… at work? Introducing Workswell, a subsidiary of Playworks and a new focus of serial entrepreneur Jill Vialet (pictured) who wants to radically improve work cultures through intentional play, design, and storytelling.

Jill Vialet, on the Future of Work

Amy Clark
Published in
4 min readJan 31, 2020


Hi, I’m Jill, creator of: Playworks — we’re a national network that works in and with schools to promote the power of play and bring out the best in kids. I’m also launching 2 new projects: Substantial that improves the substitute teaching experience for everyone, and Workswell that brings play, design and storytelling into corporations.

Homebase: Oakland, CA, for 30 years. Second home: airports across the country.

10 years ago: We were designing the path to scale for Playworks and how to go from flagship model to broad adoption.

Today: We’re helping our regional offices become sustainable and unleashing others to drive the movement — not just “train” folks but really hand over ownership. We’ve evolved how we measure success, from direct outcomes to changing behaviors. What do we want? The presence of safe and healthy play in school, no matter who’s doing it. And for me personally, I’m mindful of shifting my role to more of an educator and mentor, someone who supports others to carry forward the work.

Early inspiration: Growing up I felt a little “other,” maybe a bit nerdy, not quite belonging. Getting to play was the thing where I felt most myself and connected to others. One person really made the difference for me: Clarence, who was a Parks & Recreation supervisor in Washington, D.C., where I grew up. Clarence made sure I got in the game.

Surprising facts: 1) A Playworks randomized control trial showed one of the most dramatic impacts on reducing bullying ever documented; 2) In any moment, 10 percent of the teachers standing in front of American classrooms are substitute teachers — a huge opportunity for our kids that can be better optimized; 3) When people who share a workplace get the chance to tell stories about themselves and what inspires them, they build trust and rapport. Playful work cultures also see greater productivity and profit.

Top of mind trends: 1) The polarization that defines our cultural moment. I’m both struck by how entrenched people are — and at the same time, I encounter people every day who want nothing more than to create bridges and be part of a world where belonging is more present in schools, workplaces, and our democracy. 2) What happens when we intertwine work and play through intentional design. Can this intertwining help us live more creative and fulfilled lives, and get comfortable with our messy interdependence?

On my bookshelf: Right now, Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein, which David Bornstein recommended. Also, I’m shamelessly making my way through Sarah Maas’ young adult fantasy series, the Throne of Glass. I’m a giant a fantasy and sci-fi fan — Patrick Rothfuss, NK Jemisin, and Ursula Le Guin.

Want to get better at: Drawing — I love to draw and want to do it more it. I’m doing sketches of the U.S. Presidents now, inspired by reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times.

Last played a game: Yesterday. I led three games for a corporate workshop: Stand up, Mingle and Tell Me A Story. Another favorite of mine: RoShamBo Rockstar! We’re proud of the game library we’ve built up — a free resource to anyone looking to incorporate more and better play into group experiences.

Look to young people for: Openness, hopefulness, creativity around the challenges we face. These are essential to our getting past this moment. We need to listen to them.

Changemaker who inspires me: Joe Marshall was one of the first Ashoka Fellows I met, 20 years ago. Joe has the ability to think big systems change while doing the hard work on the ground — in his case, with “street soldiers.” Moving between these two requires commitment and agility — not getting trapped in just the theory, or just the direct impact. In my experience, all skillful entrepreneurs have this navigation skill.

Next up, I’m tagging: Casey Woods, a fellow Ashoka Fellow who is working to reduce gun violence. Casey’s an inspiring leader for our moment, a bridge in our polarized country.

Follow Jill on Twitter here, Playworks here, Substantial here, and Workswell here.

This post was condensed by Ashoka, the largest global network of social entrepreneurs, with 3,800 Ashoka Fellows in 90+ countries. You can follow Ashoka’s US team on Twitter and Instagram, and sign up for our popular Friday newsletter here.

P.S. — We asked to peek inside Jill’s sketchbook. Here’s what we found! Part of Jill’s U.S. Presidents sketch series she talks about above.