Playing at Work Will Not Only Make You Happier But Better at Your Job

Alexandra Lechner
Nov 30, 2020 · 6 min read
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Image by Braydon Anderson via unsplash.com

Never before has it been more critical to bring more fun and play into our daily work lives. When people enjoy what they do at work, they will want to do their jobs well, be more committed to delivering excellence, and indeed feel more loyalty towards their employer. For many of us, earlier this year we experienced a dramatic shift to remote working, and with the on-going situation, we have to review how we work individually and with our colleagues and teams.

Living playfully is proven to help us be more creative, happier, and navigate stress and failure. A shining example is Lego. Play is at the heart of what they do: as their core brand purpose, products, and customer experiences. Lego lives this from the inside out. At their annual ‘LEGO PLAY DAY’, for example, all employees spend the day together playing and having fun. This is their chance to reconnect on a human level and to build better and stronger working relationships and bonds among colleagues. Or as simply put by John Cleese, a well-respected British actor and comedian: “If you want people to be more creative, give them more time to play.”

So, what exactly is play at work? Why is it so important? How do we do it? How can we build the same connections and emotional bonds virtually? It’s definitely a challenge and some think hard even impossible to define!

“Trying to define play is like trying to define love. You can´t do it. It´s too big for that” — Gordon Sturrock, researcher of children’s play work and author of “The Play Cycle”

So, when we say “play at work”, are we asking you to play hide and seek with your colleagues? Not necessarily. What we mean is to bring elements of fun and humor that come with play into the workplace. When you think back to when you actually did play hide and seek, how did you feel? What were your motivations? Very likely it was just a fun and lighthearted way to spend time with a group of friends. And we would argue that just a fraction of this lightheartedness and sense of joy wouldn’t hurt many of today’s corporate environments to spark creativity, reduce anxieties and stress, as well as increase our well-being and productivity. Think gamification of otherwise boring tasks, Ping-Pong competitions during lunch break, or even slides and climbing walls around the office. There are opposing views as to whether unorthodox workplaces spark creativity and make people happier but we do know that studies agree there are positive effects of play at work including:

>> Increased motivation, creativity, and productivity.

>> Higher mutual trust among team members.

>> Improved health and mental well-being.

So, with remote work likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future, it is undeniable that we need to find relevant and new ways to bring more play into our working day which goes beyond annual play days, quirky offices, and lunch break competitions.

One interesting example that strikes a balance between integrating work and play is happening at SAP. Here, sales professionals prepare for client meetings with a gamified simulation app called “Roadwarrior”. The app allows users to practice for sales meetings with real clients and helps them develop a comprehensive knowledge of different technologies and industries. Players will answer multiple-choice questions and conduct simulated sales meetings whilst collecting points and badges, using up to three jokers, and conquering different levels of difficulty. They can even challenge other players and compete against each other.

But if for you like us, building an app is beyond your financial means, what simple but effective changes can you integrate into your working week to help bring people together and bond? Below are a few tips on how we keep our tribe and growing community together and motivated at A Tribe Called Humans.

At ATCH, we have created a simple Mural board for our short weekly check-in and checkouts. So on Monday, we post an image or post-it note of how we’re feeling after the weekend and what our work priorities are — a great way to say hello, re-connect and do a ‘temperature check’ to see if any of the team need support. Similar format for the check-out — with a couple of questions “What do you feel like at the end of this week?” and “What are you proud of this week?” and everyone is invited to share their thoughts and feelings using sticky notes, images, gifs. For us, it’s a great way to develop our human connections and keep track of our workflow and team capacity.

On a more playful note, Mural is also great for fun team activities like sharing your funniest childhood images or setting up challenges like this one:

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For more ideas on fun activities using Mural click here.

At ATCH, one of our key vibes is ‘Always ask questions’. We’re curious and ask why a lot, putting learning over knowing which helps us to create better deeper human connections and relationships. It’s a key method we use for onboarding new tribe members at our virtual welcome sessions so that they can get to know more about ATCH and us a people in a relaxed comfortable way (and we continue to find out more about each other!). We always find new inspiration and share questions in our #beautifulquestionwiki Slack channel as part of our community chat. Here are some examples of our favourite questions:

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We held our first Creative Jam this month, where we virtually met across several time zones and brainstormed over a business question which one of our collaborators had shared on our #needhelp Slack channel. We used Google Jamboard, which is like a more interactive version of Powerpoint where everyone can edit the slide in real-time. We split into smaller breakout sessions and brainstormed assumptions and ideas around the business question. A really fun way to bond as a team, work together (and help out a fellow teammate), relax over a drink, and be creative without the pressure of a pitch or client deadline!

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We hope that this gave you some ideas on how to incorporate more playful elements into your work life. For us, a tribe that plays together stays together or as the fantastical Mary Poppins lived by:

“In every job that must be done. There is an element of fun.”

— — —

For more information, check out our inspo here:

Anadea (2018) How Gamification in the Workplace Impacts Employee Productivity, Retrieved from https://medium.com/swlh/how-gamification-in-the-workplace-impacts-employee-productivity-a4e8add048e6

Davis, M. (2019) Why more play is the key to creativity and productivity, Retrieved from https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/play-creativity

Kashyap, V. (2018) Humor At Work — Why It Needs To Be A Part of The Work Culture, Retrieved from https://blog.proofhub.com/humor-at-work-61809bf7cb1e

Tales of A Tribe Called Humans

Thoughts on strategy, design and culture that work better for people (and business).

Alexandra Lechner

Written by

Organisational Psychologist | Collaborator at A Tribe Called Humans

Tales of A Tribe Called Humans

A curated stream of consciousness about the various aspects of taking a human-first approach to strategy, design and culture. Topics include (creative) leadership; psychology; product-, service-, experience- & culture design; business & brand strategy.

Alexandra Lechner

Written by

Organisational Psychologist | Collaborator at A Tribe Called Humans

Tales of A Tribe Called Humans

A curated stream of consciousness about the various aspects of taking a human-first approach to strategy, design and culture. Topics include (creative) leadership; psychology; product-, service-, experience- & culture design; business & brand strategy.

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