It’s hard to imagine for many people, but once upon a time the office and other workplaces were just for working.
But today employees don’t just need a desk, chair and, probably, a computer, they also require activities to fill the times when they’re not working. But it’s certainly not all one-sided. For the businesses that provide and facilitate these activities the benefits can be enormous.
And, while it’s businesses like Google and Facebook that first spring to mind when thinking about the sorts of places where slides are provided to move from floor to floor and there’s a never-ending table football competition being held, all kinds of organizations, including some pretty formal ones, have started to see the wisdom of injecting some fun.
This can take many forms which range from providing a dedicated games room with consoles, screens and comfortable chairs to breaking away from traditional meeting rooms to more relaxed alternatives. So don’t be too surprised to turn up in an office to find a corner strewn with bean bags on the floor (ideally, not situated beneath the company darts board).
Naturally, this move towards a more relaxed and informal workplace culture has placed some extra pressures and strains on managers. In many cases it has needed a program to educate them in the reality that leisure time can be productive too. The fact that research has shown that mini breaks in the daily routine can increase productivity by up to 13% will have gone some of the way to reassure them, as will seeing the evidence for themselves.
As well as helping employees to focus more on the tasks they are given, there’s another very clear benefit of introducing social spaces into the workplace. Namely, it creates a stronger sense of cohesion across individuals and departments in much the same way that activity "away days" are intended to achieve. By making individual roles and responsibilities largely irrelevant in particular interactions, closer bonds are formed and, with them, greater feelings of loyalty. For businesses in which staff retention may have been an issue, and for whom recruitment is an expensive and time-consuming business, this is surely a significant bonus.
Providing social opportunities is just part of a wider picture in which taking good care of staff is key, for example by securing cheap workers’ compensation insurance. This could be particularly important as office games can sometimes mean accidents. And, regardless of this factor, it's an important protection to have in place for employer and employees alike. Other benefits like subsidised gym membership, health insurance schemes, and even regular office Pilates sessions, are also becoming more and more common.
Naturally, there are some employers who feel that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and employees are being pampered rather than rewarded. But, like many other advances in workers’ rights, once the momentum has started it proves increasingly difficult to push back against it. So it’s fair to say that we can expect workplaces to continue to become even more fun-focused – and that’s sure to bring a big smile to ever worker’s face.