Last September, a year ago, I posted an article on the messaging platform Slack. Since then, our office has transitioned to Microsoft Teams internally. I’m not certain if this will be our final resting point but it offers a significant advantage for us, it integrates with our existing Office 365 services, saves the chat history indefinitely and doesn’t cost anything additional. However, working and experimenting with both platforms has raised some interesting discussions in our office about productivity and the role of “play” in the work environment.
Slack seems more fun than Teams, does that matter?
One of the things our users felt was that when comparing Slack and MS Teams, Slack was more playful and fun to use. And I think that is one reason we picked up the platform so quickly and easily. This got me thinking about what factors contribute to the successful adoption of new technologies and software. Usually software programmers are focused exclusively on core functionality and usability and not how fun the program is to use. This is especially true of line of business applications like SAP, Salesforce, etc. BORING!!!!
So, I wonder is there a role for fun and playfulness in today’s professional office that will encourage productivity, creativity, better outcomes and improve the work environment? I’m not talking about the ping pong and pool tables or video games of the Dot Com/2000s work environments. I’m talking about making fun and playfulness an integral part of daily tasks, programs, etc.
Fun is like dessert, there’s always room
I remember entering the workforce after college and marveling at how serious people took their jobs and how stressed they’d become. Of course, I had no real responsibilities at the time except a car payment. In hindsight, I wasn’t very sympathetic to my coworkers with kids, mortgages, bills, etc. I would get so mad at how their desire for predictability would prevent them from trying anything new or taking on any new risks.
In this first job, I was tasked to educate a workforce who didn’t use email, had limited exposure to the Internet and relied heavily on manual logs, to start using modern computer and Internet based systems.
After deploying a new Exchange based email system, new high speed Internet (384K fractional T1) and all new computers, I set to work to try and get people to use these new systems and show their value to my bosses. I created daily and weekly games asking users to run through virtual scavenger hunts and trivia questions, and search for information online on any one of the many search engines of the time (Altavista, Lycos, Yahoo, Excite, etc.(Google didn’t exist)). People played along, we had fun and it worked! They learned how to effectively perform Internet based research, use email, and get Internet based driving directions!
Successful technologies and companies know the power of fun and play, go ask Facebook, Youtube, Woot and Giphy!
One company you’ve probably never heard of is Giphy. This company is built 100% on having fun and helping people express themselves. They collect, license and curate animated gifs and then make them available to many platforms including Slack and Teams, so users can insert the perfect animated images to show how they feel, creating more fun interactions with friends and coworkers. Now that’s fun!
Fun play keeps us engaged, creative and helps us stay relaxed and lucid. My grandfather taught me the value of fun when I was young. He was a constant tease and prankster. My family tells the story of when he brought a cow to the top of the Brown University Clock Tower knowing full well cows can easily go upstairs but not down.
Facebook and Apple use Fun to disrupt markets
Looking to grow their business beyond the confines of social networking, Facebook has started moving into the business world with their new product Workplace by Facebook. It is a new work focused messaging and productivity platform to take on the likes of Slack, MS, and Google! With a huge existing user base who knows their product, a product built around fun and play, Facebook is in a position to totally disrupt and take over as the business communications and collaboration platform of choice.
Apple turned the business phone market on its head in 2010 with the introduction of the iPhone. Users and developers flocked to the new platform because it was fun and flauted the restrictive conventions that the Blackberry products adhered to including using a physical keyboard and minimizing bandwidth use. They effectively put BlackBerry out of business and supplanted them as the business phone platform of choice.
Diverse work environments with young people is important and is fun!
As a traveling consultant, I get to see the inner workings of many of businesses. Based on that experience I think keeping a diverse workforce with young people is important. Young people don’t seem to have the same problem with embracing fun and new technologies as older people, myself included. I always learn something new and fun when I hang out with the younger staff at client sites. They are less rigid, more easily see the flaws in existing thinking and are more willing to take chances.
Is there a place for fun and play in my business?
I am convinced that having fun is critical to the success of my business. We are in a customer service business. We are the first people our clients call when things don’t work. Even though this is what we are here for, it is hard to regularly be on the receiving side of this negativity. It is easy to get burned out.
But we survive with daily, silly group rants, silly Giphy images, and occasional company outings. For me, this creates a sense of community (even though we’re constantly spread out), elicits an occasional laugh and helps me keep perspective during what can be long days. I think this elevates our service to our clients by keeping us happy and able to respond to our clients positively.
I don’t know if this approach will work for everyone, but I do think fun is powerful and can help with many businesses and organizations. I’ve seen successful sales and client service teams leverage silly messages to customers.
For example I once got the following message from one of our technology partners at the bottom of one of his emails.
Of course in today’s heightened security minded environment, clicking on a random links in an email is not advisable, so i’m not sure this is the best approach. But it was an interesting idea and the message did make me smile.
I don’t really know if there is a formula for fun and play in the workplace. In fact I suspect using a specified prescription could be experienced as formulaic and have the opposite effect. But I know for me it is a matter of keeping things light, remembering we’re not in the heart surgery business and that we should all be here by choice.