Saying “work hard, play hard” these days makes you sound like a bit of a melon. It implies an ultra-aggressive approach to sending emails followed by manic binge-watching Netflix. More importantly, it implies that ‘play’ and ‘work’ are mutually exclusive when actually they aren’t. (It also implies that talking to you will be a massive bore).
Work shouldn’t be a fun vacuum – we spend too much of our lives at work to let that happen. Yes, a large chunk will be dry (I’m looking at you conference calls), but not all the boring bits have to be so void of emotion and energy.
If we take ourselves less seriously and be a little more playful, we will enjoy our jobs more, engage with each other more, and build epic workplace cultures. You might even laugh a little.
‘Play hard’ should just be translated to having more fun. There are two types of fun at work: 1) fun you make time for; 2) fun you put into your time. The first is where the money goes (if you’re lucky); Christmas parties, team-building trips and late-night karaoke (mine is “Rocket Man” in case you’re wondering), but it’s the second kind of fun I want to talk about. It’s the fun that you inject into the day-to-day that gets me up in the morning.
At Play, our company mission is “to create playful experiences that inspire”. It’s become the north star for everything we do. Play isn’t about having as many Christmas parties as possible (one is quite enough), it’s about putting a playful spin on every day to get better engagement and better results. It’s about wanting to go into work on Monday. It’s about being yourself.
When making my own game, someone gave me advice I’ve never forgotten:
Making a game is easy, making a fun game is hard
Insightful buddy of mine
He was 100% right. I made the game, but it wasn’t fun enough (R.I.P Barry the Goat). Today, I feel the same about my work – sending emails is easy, but making them playful, friendly or engaging is the hard part. Especially when you’re against a deadline!
At work, people are often reluctant to loosen up because they’re worried about being perceived as unprofessional. If you trust that your team can do their jobs and can enjoy themselves at the same time then it’s easier to inject fun into everyday tasks. If instead, you believe that “serious = professional” then you’ve fallen into a trap that will kill team morale, damage your output and ultimately increase turnover.
We’ve done some big playful projects at Play; we made learning about tax fun through a Tax Game (no, really), we’ve built apps that give badges for scanning and measuring pipes, and we’ve created online leagues for engineers fixing boilers. But we’ve also done 6 small things that you can take away and try today.
1. Absolutely do not send that next meeting invite without an emoji 🙅🏻♂️
Who’s super excited for the “Finance Quarterly Update”? No-one.
Who’s super excited for the “💰Super Magic Money Meeting! 💰”? Well, a few more people who are a touch more excited than before. Success! You don’t need to set the world alight, but injecting a little more fun makes your interactions lighter.
2. Start sessions with a quiz 📋
How do you think we raise interest before meetings?
We ask questions before! About to show usage stats? Ask your team to guess first. About to present client feedback? Get your partner to take a guess at what they said. People are much more likely to remember something which made them think first.
3. Share personal stories 📖
So much of the narrative in business is contrived to look grown-up and serious. Company news and updates can be personal stories with genuine feeling and humour, where appropriate.
4. Play an actual game – like our Treasure Hunt 🏴☠️
Your task is to think about when you can use this game. As it happens, we’ve got a great template here you can use. Our Halloween Treasure Hunt toured all our Players through our office. It only took about 10 minutes but it had everyone enjoying themselves, for new Players they met new people, and for existing it was an opportunity to catch up with people you don’t usually connect with on a daily basis. Christmas is coming up, what better place to start?
Remember that applying a bit of fun at work isn’t a gimmick. Playful experiences don’t need to be complex, but it is a muscle that needs exercise often. Play’s mission is to create playful experiences that inspire, which means we always trying to exercise this muscle too.
So when you’re next bringing the team together, ask yourself: “How can I make this more playful?”