Creating a Fun Work Environment Does Not Have to be a Painful Affair

Let’s do a quick recap on Varsity’s most recent (and awesome) events:

1. We found an interesting twist on volunteering – in early February Varsity participated in the 3rd annual Tech Search Party, described as San Francisco’s premiere smart phone scavenger hunt. It was a challenging tech scavenger hunt in Noe Valley with the purpose of raising funds to improve technology for students at three local public schools: Alvarado Elementary, James Lick Middle School, and Marshall Elementary. Our team of volunteers had a great time running around the neighborhood searching for answers to 10 very challenging clues. Although we did not win first place (or anywhere close), we had a blast and were very happy to contribute to the $55,000 raised by this event (Google is a major sponsor of the annual event).

2. We enjoyed our first ever Office Ski Trip! We hopped onboard the Bay Area Ski Bus at 4:00am (yikes!) on a Saturday morning and drove to Tahoe for a beautiful day on the slopes. All were welcome to join us, which was great to meet and connect with our coworkers’ families and friends. The trip was very well organized with hot chocolate, snacks, and movies on the bus (pictures below).

Creating culture that fits your organization:

While many organizations have “event planners” of some kind – officially or not – I find that without support the results are minimal. This is understandable because we are of course, at work, and thinking of fun things to do as an office can often be pushed aside or seen as just another chore. It might seem that at least one person would have to be dedicated to this job alone, in order to take on planning volunteer events, company outings, potluck lunches and pizza parties, birthdays, new employee welcome parties, the sad but occasional farewell party, holiday planning, decorations, etc. etc. (Party Planning Committee anyone??) Many large organizations not only have a dedicated person, but a whole team. In fact, I recently learned about an organization in San Francisco that has an “Experience Team,” which as the name suggests, is solely responsible for improving and enhancing the experience of every employee, as well as clients and anyone who walks through their doors. However many small businesses can’t afford to have a team of dedicated individuals for the sole purpose of building culture, planning events, and managing wellness. But that’s okay, there are ways to make it happen for any kind of organization.

Here are a few suggestions for coming together as a team to rustle up some fun:

  • Start a committee. Although I would advise calling it something other than a “committee,” a name that tends to make those who hear it suddenly look as if they have been sucking on a lemon. Sour faces abound, this “committee” does not have to be like that. Try giving it a fun name, bring a few mind-scrambling games or a puzzle to the meeting to help people loosen up, or even hold the meeting after work at happy hour. Anything you can think of to bring people together to discuss creating a warm office culture will have a positive effect. You’ll be well on your way in no time. This doesn’t have to be torture – it can be fun and effective.
  • Your goal as a committee should center on one idea: Action. Make things happen and don’t overthink it. Be open to ideas and work as a team. So often we get trapped in the details, over think things to death, and while I am not knocking details, sometimes we must allow things to be simple – this stuff is supposed to be for fun, so try to look at it that way.
  • Try getting together twice a month, or even once a month to discuss ideas and perhaps a few “light” assignments or goals that each member can take on, but make sure that the goals are things they are interested in and excited about. For example, I did not grow up on the slopes – have gone snowboarding only once in my life, so organizing a ski trip would have been stressful for me, as it is unknown territory. However, our Client Manager, Jonathan came up with the idea and was super excited to research and organize. He is extraordinarily busy from day to day, but his natural effort paid off, and everyone had a blast. Similarly, our Sales Assistant, Shoua, loved the idea of the Tech Search Party (introduced by our Marketing Director, Julia) so much, that she decided to take on the planning. When people take action with things they are interested in, you will start to see that good things naturally begin to happen. Be sincere in your approach, and watch as it builds momentum and grows.
  • Also, it is important to introduce healthy initiatives into the office on an ongoing basis, so that employees begin to integrate “goodness” into their work-life without really questioning it.

Employees often have ideas for fun and healthy things to do, but without knowing who to present their idea to, or how it will be received, it can be intimidating to initiate the conversation. Fostering an open and supportive forum for sharing ideas is a way to organically erase that barrier. Invite anyone who is interested to participate, and watch as people creep out from behind their desks, brush off the dust that has gathered from lack of activity, and allow some wellness into their day.

In my opinion, it is a cycle: culture and wellness contributes to happiness, contributes to motivation, contributes to satisfaction, contributes to improved performance, contributes to more satisfied clients, contributes to lower turnover and more profitability!

While in this post I am speaking primarily about internal office culture, I’ll just plant a seed for thinking about how building these internal initiatives can contribute to creating the culture that speaks to and attracts clients and job seekers. More on that, in a later post…