Kick it like Google

No one expects their place of work to be like an adventure playground. But managers have recognized the need to offer staff more than an ergonomic desk and decent coffee.

Table Soccer 24/7

In offices that thrive off creativity, such as young tech start-ups or ad agencies, staff are all but forced into playing games at work. Many feature table soccer tables dotted throughout the building to ensure that stressed digital natives can dash to the nearest barsball table to break the tension by kicking a little plastic ball around a piece of green felt. Other companies favor the good old table tennis table, either the full-sized original or in a miniature version.

Play at the office has long been seen as epitomizing the modern work environment. Internet giants such as Google took a lead in offering analog leisure activities that were the height of fashion in the 19th century. Google’s offices from Hamburg to the Silicon Valley even feature full-on “play zones”.

Playing billiards Google Dublin (Design: evolutiondesign, Foto: Peter Würmli)

Disruptive Innovation

Someone, somewhere made a connection between table soccer and disruptive innovation. Suddenly, a bonsai version of a soccer field on stilts was seen as a touchstone that would boost creativity at the workplace to new heights. In the “Valley”, the term barsball (a corruption of the German word “Fußball”) has become the insiders’ nomenclature for table soccer. Company leaders in Europe, however, were slow in realizing that having antiquated toys standing around didn’t magically transform their corporate culture, or somehow turn their employees into an army of little Mark Zuckerbergs.

Google cottoned on and tried other ways of keeping its employees at work for longer. Among these are Michelin-starred restaurants, first-class concerts for staff and a company shuttle service, provided to forge ever-closer ties between the company and its workforce. Google even runs a bus service in San Francisco that picks up programmers who don’t own a car and brings them to work, presumably ferrying them back late at night.

PlayStation Arcade Action

But these kinds of employee perks have also started to find their way into other industries beyond the creative playgrounds of ad agencies and tech companies. A recent study in Germany listed companies that are trying their hardest to catch up with Google. Heading the list of German Companies With The Most Employee Perks was renewable electricity supplier Lichtblick, which even set up barsball tables in company colors and offered staff magazines and entertaining reading for their breaks. The company that tried hardest, though, was Arithnea, a digital service consultancy. All seven regional offices feature gaming rooms with PlayStations and Nintendo consoles hooked up to wall-sized screens. Employees can head for one of the comfy sofas to enjoy the latest first-person shooter, probably just like their kids are doing at home.

Playroom at Google Dublin (design: evolutiondesign, photo: Peter Würmli)

Play As A Competitive Advantage

Planners designing office space for employee-oriented companies should be include plenty of space for entertaining staff. While the jury is still out on whether these facilities actually increase productivity, the real driver here is a desire to heighten a company’s chances of attracting qualified and talented workers. These days, candidates often ask about these kinds of perks during their interviews. For many companies, play and relaxation at work has become a way of out-performing the competition. The option of rekindling creativity with a few minutes of creative play may make sense in some cases. Those looking for a more interactive form of workplace entertainment should try a round of boules on the office carpet.

Budget-Conscious Approaches To Team-Building

Playing a game with colleagues or co-workers often has a positive effect on group dynamics, offering a way of resolving some intra-team conflicts “on the pitch”.

But office games can also offer a cheap yet accessible way to support team-building. Some companies go to extraordinary lengths to instill that elusive sense of bonding in their teams, like renting a nearby sports facility. A group hug after winning a table soccer match can, however, be just as effective. And not every office has to mimic Google’s approach, which includes playground slides between floors for a few seconds of child-like excitement during your work day. Rumors that the working day at Google begins with game of hide-and-seek followed by a milk snack and nap remain unconfirmed.

Gaming area at VodafonZiggo, Rotterdam (design: evolutiondesign, photo: Peter Würmli)

Header photo: Google Dublin (design: evolutiondesign, photo: Peter Würmli)

Author: Klaus Rathje

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