following a theme around labor day, the LA area chamber asked me to present to the bimonthly referral breakfast on taking the labor out of labor and making work fun. i’ve heard a lot of talk from friends about workplaces blocking social networking sites or banning other non-work activities in an effort to get employees focused on spending more of their day working. i have always found this to be a silly idea. people need breaks, they’re not machines, so if it’s not facebook, it’s going to be something else. why not accept breaks and non-work activities as part of the workday and take them back so people are happily contributing in a variety of activities?
creative brainstorming: set aside some time to work on upcoming projects in a freeform brainstorming session. if you work in a big company, take your department or some crossover folks from related departments. if you’re a small studio, select the team assigned to a certain project. if you work on your own, set up a group of other independent professionals in your industry. get everyone out of their offices and start some open creative discussions on how best to approach the next assignment or project. bouncing ideas off others can help refine them before work is done, or inform you on a new direction you hadn’t considered. in many cases, ideas are the most valuable thing we sell, so giving people an open space where they can play and cultivate them helps everyone get to better ideas.
improvement strategies: this is going to sound meta, but i think it’s important to get outside of work and then talk about work and ways to improve workflow. rather than assume you have a finished system, treat it like an evolving creature that’s best managed by allowing for change and improvement by the people running the workflow systems. take your department or compose a group of people from related departments. if you’re in a small company, include everyone. if you’re on your own, compose a group from within your industry with similar challenges and systems. for each meeting, pick one system, talk about how it’s going and let the people directly involved contribute their thoughts on improvement. allowing people to contribute improvements on the way they work makes them feel valued and engaged. they know what they do best, let them help make it better.
net-walking: why settle for the same old status meetings in the conference room or around the boss’ desk? get your blood circulating and get outside for a walk & talk meeting or department check-in. or if you work on your own, set up a net-walking group where you talk about how things are going, and set out your goals for the next week. this kind of outing takes the same amount of time as a sit-down meeting, but it gets people energized and makes everyone feel good that the idea they need to do everything work-related inside is a myth.
plan a field trip to a relevant site or exhibit: support professional development on the job with periodic group trips to places relevant to your industry. if you’re a design team, visit a design-related museum exhibit every other month and alternate with visits to print vendors or lunch with your web development team. if you work on your own, set up a professional development group with meetup or your local AIGA chapter and go to events together or set up vendor tours as a group. when you learn about the systems that affect your own workday, you can better plan around how those systems work, and work with your vendors more effectively. and if you’re just going to look at really cool stuff, well, that’s inspiring for the times when you get to make really cool stuff!
research & presentation group: rather than expecting employees to do research on their own time, make it part of the workday. whether you work for a company or on your own, compose a group that does 1 hour of research on relevant topics to work or the industry, and meets once per week to bring their favorite item to share and present. everybody benefits from each persons unique perspective, and you can actively build a collection of great resources.
networking lunches: the concept is pretty simple, but usually doesn’t get organized as a team building experience. choose a group of main contacts from a few departments, or a list of cross-disciplinary solopreneurs [2 print designers, 2 web developers, 2 illustrators, 2 photographers] , and have lunch on a biweekly or monthly basis to build relationships, learn about what each person does and expand your own horizons. you can let them be freeform networking, or pick a theme or discussion topic and address something new each time. giving people who have a working relationship a chance to know each other better outside work allows them to see the bigger picture of each person’s workday, and they work together more harmoniously in the future.
team building outreach: one great way to focus on relationships and team building outside the office is to organize outreach efforts. pick an organization you’d like to support, and assemble a team to participate on behalf of your company or industry. you can walk or run for a fundraising charity, get a group of green thumbs to help with organizations that replant green spaces, or take time out of the holidays to work at your local soup kitchen. what does this do for work? it gives people a chance to get outside their roles and work together outside structure, solving problems as a matter of consensus, and getting to know each other better as part of the process.
aside from the benefits we try to quantify when justifying indirectly productive activities, these things are fun and engaging, and make for motivated people who feel valued beyond simply their contributions to work. support and appreciation for professional development leads to self-motivation, which is invaluable in the workplace, but it starts by making room for it and letting go of the false work ethic dictating that any time spent away from a desk is time lost. rather, it’s time invested.
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