With the surge of computers in classrooms, psychologists are starting to worry about children’s lack of playtime. Play helps children generate ideas and explore in ways that desk-learning cannot, but play is not only important in the classroom. It’s just as important in the workplace.
People learn best through activities that are engaging, socially interactive, and joyful. Widespread research has shown that playing games and having fun at work increase employee productivity. But promoting play in the workplace doesn’t need to mean endless happy hours and team-building activities (though those are fun too). Here are three simple ways to introduce play in the day-to-day.
1. Assign employees to “host” meetings.
Lecture-style meetings run the risk of losing employees to distractions like their email or cell phones. Find a way to engage employees. At my company, a different member of our studio is assigned to “host” our weekly meeting. The host is essentially the emcee. He or she kicks off with a three-minute share of something in the world that excites or inspires him or her — anything from a new technology to a philosophy book. The host then moves through the rest of the agenda, inviting studio and design leads to present their updates. In addition to introducing diverse and unexpected discussions (and a different face at the front of the room) to a routine meeting, the host method also allows employees to share their interests with the rest of the team as a way to connect and build community.
2. Break up the day with mini-exercises.
Increases in mood, creativity, and productivity are just three of the many benefits of exercise. According to research discussed in the Harvard Business Review, there is evidence to suggest that exercise during work hours increases employees’ satisfaction with their jobs. While an obvious way to promote exercising is to allow employees to leave in the middle of the day to catch a workout class or go for a quick run, you might also consider small boosts of collaborative exercise during the day. One example is a “one-song” workout where the team repeats a simple routine (for example ten push-ups, ten sit-ups, ten jumping jacks) for the duration of one song. Another example is for everyone to hold a one-minute plank every hour. By giving your employees the gift of time to exercise, you’ll help them increase productivity at work, and go home happier–all while having fun.
3. Celebrate progress frequently.
According to Teresa Amabile, a researcher focused on organizational culture, one of the biggest influencers of employee productivity and happiness is the feeling of making meaningful progress toward a goal. Employees feel their progress is meaningful when they can see how it fits into the bigger picture of a project or organization. This is called the “progress principle.” Productive play is a great way to recognize and celebrate progress. On my teams, we do this through a daily calendar. We write each of the day’s tasks and its owner on a separate post-it note and stick all of them on the wall. Each time someone finishes a task, we take a moment to cross off the post-it note. It makes work feel like a fun game and allows us to celebrate progress and stay on the same page as a team. Digital tools like Trello and Jira have a similar effect.
Though work and play are often seen as opposites, work is actually improved by play. Experiment with your own methods to see what resonates best with the people on your team and the team dynamic. And of course, don’t forget to have fun while doing so.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.