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Office Culture... and the mysterious effect of that ping-pong table next to my desk.

Office Culture... and the mysterious effect of that ping-pong table next to my desk.

Office Culture... and the mysterious effect of that ping-pong table next to my desk.

Ah, good ol’ “Office Culture”. It’s that elusive thingamajig that Sandra in HR is always on about. John in accounting firmly believes it’s his fantasy football tournament. And the gossiping poison dwarf that literally huffs when colleagues collaborate in the purpose-built collaborative office space is the toxic employee that just isn’t a culture fit. Clearly, I have some scars… but he sat right across from me and never stopped complaining. It really was quite an anomaly to behold.

Thank my lucky stars, I recently moved from that modern, collaborative, open-plan office to the floor below, where the cool kids sit. Saying farewell to the ocean of blue carpet titles, dotted with six-bench bench desk islands Instead, I scraped my shit into a large box and said “Adieu, you toxic f*c#!ng slug,” and skipped out with great glee. 

My new workplace does not wait for the employees to dictate the culture in the office. When the doors swing open, you are greeted by something very different. There’s no ceiling, and all the aircon ducting is painted bright red against the concrete roof. There are plants everywhere! Plants hang from the cable trusses, suspended from the roof, and Woods mobile planters all around the office. A wallpaper forest surrounds the open-plan kitchen and lounge where we do video conferences and wellness sessions. Swivel armchairs with matching footstools, gigantic bean bags, and plush cushions on the occasional chairs lure you in with a stylish homeliness. Bespoke planter boxes with integrated soft bench seating skirt the room, and the hub table bench easily seats ten of us for breakfast and a chat to start the day.

This isn’t just an office. It’s an instant community. And the expectations of our communal culture is dictated by the furniture and design choices of the office environment.

As you make your way to the open work area, there are two signature pieces that speak to the philosophy underlying our office culture: a branded table football and a ping-pong table.

What could a game in the office possibly contribute to a productive work environment, you ask? That’s what I thought when I first walked in. But it soon became clear that no-one uses either the ping-pong table, or the foosball to distract themselves from getting their work done. When I asked the CEO, he directed me to an informative article on the website of human resources business, CIPHR. Enticingly titled ‘Six Reasons Why Fun in the Office Is the Future of Work’, it boldly states:
1. Happy employees are healthier
2. Having fun improves communication and collaboration
3. Fun breeds creativity
4. Promoting fun attracts an audience
5. Having fun makes employees more productive
6. Having fun encourages advocacy

Along with some pretty convincing statistics, one bit stuck with me:
“Creative environments have an atmosphere and activity that is easily distinguishable. There’s a buzz in the air, colleagues are enthusiastic and energetic, and there are lots of conversations happening. This creative culture can be nurtured by injecting fun initiatives into employees’ daily lives. Challenges and problem-solving exercises, whether as a result of a day-to-day activity or introduced in the form of competitions or initiatives, are an effective way to increase innovation within the workforce.”

As a creative copywriter, I can personally recognise the improvements in my free-thinking and brainstorming processes. It has become easier to devise unusual solutions to strategic marketing problems. If any of the writers hit a block we pick up the ping-pong paddles for a quick three-point round-robin tournament. Standing around the ping-pong table as spectators we casually discuss whatever creative impasse is at hand, and when it is your turn to pick up the paddle, the focus shifts to something completely different - a tiny white ball and three points to dethrone the current champ. Ten minutes later, the writers are pounding away at their keyboards, relaxed, happy, and with plenty of fresh, oxygenated blood coursing through their brains.

Then there is the foosball table. Watching the casual competition and tongue-in-cheek boasting that the foosball fanatics get stuck into, it is easy to see how communication, collaboration, and advocacy is far healthier here than in my previous office.

Quite frankly, I totally suck at foosball. The table taunts me and sometimes when no-one is looking, I flick the abacus beads just to experience what it feels like when you score a goal. Practise makes perfect… But, then again, we aren’t aiming to join the International Table Soccer Federation any time soon.

Inspired, I actually did a bit of reading about the illustrious sport of table football, and found that the very first patent for the game originated right here, in the UK. A fella named Harold Searles Thornton submitted a patent almost 100 years ago, in October 1921. That gives our HR department a couple of years to plan an epic centenary tournament. The history of foosball is really quite entertaining, and if you are a fan (of either reading or table soccer) the Smithsonian has a fabulous article on their website detailing the whole debacle.

So, the foosball table and the ping-pong table now make a lot of sense to me. Even the monthly Friday playlist makes sense. (Everyone submits three songs, and we blast music all day while guessing whose song is playing.) It’s not just a hipster office fad. Until I fall into a radioactive vat of Ronaldo’s urine and tax-tears, which will obviously grant me “mad skillz”, I even get the workplace culture benefits of that damn foosball table.

Looking around the office, it ticks all the boxes of healthy workplace culture. Like sums up, there are five proven methods to improve your office culture.
1. Cultivate employee relationships - like the banter we have around the games and kitchen table.
2. Build universal traits employees seek from employers - like the transparent communication that stems from being a community instead of individual colleagues.
3. Create a comfortable workplace - where you can escape to the lounge and drop onto a bean bag between the plants to stare creatively into space.
4. Do career development training - We have online training courses, but my favourite development training is the mentoring initiative that lets me learn how to use complicated VOD publishing systems for online streaming video services from servers across the planet. It’s dope.
5. Be mindful of burnout Rest is an important contributor to performance - and when any one of us is having a difficult day, we take a break at the foosball and ping-pong table and make the stress go away.

If you’re looking to do the same with your workplace, you certainly came to the right place.