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The Workplace

How To Make Office Life More Fun

From cancelling meetings to putting a stop to presenteeism, here are five tips to make your workplace nicer

Over a coffee summoned via iPad in Twitter’s snazzy open-plan central London HQ, the social media brand’s European vice-president, Mr Bruce Daisley, is explaining how he came to be the host of a iTunes-topping business podcast, Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat. “We had a very strong culture that I think everyone really felt was special,” Mr Daisley says in his instantly recognisable Brummie accent. “Guests used to come here and say, ‘I love the buzz – it’s fantastic.’”

Then came a company-wide downturn that was humbling for everyone. “People were demotivated, dejected, probably a little bit burnt out by initiative fatigue – being invited to another meeting about another new thing,” he admits. “I was like, ‘I have literally no idea how to motivate these people again.’ So I started contacting experts and just chatting to them.”

In Mr Daisley’s new book, The Joy Of Work, he harvests the fruits of those conversations, plus the audiobooks that he voraciously consumes while cooking or washing up, and blends them into 30 digestible tips divided into three chapters: “Recharge”, “Sync” and “Buzz”.

“For me, culture is about the job design-y parts: improving your day-to-day, so you feel just a bit less overwhelmed,” he says. “If you’re waiting for the big presentation from head office, you’re missing the fact that culture is the way that you and the people at the desks next to you work.” The below nuggets, cherry-picked by MR PORTER, may make your own job more palatable.

Cancel those pointless meetings

The last thing anyone needs need is another meeting. In fact, you need fewer. Meetings take up valuable time and often your most productive time at that. Too often, they’re about jockeying for power in a hierarchy, rather than actually solving a problem. “One of the questions people have is: how can you get your boss to reduce the amount of meetings that you have?” says Mr Daisley. “And there’s some really nice scientific research into examples of when people have pushed back against these demands, or raised a question, or said on a team away day, ‘Guys, can we just talk about the amount of time we spend in meetings?’ Normally what you find is that a boss has got a reason for wanting meetings, so if you can try and accomplish what that thing is with less meetings... I think bosses are as aware as anyone that meetings are exhausting.”

Mr David Sacks, when COO of PayPal, would disband any gathering of more than three or four people that he deemed inefficient. If nothing else, as Mr Daisley points out, prohibiting PowerPoint tends to speed presenters up.

Don’t forget to rest

We’re being misled by the image of successful CEOs, the Mr Elon Musks or Mr Steve Jobs, whom Mr Daisley doesn’t think particularly highly of. As he sees it, the problem is that we’ve come to consider “being rude or working 80 hours a week” necessary to become a CEO. All the evidence is that ever-longer hours enabled by constant connectivity – according to one survey, the average British office worker’s day has increased 26 per cent, from 7.5 hours to 9.5 – lead to diminishing returns, with creativity one of the first casualties, to say nothing of the deleterious consequences for physical and mental health.

Contrast the grind of most workplaces with the arena of elite sport, where athletes understand that to consistently perform to a high level in competition or training, they must recover between efforts. Mr Daisley quotes serial gold-medal winner Sir Chris Hoy, who, when asked how he walked up stairs after, replied with the mantra of British Cycling: “Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down.”

Far from being lazy, taking breaks, going home on time and getting a good night’s sleep are critical to working effectively. Besides, breakthroughs – so-called “shower ideas” – often come when you’re not working.

Put a stop to presenteeism

“Someone came to me, just when I was starting to do this stuff, and asked, ‘Can I go home and finish this presentation if I’m struggling to get it done here?’” recalls Mr Daisley. “I thought, ‘Isn’t that embarrassing that we’ve created a culture where people don’t feel that they can just get up and, without guilt, go and work somewhere else to get something done?’”

Mr Daisley compares the parent-child attitude of most companies to their employees with the fraternal environment at university, where you’re largely left to manage your own time. Mr Dan Kieran, author and founder of crowdfunding platform Unbound, describes the “mill-owner instinct” that makes you feel bad if you’re not at your desk for 9.00am, even if you’re doing something work-related, and chide other late arrivers with, “Half-day?”

Your boss might not be ready to move to a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), the polar opposite of presenteeism, where you don’t have to keep office hours or even come in at all. But they might agree to a weekly “Monk Mode Morning”, where you work from home or a cafe. Especially if you send them the studies showing how open-plan offices are catastrophic for productivity.

Laugh yourself happy

The best medicine can also be a remedy for organisational ills. “I enjoy the sound of laughter in the office, and so you make decisions to optimise for that,” says Mr Daisley. He references the work of psychologist Dr Robert Provine, who first conducted experiments in which groups of strangers watched comedy films in awkward silence, then observed unsuspecting people guffawing “in the wild”. He concluded that laughter is “human song”. In other words, it’s “a form of social bonding and group coordination”, says Mr Daisley; a means of facilitating and signalling sync and not necessarily about anything that funny (particularly in workplaces). It’s also a sign that people feel safe and secure in their environment. Conversely, an absence of laughter can be a symptom of underlying anxiety. No prizes for guessing which conditions are more likely to foster creativity: Nobel Prize-winning economist Mr Daniel Kahneman’s groundbreaking research on decision-making was, thanks to his rib-tickling partner Mr Amos Tversky, “hours of solid work in continuous amusement”. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Dr Provine’s prescription is to adopt a “laugh-ready attitude”; social meetings can also help.

Social time – in office hours

An ironic consequence of trendy (and cheaper) open-plan offices and the umpteen messaging technologies designed to foster collaboration, is that face-to-face interactions decline. One way to counteract that, says Mr Daisley, is a weekly “social meeting”. Among his favourite examples is that of advertising agency Young & Rubicam, where an enterprising receptionist instituted “Crisp Thursday”. “At 4.25pm on a Thursday afternoon, they got together for some Kettle Chips or Pringles,” says Mr Daisley. “The people who worked in the company said, ‘It’s really changed the way we interact with each other’. As soon as you accept that anyone can subvert the way that a company’s working, you think, ‘Well, I can, then.’” 

It could be lunchtime pizzas or afternoon fika, but a social meeting should take place in the office and in office hours: the post-work beer traditional in Britain discriminates against working parents (more often than not, mothers), long-distance commuters and people who don’t want to drink, plus eats into valuable evening recharge time.

Work hard, rest hard

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