Ping pong/foosball/assorted games have a wonderful place in startups. Case in point - welcoming new employees. New people tend towards shyness. Cutting through this shyness should really be the first step in onboarding new people. Guess what? One game of foosball/ping pong is better than three (usually awkward) lunches with a supervisor/other coworkers...
Then, there is the struggle. Ben Horowitz wrote about the struggle from the perspective of founders, but startup employees feel it just as acutely. Ever been stuck at work, late into the evening, desparate to complete a project? Ever go out with friends from university and discover that you make 25% less than the rest of your group? Ever work for a company that has pivoted so many times you can't remember what you originally signed on to build?
Good founders and an environment built upon respect and open communication can go a long ways towards reducing the struggle. However, when you're in the thick of it, a couple of games of ping pong can keep you moving forward (or keep you from applying to any of the 35 other startups that would hire you)...
Finally, there's one other wonderful business reason for mixing work and fun. Retaining your talent. Really good people (aka - the people you need in startups) have all kinds of options. If they have fun where they are and work with close friends, they are less likely to quit.
All in all,decent article. Unfortunately, it overlooks a huge number of situations when ping pong actually becomes important.
I agree with most of your comment but I disagree with that. I think you have to define what a "joyless, professional" work environment really means. To me, it means nobody enjoys their work, nobody feels challenged, nobody feels heard, rather everyone is just a cog/code monkey. If that's the case, throwing in some nerf guns and free soda won't change anything.
However, to you, a "joyless, professional" work environment seems to mean one where people aren't friendly with each other, and nobody has any fun when they're at work but not currently working. In that case, some toys actually might help a good deal.
So I guess it's a subjective topic and both are equally valid definitions depending on your values.
Bloody hell, that sounds so depressing when you put it like that...
So worst case scenario, in a week, I spend 50 hours at work and 62 hours being awake and not working. If your numbers are not in that ballpark, you probably want to re-evaluate whether all the hours you spend at work are optimal :)
You don't even need to do the math, we've all been there: get up, go to work, come back at 7-8pm, have dinner, 2hrs to do something then sleep.
I run my own business these days.
Things that I, personally, would find appropriate:
- Free cokes and possibly (if you're huge) free food. Just don't provide it and then complain about how much it costs later. Worked at a place like that once, it sent an extremely confusing message.
- A culture that allows employees to bring in "cubicle toys" if they want. But I might draw the line at projectile weapons (see below).
- Gym memberships, company cars, and other more traditional perks are always nice.
Stuff that I, personally, would find more inappropriate:
- Projectile, melee, or any other types of weapons, Nerf or not. Don't get me wrong, I'm not making a political statement here. These things are plenty fun. The problem is that they, as the article points out, are a TRUE distraction and they by necessity distract more than one person. The other issue is that they can be awfully annoying to people who, for whatever reason, just aren't in to that stuff. Then they have to feel somewhat ostracized for never being the guy that wants to get into a lightsaber battle while his code is compiling.
- Foosball games, pool tables, in-office basketball courts, and the like. For mainly the reasons you listed in your post.
But I think all this has to be decided on a company-by-company basis. These will be choices that reflect the personality of the founders and, eventually, upper level management. You may not completely agree with every point made in the article, but you would do well, I think, to heed the general warning: work is not play. That doesn't mean work can't be fun, it just means that these are two separate activities with different cultural expectations and mostly different social circles. Mixing the two can be very awkward.
Four years later, I haven't had a beer at work in a long time. At the literal end of the day, I want to go home, relax on the couch and hang with the wife. Right now I'm looking around for a new job because I've realized the current place's motivation for the beer machine is to use as a distraction for the uncompetative salaries and lack of benefits. I geniunely like my co-workers, but the company not so much.
As a side note, all my friends do military contracting type stuff work and get paid substantially more. Four years later, perhaps the jokes on me.
If someone was firing foam darts at me whilst I was in the middle of a delicate debugging session, my kneejerk reaction would probably be to punch them in the face.
All this stuff strikes me as kinda juvenile and doesn't really help if you want to be taken seriously as a professional.
My work sometimes has happy hours, and despite them being obviously optional I feel pressured to go to at least half of them so that I'm not judged.
Sure you can say the events and outings are optional but what happens to people who routinely don't go. They become less close with coworkers and this could hurt them career wise.
I have no interest in eating lunch with my team every day. I see them for the OTHER 7 hours a day. Why can't I get a break?
Workplaces really should be fun and social on the clock. But if I'm not on the clock I'd rather be with my other friends.
Don't cram friendship down my throat like some freshmen dorm. I'll drink with the people I want to. And avoid smalltalk with those I don't.
Work is a necessary evil in peoples lives. We all like to eat and have a place to live and this takes money, hence work, but it is still an evil. It takes the majority of your day and the majority of your life away from doing things you want to do and people you want to do them with. I would much rather be at a company that realizes this and doesn't try to force itself on you pretending that it is some great thing that it is not.
That said, I agree that companies should not try to creep in weekends and evenings. Having a life outside work is healthy and should be incentivized by every company.
But really, work is NOT a "necessary evil" for me...
Which is not what I said. Work is what you have to do to enable you to do what yo want to do, but in that process it takes time (a lot of time) away from being able to do what you want to do. No one likes every part of their job, but you have to do those parts along with what you do like because it is part of you job, it is the work you have to do. No job lets you do everything you want to do in life. Co-workers are a random group of people that have been brought together on some common goal (the job). If everyone conducts themselves like adults you will probably be able to get along with them, but you will not like every last one of them.
> work is NOT a "necessary evil" for me
Really? What happens if you don't go to work anymore? What happens if you wake up and say, "You know what, I would like to spend the next month with my wife traveling around [insert area of the world here]?" What happens if you wake up and say "you know what, I don't really feel like working on X (your job) for a bit, I want to try this neat new thing that has nothing to do with it?"
Welcome to the necessary evil. Work is what you have to do, it takes away from all the other things you want to do.
I freak out and have to urgently find another thing to work on. Like, URGENTLY.
> What happens if you wake up and say, "You know what, I would like to spend the next month with my wife traveling around [insert area of the world here]?"
Work doesn't disallow that - I can simply work and travel at the same time, as I've done for a couple of years already (with my wife - and dog)
ps.: I'm not a workaholic by a very, very far distance. I just LIKE what I do and think it adds a lot of meaning to my existence (plus money of course) - I'd say it's a "necessary good" ;-)
In exchange, we got free soda, nerf guns, and they would buy you dinner. They also had a beach party once... on a saturday. Also raffles for free swag.
Despite the fairly pleasant social atmosphere and talented co-workers who were in the same boat as you, I left after 7 months. It didn't matter as much as having time to spend with non-work friends and loved ones and a better paycheck. Apparently most agreed - the turnover rate was over 200%.
As far as I could tell, there was a core 5 ~ 6 people who stayed on and had been there since the beginning, and the rest were all on their way in or out.
It's not going to make you more productive, or make you
happier with the work you have to do, or the people you
have to work with.
And it definitely helps with team-building. You might find that that grumpy annoying colleague is actually a very nice person, he just get's bogged down by work or something.
I don't like the foosball and the nerf guns and all of the other distractions, sure it's fun but it's hard to keep a train of thought sometimes.
Honestly I'd rather the company take us out for a picnic or have us all hang out at the amusement park. I would rather mentally know that work is for work, and play is for outside of work. Or for the group of us to go make something physical with habitat for humanity.
At home, computers are not allowed in the bedroom for simular but different reasons. Studies show that once a couple invites a TV or computer into the bedroom, well parts of the relationship suffer.
At the end of the day I won't be building trust with my coworkers over foosball, nurf guns or video games. But if we do something outside of work, well that might be a different story.
In the end I think this is the result of young founders trying to keep the work place like college. For some of us College is a chapter long closed on life and we have other things that are more current in our lives.
One of my friends who owns a company has set it as a perk to do company wide vacations three or four times a year. I think this is awesome. When I worked at Unity, they would try to get every employee to Unite no mater where it was in the world. There were plenty of times to bond over that experience and I think it goes further to my point.
Another thing that is difficult for lower EQ folks is the ability to see things from another point of view. So, instead of seeing the value and point of team building and interaction it's just a silly waste of time. It's a spectrum, and unfortunately there is no golden ratio to the perfect fit. In this bubble of ours Engineer vs. Sales or marketing is not a new story, but looking at it from an IQ vs EQ perspective at least you can see where each person is coming from.
The best thing for the lower EQ guys is let them be alone, stroke their ego and communicate via IM. Explain to them that just like recursive functions, things have a purpose and they aren't for everyone and people process the world in different ways.
I told him "Culture isn't the free perks. Your culture is revealed when times are hard, releases are near or late. What people do then, who flees and who buckles down and works, that defines your culture."
Regardless of whether the work is interesting or if you are productive, sometimes you just need to take a break. If during that break, you can have fun with one of your co-workers, all the better (not to mention the benefits of getting out of your chair to get some exercise).
As already mentioned before, some of the best friendships can come out of a working environment. Having fun with co-workers and trying to get to know who people are instead of just trying to understand what they know can lead to better communication and collaboration, as well as a more enjoyable workplace.
I think advertising things like nerf guns and free soda in job interviews is just an implicit way to make you think the company has a good culture, but that's really not what you should be centering your view of the company around, you should wait until you actually communicate with the people there and figure out the company culture, then re-evaluate with the extra bonuses to see if it's right for you.
My last job was at small office building with cubicles and sometimes free breakfast, and you know what? I still loved the hell out of it because it was an insanely open environment between employees and project managers, and it was some of the most challenging and rewarding work I've done.
Heh. It took me awhile to find these:
>Excellent opportunities with an exciting, fun 6 year old .com company!!!
Skills wanted: JAVA, Weblogic, EJB, Solaris, Oracle. Fun atmosphere- pool table, ping pong table, foozball table, and cafeteria. @90-95K plus stock options $$$$$$
Don't miss out!!! This is a hot one, sunny California, in Culver City- very close to Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey!!! Beautiful beaches, blue skies and the ocean!
If someone could reply with the correct spelling of foozball, we have a bet going in the office!
>Wednesday, September 27, 2000 19:05
> Free meals when working late; unlimited cold beverages; vacation homes in Lake Tahoe; monthly beer bashes; complimentary use of a Porsche Boxster when designated as "Employee of the Month;" and, additionally, a chance to win a $3000 bonus plus the chance to drive a Porsche Boxster for two years with each participating referral booked in the Employee Referral Program.
> Friday, September 15, 2000 13:40
I agree that these things really don't matter. But to be honest, I'm a little happy to see some of it coming back. The last 10 years has been hard to be a programmer in my area; most of the jobs are large companies, most of the work is boring, and the startups are few and far between.
Maybe it's just me, but that seems like a terrible idea. You get one person to feel good about being employee of the month and n-1 people feeling slighted for being passed over. again.
If you build a company culture that makes people comfortable enough to play and have fun with eachother at work, then you've succeeded.
All these environment variables are background noise if they are not relevant to your workers.
I still remember when the support manager was hired. I remember asking the hiring manager if he'd asked her if she was ok with UFO's in the office.
Her: "UFO's?" (quizzical look)
Me: "Yeah, uh" (ball nearly misses me)
(in the distance), "INCOMING!... Did I get [inafield]"
She catches the ball, laughs.
Me: "No, you just about hit the new hire, she'll fit right in."
Overall I agree with Mike. Well written post.
Seriously, though- I agree with the last few paragraphs, but I think there's a "to me" that's missing throughout this article. Anyone working somewhere solely for the ping pong (outside of professional table tennis players I guess...) is probably making a mistake. But a break doesn't have to be a distraction.
When I'm deep in a dev problem, sometimes I need to take a break to digest a problem. At my last job, I didn't have a place to do that. Sitting quietly in the break room was considered strange, and I shouldn't have to make-believe I'm programming to take some time to understand an issue.
The office we're in now has a common area where I can talk to someone, sit quietly, play a casual game of ping pong- and then get back to work. I recognize many people don't want to mix work and play, but shouldn't they recognize it's okay if I do?