More on makeing a workplace fun…

I recently toured a game design company here in Ontario and was really impressed with the work environment. Rod hockey tables, Foosball tables, sofas, catered lunches, and a patio with BBQ’s. The head of R&D said that some of the co-op students went home for showers and to change but basically lived there. Google has a similar reputation for attracting the best people and treating them like royalty.

When I joined Mitel in 1981 the average age of the work force was 22. We had rock music pumping through the speakers on the manufacturing floor, we had free health club memberships and there was always something new and innovative to do. We had after hours training courses and the company put a program in place with a local university that allowed community college graduates to get a university degree.

We couldn’t hire enough people to get the work done so we had a contest where an employee’s name went into a hat each time they brought a new person in for an interview. At the end of the contest Mitel hired the Charlie Daniels band to headline a private concert for the employees and their families and the company pulled a name from the hat to win a Delorian (You know the car from back to the future).

When I left Mitel for my second company in 1987 the new company had only 60 employees. The wife of the CEO got together with some of the other wife’s who brought in gourmet meals everyday at lunch. In the afternoon we bought bags of popcorn off the loading doc across the parking lot and there was a beer keg that never ran out. Every innovation was celebrated and the CEO had all staff updates every week and sometimes twice a week.

Every employee knew when we had a win and when we missed a win. The entire company was focused on the task at hand and we changed focus completely when a task was achieved. Every week the company grew and within a year we were taking pictures at the site where the first building would be built. Between the popcorn, beer and the updates, every person felt like part of the team. It was not unusual to get comments from friends outside of the company like “that place is a sweat shop, I wouldn’t want to work there”. Oddly enough, most of those friends worked at Nortel. Need I say more?

At one point we needed an extra push to complete a product deliverable so the company proposed that they would pay for overtime by flying every employee and their families to Florida for a long weekend holiday. The trip was an adventure that became part of the companies legacy. We had a private party at Disney World, with live music and all the Disney characters followed by several days on the beach at Fort Lauderdale.

The next year we rented a train and brought the whole company to Toronto for a long weekend. Each trip brought people together and cemented the company’s legacy. That company was perhaps the most successful company that silicon valley north has ever hosted.

I guess the reason for this walk down memory lane is to point out that what makes a work place fun is constantly changing, just like the people who work there. So what can we do for today’s tech workers? First we make sure we address the 10 basics we highlighted in April 16th post. Then here are some suggestions to push it “over the top”.

  • Recreational areas (Foosball, Rod hockey, Ping pong, beach volleyball, picnic tables, showers, hockey, squash, etc…)
  • Product challenges with rewards (Win an iPad).
  • Catered or subsidized lunches.
  • Company holidays and events.
  • Education programs.
  • Trips to industry shows and events.

I’m sure all of you guys have ideas of what you would like to see….lets hear them.


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