Photo by Petr Jilek

[#WorkTrends] How Child’s Play at Work Helps Navigate Uncertain Times

At work, we try to be serious grownups. But data shows that when we bring child’s play — yes, fun — into work, we are far more creative. And that’s when the real magic happens!

We know adult playtime increases camaraderie, goodwill, focus, and trust and reduces stress. So why aren’t more organizations incorporating play into their work environments?

Our Guest: Jeff Harry, a Top 100 HR Influencer

Jeff Harry helps individuals and companies tap into their true selves, to feel their happiest and most fulfilled — all by playing. Jeff has worked with Google, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Adobe, the NFL, Amazon, and Facebook, helping them infuse more play into their day-to-day activities.

I asked Jeff how embracing child’s play during a global pandemic can make a real difference for companies today. Jeff’s response cut right to the heart of the matter, especially when many of us are working remotely: “We have to ask yourselves: Is our staff feeling comfortable with work anymore? Are they able to be themselves — or even half of themselves?” Jeff is right; when we’re working from home, we’re not really fully present at work or home — and time for creative thinking, let alone play, is hard to come by.

Jeff suggested: “Go to your staff, virtually or not, and ask them, ‘What part of your job do you love to do most? What part of your job would you consider your flow work — the work where you forget about time. It’s the work where you, if you weren’t getting paid to do this, would do this anyway.” Jeff has learned that most people would say they engage in flow work maybe 10 percent of the time and that leaders have some influence here: 

“Give them an extra hour of play a day! That is their best work, so we must invest in that play time — the flow work.”

The Correlation Between More Play and Better Work

“Look at the companies that thrived in 2020. The TikToks, the Googles, Netflix, Disney Plus, and Hulu,” Jeff said, noting these companies are known for playful yet focused cultures. “People gravitate towards that. Actual money and business are attracted to that. Look at Google with their 20% program. They gave their staff a fifth of their time to pursue what was curious to them. From that came Gmail and Google Meet — billion-dollar ventures, because they allowed their staff to play and be curious.”

Jeff added that most companies don’t offer their employees enough time to play — that time needed to pursue their flow work or experiment within a psychologically safe environment:

“We’ve gotten so results-oriented and so focused on meeting expectations — and expectations are the thief of joy.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with Jeff — this is my flow work! Be sure to listen in — and then deliberately add more time for child’s play into your workday.


Find Jeff on LinkedIn and learn more about his work at Rediscover Your Play.


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5 Habits Of Leaders Who Create Workspace Culture

When I was a student (once upon a time I thought I was to be a clinical psychologist), and broke, and spending time in New York City (also about the time I decided I was not to be a performing artist, choreographer for my career after spending years here doing so), I used to make extra money volunteering for psychological studies at Columbia University. I arrived one day and was told to wait in a small room for the study to start. The room started to fill up with other people, also waiting, until it was jammed and people were sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder. Things got testy, arguments broke out, there was jostling. After 45 minutes the researchers came in and announced that the study was over: they had been measuring how we reacted when we were crowded into a small space.

I love this story from my past because it perfectly illustrates the power of our environment to influence our mood and actions. Anyone who has ever worked in a fluorescent-lit, gray-carpeted cubicle wasteland knows exactly what I’m talking out. It’s depressing, deadening, and you feel like the bosses don’t really care about your comfort and wellbeing. That is no way to design a 21st century company. In this economy, talent is your most valuable asset. And talented people don’t want to work in a soul-killing office space. They’ll take their special gifts elsewhere, thank you.

Well-designed office spaces ignite creativity, create team collaboration, and drive peak performance. They show respect, lift our souls and make people want to dig deep and give their all. Your workspace is a physical manifestation of your leadership culture. Make it unique.

How can you make your space a dynamic part of your vision and mission, and a driver of success? Here are 5 habits and how to make this happen:

1.) Think urban. Cities are hotbeds of creativity and enterprise for a reason. People are social beings, and cities provide the perfect balance of inspiration, contact, and privacy. Provide spaces for all of these: kitchens are great places for folks to hang out and connect (and share ideas on current projects). Outdoor space gives a sense of freedom and possibility, and contact with nature is always enlivening. Cities surprise us with their diversity and spontaneity. Celebrate everyone’s idiosyncrasies by encouraging them to decorate their personal spaces with pictures, objects and toys that make them feel at home. The goal here is to create a buzzing microcosm of urban energy in your workplace.

2) Keep it moving. Sitting at a desk all day is a downer. It’s stagnant and unhealthy and breeds lethargy and eyestrain. Encourage people to move around, to take the stairs, to go out for a short walk. Have a yoga, stretching, exercise room. Have informal work areas, couches and chairs with plenty of nearby power outlets. Make conference rooms available to everyone for meetings, even one-on-ones and informal brainstorming sessions.

3) Play at work. Put in a ping-pong table, foosball, Legos and other games. They are great for building bonds, relieving tension, engaging in playful competition, and renewing our psyches. We all hit a wall at work now and then — a quick game can be the play that refreshes.

4) Bon appetit! Coffee shops like Starbucks SBUX +0.09% and Peet’s have become embedded in our culture and psyche. They are defacto town squares, places where employees can hang out, grab a bite, do a little texting, work, flirt, have fun, whatever – you get the idea. Consider creating one in your workspace. Design it to be comfortable, warm and welcoming. Serve healthy food at great prices. People love getting a good deal, and having a coffee shop at work makes everyone feel like they’re part of the bigger world. And work inevitably gets done over those mochaccinos.

5) One size fits no one. Some of the most talented people in the world are introverts who like to be left alone to work their magic. Other talented people thrive with almost constant contact and stimulation. You want to design a space that is yielding and flexible – and has room for all personality types to thrive. So while you’re creating a vital environment that encourages connections, make sure there are quiet spaces where talent can go and work in peace.

Great design nurtures talent. It’s as simple as that. Look around at your workspace. How can you make your culture a talent magnet?

A version of this post was first published on

Image credit: Google Inc. – Office Hamburg, DEU