Ping Pong or Productivity?

I recently read an interesting piece that idly wondered if the reason we stay at work longer nowadays is because of all the other things there are to occupy us other than our actual jobs, muses Criteo’s Mike Walley.


It’s a good question! We talk sagely about how, for the millennial workforce, personal and business lives overlap in a classic Venn diagram, and how we should support those sitting on the edge of the work/life balance with an enhanced workplace experience full of fabulous extras. But, I wonder whether the very best experience isn’t actually created by having a workplace that lets you be as efficient as possible and then ‘sets you free’ at the end of the day.

There are an awful lot of distractions in the modern workplace and I am beginning to think it might be time to remove them all and, in the words of one leading tech company, ‘Get Stuff done. Go home’.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating a return to the bad old days of poor lighting, bad ergonomics and the weekly whip-round to fund another catering size jar of Mellow Birds instant coffee. No, we can still have beautiful offices that are light filled, biophilic and environmentally friendly – I just wonder whether they need to be chock full of things to distract us. I mean, honestly, I can distract myself in an empty room. I don’t need a ping pong table in the cafeteria to make it any harder to get things done.

The thing is, individually, each addition is a good idea, but they have a habit of adding up.

‘Let’s have a dart board!’ Good idea. Coffee break and a quick 501. Then a pool table appears as well. One more coffee while we knock off a quick eight ball. Then, the cafeteria gets a ping pong table. Now things are starting to clash. I don’t mean with meetings or actual work. No, I have a massage, yoga class and a mindfulness session to fit in before this week’s social event in the bar. Now I will need to stay until midnight just to get my day job done.

It doesn’t sound so great piled up like that. But, in the ever present race to attract talent, we keep adding stuff to the list. The first day at a new job feels more like freshers week at uni. Should I join the Foosball league or the Pilates session? Sign up with the eco group or pick up litter in the street as part of my Corporate Social Responsibility? What do I do at lunchtime?

So, how do we square this approach with the current focus on productivity? Particularly as all the books on effective working habits never seem to have ‘Play Sales VP at Ping Pong’ on the list.

I believe it is time to focus on the workplace environment, not just the experience.

The experience is important but, at the end of the day, it is a business, and while I want staff to enjoy their work and have fun, the object of the game is to do business and make money. Even the big players in tech, who led the ‘experience’ revolution, pay attention to how functional the space is before they make all the meeting rooms look like the inside of a submarine. Great Environment leads to a Great Experience.

So before you buy the ping pong table, ask yourself a few questions: Are the work areas varied so I can focus when I need to without being distracted by the noise of others being collaborative? Can I easily collaborate with my team without disturbing those needing to focus?

Are the meeting rooms functional with all the tools I need (video conferencing, TV screens, whiteboards etc)? Are they comfortable (lighting, airflow, acoustics)? Are there enough of them or is it a constant fight to find one when you need it?

Are the ergonomics right (no upcycled, hand painted kitchen chairs instead of task chairs!)?

Is everything in the building designed to make ‘getting stuff done’ as easy as possible?

Now, before I start to sound too perfect, I have to admit that my workplaces have ping pong, Foosball and pool tables. They all seemed a good idea at the time, but I am beginning to reconsider. Foosball is the only one that gets used now the novelty has worn off – and I do wonder if a couple of meeting rooms wouldn’t be a better idea…