For many, the traditional 9-to-5 workday at the office is an artifact of a distant past. Technology has enabled a culture of constant connectivity. If you can work from anywhere, you’ll usually do just that: through dinner, late at night and on weekends.
At the same time, with the boundaries between our work and personal lives increasingly blurred, workplace flexibility is gaining credibility for its impact on employee creativity and productivity.
If you’re one of the millions who commute to the office every day, an increasing number of companies—particularly tech startups and sports- and activity-based businesses—are offering creative perks to attract young talent, boost morale and raise productivity.
“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued.”
What if you could take a break from your desk and refresh with a quick snooze at your company’s nap station, or counteract that 3 p.m. lull with a competitive game of ping-pong with coworkers? What if you were simply given more vacation days, or your company mandated that you devote a portion of your work hours to personal projects.
Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, believes there’s validity in the old proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
“We are all built—designed by nature—to play,” Brown says. “Accessing that innate playfulness within your work situation, and life, activates latent talents and helps improve productivity,” he adds.
But creating a company culture that encourages creativity doesn’t happen overnight, says Sir Ken Robinson, a best-selling author and speaker.
“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued. So it’s much more about creating climates,” Robinson says in his book, “Out of Our Minds.”
Here are four ways companies can foster creativity from within:
Encourage side projects
The benefits of policies that allow employees to spend time at work on creative projects are twofold: Workers are generally happier, and it’s a great way to drive innovation. Among the most famous products to come out of a side project was the Post-it Note, created when Art Fry took advantage of 3M’s “Bootlegging Policy,” which allowed employees to spend 15 percent of their time doing creative work.
Promote health and wellness
First Green Bank in Mount Dora, Fla., pays its employees to get healthy. The company offers a $250 award for the employee who loses the most weight each year, as well as a $500 annual fitness allowance.
Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear company, has flexible hours when the surfing conditions near its headquarters in Ventura, Calif., are optimal. Burton Snowboards, snowboarding gear and apparel retailer, shuts its offices in Vermont for the day when the nearby ski resorts get two feet in a 24-hour period. Snowboarding, anyone?
And since our pets are often our best friends, wouldn’t it be nice to have them at work with us? Nestle Purina lets employees bring pets into the office. It even has its own dog park—“The Barkyard”—on its St. Louis campus.
World Wildlife Fund has “Panda Fridays,” where employees are allowed to take every other Friday off. Airbnb offers $2,000 travel bonuses and sailing outings. Ask.com has an open vacation policy, meaning employees can take as much time off as they want.
Patagonia also has an Environmental Impact Program, which lets employees take up to two paid months off each year to work for an environmental group of their choice.
“You can be a serious professional adult and, at times, be playful.”
Who says work and fun have to be separate? Mindbody, a business management software company, has chill-out zones with hula hoops, arcade machines, scheduled recess sessions and Friday happy hours. Meanwhile, employees at Zynga have relaxation lounges packed with arcades and video gaming systems to keep employees entertained during breaks.
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, a global design company, said in a TED talk that employees tend to take more creative risks when they work in a playful office environment that offers both flexibility and security.
“It’s very easy to fall into the trap that these states are absolute. You’re either playful or you’re serious, and you can’t be both. But that’s not really true: You can be a serious professional adult and, at times, be playful,” Brown said. “We need trust to play, and we need trust to be creative.”