Unleashing the Fun Factor: How Playfulness Helps Us Do Our Best Work
Remember, the most dangerous thing in the office is an unsatisfied employee with a Nerf gun.
Ever heard the cliche “choose a job that you love and never work a day in your life”? Well, we did some digging to find out who came up with that quote, and no, it’s not Confucius. It’s possible Arthur Szathmary used the saying in 1982. But it turns out he attributed it to “an old-timer.” We don’t know who this old-timer is, but we hope he’s living his best life.
But, c’mon. Let’s be real. Work is work. They pay you for a reason. There are other things you could do with your time but — groceries. Rent. And that collectible Echo Base collectible Funko Pop.
Sure, the “never work a day in your life” is eye-roll-worthy, but there’s something to be said for not hating your work. And when you can hack it, the opportunity to truly enjoy your work is pretty fantastic. (And yes, I’m aware that saying that comes from a very privileged place.)
But it turns out that maybe the enjoyment isn’t as much about the work itself but the attitude of the people around you, and approaching the work in a lighthearted way with a sense of humor and playfulness. As we’ve often said, a key value at Font Awesome is to “deliver the punchline.”
And thankfully the Font Awesome team gets lots of opportunity to goof off together in our work while also delivering great software and beautiful icon sets. I get to say that as one of the non-designers / devs on the team.
As a remote company, setting the tone for how we work together must be very intentional. That’s why we put a high emphasis on our bi-annual “Snuggle,” which we’ve discussed at length.
The benefits of play at work
What we’ve found is that fostering playfulness among the team is not only, well, fun, but a side benefit of horsing around results in — ta da! — more creativity and problem solving. I’m not sure there’s a way to officially measure these outcomes, but it sure feels that way. And while we can’t prove this idea concretely, science is on our side.
There’s actually a ton of research on this, but for a pretty thorough overview, check out Nick Humphrey’s LinkedIn article, which covers what playfulness in the workplace is, why it’s so crucial, and ideas for how to build a culture of play in the workplace.
So what are the benefits of playfulness in the workplace?
- Reduced stress
- Brain function and memory
Well, duh. We coulda told you that. But, you know, science. So, how do we foster playfulness at Font Awesome and where does it happen?
It certainly happens week by week while we collaborate remotely. We even start our day with an emoji check-in that most everyone participates in, which is basically a signal to say, “Hey, I’m online and ready to roll.” One person shares an emoji and the next person adds another (usually thematically), and before you know it, there’s a whole emoji story in our “general” channel. Dave calls the activity “stretching before a workout.”
We also gather around shared interests in other Slack channels, too. We share our favorite books, music, mechanical keyboard nerdery, interweb memes and gifs, and ridiculous news headlines.
How cooldowns fuel a culture of innovation
During the splits, we dive headfirst into highly focused and defined work for six weeks — like a turbocharged work mode — goals, projects, and timelines all neatly lined up in a row. The secret sauce to these chunks of work is meticulous planning and organization.
But those six weeks aren’t whip cracking sprints. After our productive bouts, we pump the brakes to open up our schedule for more free form work during the two week cool downs.
The real magic here is balance – a delicate rhythm between structure and freedom. The splits give us a roadmap, while the cool downs are a time to catch our collective breath. We can get immersed in creative problem solving, self-development or special projects. And structured and unstructured time feed creativity.
Work as play during cooldowns
Sometimes we need to learn the latest tech to work better together. Ed’s Space Awesome project is an excellent example of this. During a cool-down, he wanted to spend time doing something innovative while learning the latest technology. Ultimately this led him to learn Vue JS, and gave him a chance to build a text-based game! Enter Space Awesome, the world’s first Oregon Trail meets Firefly text-based game — a story we’ve covered before.
Creating a battler game to level up skills in a game that rhymes with “Pokie-Man”
But the cooldown fun doesn’t end there. There are lots of examples of creative, fun-loving projects the team has taken on to learn other programs, too. Mike suggested the idea of creating a “Pokie-Man” (get it?) type battler game, and Ed, who loves game development, was immediately onboard. Several fa-team members were already playing “Pokie-Man Go”, which added to the excitement and motivation to work on something similar.
Just like the Space Awesome project, their game idea was a great opportunity to learn more about building with Phoenix Live View.
And the work playfulness most definitely happens at the Snuggles, too.
Work as play during snuggles
A key feature of our Snuggle is the “Snacktivities” — dedicated bits of time during Snuggle week to pitch fun, bite-sized projects to the team and get a feel for who might like to join them. Ordinarily, this is not mission-critical work, but nice-to-haves. Fun, creative and lighthearted is the name of the game in Snacktivity Land.
The Icon Wizard (aka F.A.R.T.S)
During one of our Snuggle Snacktivity sessions, Mike and Ed delved into the realm of SVG processing and how to enhance existing icons. They noticed that many designers manually created icons with modifiers like circles, pluses, checkmarks, and slashes. Inspired by this, they set out to develop a way to simplify the process and make it accessible to all Font Awesome users — and the Icon Wizard was born!
But to highlight the fun factor even more, and to quench our thirst for juvenile humor, earlier iterations of this project were called “F.A.R.T.S” — that’s “Font Awesome Reusable TidbitS.” (Thanks to Brian Talbot for the consistently funny project names!)
Yeah, but can a company really plan fun?
It’s a legitimate question. We’ve probably all been in corporate environments where the HR department launches cringey culture campaigns that are only thinly veiled attempts at boosting productivity. Your boss’ idea of creating a fun work environment is allowing for Hawaiian Shirt Day on Friday. (No thanks, Lumburg.)
The fact is, you can’t force a playful culture if leadership is insincere, or when it’s not safe to fail or bring novel ideas to the table. Most importantly, when your company only hires for capability and fails to consider hiring for character first, creating a good “culture” may be a foregone conclusion.
The best hope of building a healthy, playful culture? Put people first.
OK, OK. This is another hollow “we’re a people-first company!” HR-isms. But at Font Awesome, we strive to do this well. From The Boss’ perspective, Font Awesome exists so we can work with the very best people we’ve ever known and provide a living for people so they can live the way they see fit. That’s it.
Yes, we have a for-profit model and work hard on our strategy to grow. And we strive to create a product that makes designers’, developers’ and content creators’ lives easier. But let’s be honest. While icons and software are necessary for building the interweb, neither will change the world. However, healthy, playful cultures might have a shot at it — in their own small way at least.
Looking for more content like this? We’ve written (or talked about) other work culture related topics on our blog and podcast.