Wii consoles, pool tables and jigsaw puzzles in the office. Has the world gone crazy?

The recreation areas are here to stay. It is becoming more frequent for companies to make the decision of including in the design of their office spaces, places where collaborators can take breaks, somewhere to forget for a moment about their obligations, take some fresh air and then, get back to work. TV’s with Wii consoles, pool tables, hammocks, table games, are elements that can be found in these places.

While companies invest good money adapting these spaces, the question that arises is: Do  employees rely make use of these recreation areas? Or, on the contrary, Do these areas represent wasted space that could be put to better use, for example, what about seting up a confeence room? Initially, the answer would be Yes. Who does not dream of having a Wii in the office and being able to play a tennis championship with his or her peers? However, if we take a good look at the question and analyze the behavior of the employees from some companies which have already implemented these spaces, providing an outright answer is not as simple as one might think.

In a recent interview, with an employee of a prestigious Colombian company that remodeled its offices this past year, when he was asked wether he used the recreation areas, his reply was: " I don`t think it's a good thing to play Wii at the office; There are things you can only do at home, and there are things that you can only do in the office. "

Like him, many others think that you must only work in the office and you must only rest at home. No employee wants to be seen doing a jigsaw puzzle by his boss during working hours, or playing a game of tennis on the Wii, while at his desk there is a report pending that is due at the end of the day. Without question, the office is where you go to work. However, if we take a look at another company, the employees point of view is quite different. In a focus group, when asked about the recreation areas, the general reaction of the participants was a very positive one: most of them make good use of the " Thinking Room " and consider it to be a space that promotes integration among employees from different areas, besides it is considered to be a place where people can rest, relax and even sleep. Wii championships are very common at lunchtime and sometimes, after the end of the shift, some people stay in the office after hours and make the most of it.

What are the factors that lead employees of these two companies to have so many different perceptions about these environments? In principle, there are four key factors that can mark the difference the moment a company decides to make renovations on its facilities and include these types of spaces.

It is important to remember that while the trend in design is to include recreational areas with certain attributes ( a TV, video games, a pool table), these are not the only answers. It becomes necessary to understand the organizational culture and the employee profile to develop the most appropriate environment. For example, the average age of the workforce could shed light on how to design an appropriate environment. It is worth analyzing wether employees would appreciate more a place where they can learn about the latest business news, or rather a place where they can read and relax. In the first case, the answer would be a newspaper and periodical archive with a couple of comfortable chairs; in the second, it would be a television with a console and several video games.

When determining which is the ideal design, it is essential to get the employees involved in the process. It is not about making a suggestions box where everyone can give their opinion and propose the craziest and wildest things. On the contrary, it would be more appropriate to perform an analysis on the organizational culture, that is to say understanding the details of daily interactions between staff: the values they share, the symbols, the language, the rituals, and informal rules. The information that can be gathered from this analysis will be much more useful than what the books say about trends, productivity, efficiency and design.

Once the decision about the design of the offices has been taken, it is important to manage and communicate the change among the employees. One thing is certain and that is that we all resist changes, no matter how good they may seem. Moreover, it is likely that most employees will be having to move from a traditional office ( private offices, few areas of socialization ) to one where, in general, the atmosphere is more open. For this reason, it is essential to socialize with the workers not the only essential purpose of these spaces, but also the way these spaces can be used ( at what time of day, where will you find the controls of the consoles, the games, the Cue sticks and the Cue balls ).

Last but not least, it is necessary for employees to feel free when making use of these spaces. A boss looking at the clock every time he or she sees someone in these spaces would send the wrong message and constrain employees to use them. By contrast, a boss who occasionally approaches these spaces to play a game of tennis on the Wii, will motivate them to continue using these areas suitably. Thus, the recreation areas will not turn into wasted square meters.