Twenty-five ways to keep things loose at work.
I've Got Reservations (But Let's Give This a Try)
Going to lunch with a colleague is fun. Going to lunch with a colleague you don't know is fun and free if you work for FunMobility in Pleasanton, California. Cost to the company of picking up the tab for first-time meal mates: a few thousand dollars a year. Value of employees getting to know one another (all together now): priceless.
Dancing on Aeron
Office chair ballet.
I Tatted This Doily for Your Mouse
Given the ubiquity of fancy soaps and bottles of wine in Secret Santa exchanges, people might just as well swap $20 bills. But a DIY Secret Santa--in which employees make gifts for one another--provides a creative outlet and can be very funny.
Am I the Only One Who Took Home a Case of Ballpoint Pens?
Identify people within your organization who share certain traits (they all went to the same college or bike to work or have first and last names that begin with the same letter). Bring them together in a conference room--one group at a time--and challenge them to deduce the common denominator.
They Also Serve
Cube volleyball may be the only good thing about working sans walls and doors. To avoid wreaking havoc, use wadded-up paper instead of balls.
90octane, in Denver, holds mustache-growing contests for employees and customers. The website tracking the action gives women in the office something to laugh about.
Take a Deep Breath
Who doesn't like a dunk tank? Who doesn't love a dunk tank in which the executives are the submersibles?
So There You Are!
Company relocating or simply in need of spring cleaning? Make packing and excavation less tedious by offering prizes for the oldest/strangest/loveliest items to emerge from the clutter. A special category for fossilized food is optional.
At the Drive-In
An afternoon at the movies is fun, but New Deal Studios goes one better. Six times a summer, the Los Angeles company projects a film on a giant screen in a sound stage. Employees watch from their cars, getting the sound on their car radios.
Whoa! Earl's Face Fell Off!
The voodoo dolls at Jump Associates in San Mateo, California, don't represent competitors or rude clients. (Not as far as we know.) Employees create little wire figures and top them with photos of geographically disparate colleagues. During conference calls, participants' replicas are lined up by the phone.
Your Dog Feels You Lack Ambition
Sub Pop Records in Seattle once hired a pet psychic for a day and invited employees to bring in their furry friends. Some companies hire people psychics, but that's silly.
Great Games of Business
Officewide spirit days (touch football, capture the flag) and Olympics (chair races, file relays) are a good time. Try to include a few activities (spelling bees, sudoku contests) for the less athletically inclined.
I Used to Like You
Ask employees for lists of their 10 favorite movies, books, songs, moments in company history, etc. Let everyone see the results.
When fruits and vegetables go bad at Door to Door Organics in Louisville, Colorado, warehouse workers turn them into ammunition for all-out battles. Then they get up close and joust, using pallet jacks as mounts and their hands as weapons.
Act Civilized, Willya?
Every afternoon at 3, employees of P.J. Salvage in Irvine, California, gather for a pot of tea and scones with strawberry jam and cream.
Spell It Out
Post a new photograph over the copier every day, with a sheet of paper underneath for employees to add captions.
Get little antenna-guided toy cars and equip them with alligator clips so you can use them to deliver messages like those pink phone-message slips. More fun than e-mail.
The Comptroller Herds Goats
Games based on getting to know colleagues make great social lubricants. Ask everyone in the office to write down three things about themselves no one else knows, then have everyone try to match people with facts. Or have employees come up with one odd fact about themselves and two fictions, and challenge staff to figure out which is which.
Help Me Help Myself
Employees of 1-800-Got-Junk share not only business goals at their quarterly retreats, but also personal ones. Over the next months colleagues help them with everything from learning to drive a stick shift to getting up the nerve for heli-boarding.
Naturally the employees of Boston Beer (NYSE:SAM) are serious about their in-house brewing competitions. But with home-brewing kits available for less than $100, any company can play (and judge the results at happy hour).
Van Damme It All
Hire a kickboxing instructor for a session at your company.
Homemade food is fun, a source of pride, and a chance to compete. Many companies stage chili contests, barbecue rib-offs, and the like (sometimes with customers as judges). Bolster institutional memory by compiling company-centric cookbooks online.
But Let's Skip the Darts
Spice up your happy hour with a pub crawl. If your town lacks pubs for crawling, set up stations around the office, each offering a different drink and activity.
Be careful walking around the offices of Parette Somjen Architects in Rockaway, New Jersey. You might catch your foot in a hole that is part of the company's mini golf course. The first half is on the third floor; hole nine drops your ball to the second floor, where you play the back nine. Track your performance against par on the company's customized scorecards.
I Loved It When You Put That Customer on Hold!
Make your own training films. Write scripts and have employees act out typical scenarios (dealing with a problem customer, requesting help from tech support). The best of these are roll-on-the-floor funny to insiders and a great way to introduce the company to new hires.
Compiled by Leigh Buchanan, Max Chafkin, Sarah Goldstein, Bobbie Gossage, Athena Schindelheim, and Nitasha Tiku