What are some ways of making the work environment fun?

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to set up an environment of fun and play for your company.

Here are some ideas:

  • Celebrations. Celebrate business successes and milestones, personal milestones such as birth of a baby, marathons completed. On the business anniversary hold brand-themed days (even if it’s just wearing the brand colours).
  • Themed days. Dress up for national holidays (not just for your nation!) or special occasions, such as St Patrick’s Day or the start of the Olympics. Serve food related to the theme. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top or expensive, just creative.
  • Silly dress days. For example set the last Friday of the month as a silly dress day, even if it’s silly ear-rings or crazy socks.
  • Fun decor. Encourage creative, fun decoration of workspaces, putting things there that lighten their days.
  • Ice cream parties. Throw random ice cream parties. Add balloons and noisemakers.
  • Encourage joke-telling. Maybe even start official meetings with the telling of a joke. Put up a board for people to post their favourite jokes or cartoons.
  • Toys. Have a ready supply of noisemakers or nerf guns or gag joke toys or huge Angry Birds toys. Visit the toy store and look for things which could add some elements of fun.
  • Birthdays. Present gag gifts.
  • Mini-golf. Play mini-golf in the office hallways.
  • Music. Announce the start of meetings with silly or motivational music. Play “The Final Countdown” at the end of an agile sprint, or “The Eye of the Tiger” to announce a meeting.
  • Random lunches. Throw random lunches, such as with pizza or sandwiches, where everyone, including management, takes time out to chat.
  • Contests. Award the best themed costume. Hold a baking contest: see who can bake the best cake. See who can make the best paper airplane.
  • Fun pass. Reward employees with a pass to have fun by _________.
  • Room names. Think of silly names for the meeting rooms.

From ddod

We’re all kids at heart, so think “what would a kid like to do that would be fun?”.

Then there are the more simple things, such as spending a few minutes at the start of Monday to catch up on the weekend’s happenings.

Make the whole environment positive. That may mean changing the music being played in the restrooms. Or adding photos of employees having fun around the walls of the office. Adding colour to the office stimulates creativity (get rid of those neutral walls and colours).

Encourage employees to find their own style of fun – not everyone has to be the same!

Let customers know that you are a fun company, too, and see how you can extend that to dealings with customers or suppliers.

Find out what would be of value to your employees, how they would like to add fun to the work environment.

Commit to fun, to a sense of humour, and look for ways to exercise it at any time. Work towards it, and bit by bit the fun environment will develop.


What makes a company good to work for?

In looking at companies which have philanthropic values, I discovered that a side benefit of that is employee satisfaction. What else contributes to making a company a good employer? Let’s have a look at some who have been on either the BRW Australia’s Top 50 Employer list or the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For list, to see what’s common amongst the companies there.


RedBalloon is an experience-based company, offering experiences which people and organizations can give as gifts. It’s continually on the best employers list.

Here are their values:

  • Integrity
  • Generosity
  • Leadership
  • Sense of Humour & Fun
  • Little Dog with a BIG dog personality!

Here is their state ways of creating the employee experience:

  • Welcome: We love to wow our candidates and newbies through our welcome process as it paints a picture for who we are. 1st impressions are lasting.
  • Flow: Our flow of information and communication across the business is key to ensuring everyone is aligned and understands the ‘what, why and how’ we deliver on our purpose.
  • Tools: It’s all about providing our people with the right tools and space to do the job!
  • Grow: Everyone is their own career personal trainer and are provided with the time and resources to make it their reality. We ensure performance is measured, challenged and stretched.
  • Appreciate: We know our people and we work endlessly to create an environment to reward and recognise them. Our key to making it work is being spontaneous and creating an element of surprise!
  • Wellness: We love providing a sense of balance between the ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ of work. We create opportunities for our people to volunteer their time and engage in health and wellness.

Their introductory video for employees sums it all up:

The RedBalloon blog has more examples of how these are lived out, and the fun things the company does, as individuals and as a company. Their work hard, play hard approach does seem provide healthy working environment for its employees.


ThoughtWorks is a global IT consultancy, delivering custom software and tools it has developed, providing consultancy services for transforming companies. It has over 1,700 employees around the world.

And then ThoughtWorks’ Values are:

  • Customer commitment – Delighting our customers.
  • Social responsibility – Creating a better world.
  • Uncompromising principles – Respect. Openness. Humanity.
  • Best people – An exceptional community.
  • Fun – Have fun. Be passionate.
  • Entrepreneurialism – Imagine. Pursue.
  • Global – A transnational team.

Here is what ThoughtWorks says about their Company Culture:

Our culture can’t really be explained in a paragraph. We don’t wear suits. (Well, not often.) We work hard and we play hard, we have created an environment where you are working amongst the best, so being ‘top of the class’ isn’t really an option, but being challenged is.

And then ThoughtWorks lists these “cultural characteristics and imperatives”:

  • Do the right thing
  • Attitude, aptitude and integrity
  • Service to others and society over self
  • Solidarity over charity
  • Serve holistic goals over achieving targets
  • Personal and organizational transparency
  • Curiosity, creativity and passion
  • Fail fast and publish our mistakes
  • Intolerant of intolerance
  • No jerks
  • High values alignment, loosely coupled


Google needs no introduction. But what might not be as well known is that Google is considered one of the top employers, in the US and in Australia.

About working for Google in Australia:

And about working for Google more globally:


Zappos is the largest online shoe retailer, also selling clothes. It has been taken over not long ago by Amazon.com. Why has Zappos been one of the top US Employers?

Here are Zappos’ core values:

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble

And here is their video about all of that:

And a fun video:


Atlassian is a software development company, with offices around the world.

Here are the Atlassian values:

  • Open Company, No Bullshit. Atlassian embraces transparency wherever at all practical, and sometimes where impractical. All information, both internal and external, is public by default. We are not afraid of being honest with ourselves, our staff and our customers.
  • Build with Heart and Balance. Everyday we try to build products that are useful and that people lust after. Building with heart means really caring about what we’re making and doing – it’s a mission, not just a job. When we build with balance we take into account how initiatives and decisions will affect our colleagues, customers and stakeholders.
  • Don’t #@!% the Customer. When we make internal decisions we ask ourselves “how will this affect our customers?” If the answer is that it would ‘screw’ them, or make life more difficult, then we need to find a better way. We want the customer to respect us in the morning.
  • Play, as a Team. We want all Atlassians to feel like they work with Atlassian, not for Atlassian. We think it’s important to have fun with your workmates while working and contributing to the Atlassian team.
  • Be the Change You Seek. We think Gandhi had it pretty right when he said “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world”. At Atlassian we encourage everyone to create positive change – we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our company, our products and our environment.

This is the Atlassian video going into more details about the values:

Then here’s how the company works for its employees:

  • Open and transparent. We tell it like it is, warts and all, and make it a priority to be open with our employees and customers. The truth will set you free.
  • Make that change. New ideas are not only welcome, they’re expected, even if it’s “not your job.” You can be the change you seek in our culture, products, or business.
  • Expand your mind. Work with amazing people doing amazing things. You’ll learn heaps and be challenged daily.
  • Fly free. Between our FedEx Days and 20% time programs, you’ll have plenty of autonomy to work on what *you want* to.
  • Foundation days. Get 5 days off per year (paid) to do charity work of your choosing.
  • Let’s party. End of year scavenger hunts, Friday beer carts, holiday parties, team events… we like working together as much as we enjoy partying together.
  • Team building. Whether it’s just grabbing dinner together or sea kayaking, every team has a budget for some fun team building.
  • Killer setup. A sweet chair, ergonomic workstations, Mac or PC, your choice of OS. Work how you like to.
  • Good on ya, mate. We recognize people for their hard work through a company kudos program, end of year bonuses, our company blog, and stock options.
  • Still here? Pat yourself on the back that you made it this far. (That’s just the kind of perseverance and curiosity we look for in a candidate!)
  • Start refreshed. Did we mention that we’ll send you on vacation before you start the job? Stop reading this list and apply for your dream job now.
  • Bike to work. We’re a bike-friendy bunch. Park your bike in on the ground or on the wall! If your bike needs repair, just ask one of our bike-savvy Atlassians for help.
  • Welcome, Fido. Pooch-friendly office. Especially if your pooch knows how to code.
  • Open office. We hate cubicle farms. Our offices are open, with tons of natural light, and an occasional hip soundtrack.

The “FedEx” days are times set aside for employees to work on whatever they want, skewed towards being connected to products, with the aim of delivering something in 24 hours. Then there’s “20% Time”, where employees spend 20% of their time working on their own ideas.

But wait, there are more perks:

  • Medical, Dental, and Vision coverage… all the stuff you’d expect.
  • Fully stocked kitchen. Food, beer, Red Bull, and other essentials.
  • An office Xbox. With Rock Band.
  • Aeron chair and any other ergonomic accoutrements you need.
  • After 5 years we’ll give you $3,000 to take a vacation.

What lessons can be learnt?

Admittedly this is a short selection out of the 150 or so companies combined on the Australian and US Top Employers list, but there does seem to be a common theme.

The most frequent perks seen include: healthcare, telecommuting, free food and drinks, birthdays off, flexible working hours, letting staff take time off when needed, working from home one day a week, and well-being programs such as gym memberships.

All of these are important, but without a healthy culture, those things fade into insignificance. Some of the cultural values of these top companies include:

  • A sense of humour and fun. The work hard, play hard ethic works! Play encourages creativity, builds relationships, relaxes, and provides the best of environments for work.
  • A positive environment. Appreciating employees, thanking for work well done, encouraging each other, removing cynicism, and creating harmony.
  • Generosity. A generous approach in ealing with each other, throughout the organization, and with customers, being open and honest and humble, with integrity, serving each other.
  • Trust. This flows on from management’s credibility, the respect with which employees feel they are treated, and the extent to which employees expect to be treated fairly. Time and time again at a recent conference, I heard (even from execs) that people are usually motivated and want to do a good job, so managers should empower employees to get the job done, and then get out of the way. Resist command and control. In this area, as in all, managers lead by example.
  • Passion and determination. Dreaming about what could be done, and having a dogged perseverance to see the work well done.
  • Values philanthropy. As noted in the last post, more and more companies are recognizing the value in giving back to the community, including giving paid days off to employees for helping with charitable organizations, and often by giving cash to charities.
  • Diversity. Valuing the contribution from people of different abilities and strengths helping to round out the organization.
  • Innovation. Related to the “passion and determination” value, is the pursuit of new ideas, new ways of doing business, ways to improve the products / services offered, ways to improve customer service. The company needs to be encouraging every employee to be innovators, to stay fresh and current and continually growing. Curiosity is a closely related value.
  • Communication. Keeping the communication channels open, ensuring that everyone knows what is happening in the company, so they can understand how what they do is part of the whole picture. Managers need to be approachable and transparent for this to work. If managers expect a free-flow of communication back their way, it also has to go the other way, to their staff. Don’t send mixed messages!

What’s missing from these lists? What would you add as priorities for perks offered by a company? What would you add as priorities for the company culture?

Companies with a social conscience

Bill and Melinda Gates have set the bar high for philanthropy, donating more than $26 billion since 1994, through their Foundation. But what about companies, are there many organizations which structure philanthropy into the way they operate? There are many companies doing that, and here’s how.

Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s, the ice-cream maker (my favourite is Cherry Garcia), operates on these three Mission statements:

  1. Social Mission: To operate the Company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.
  2. Product Mission: To make, distribute and sell the finest quality ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.
  3. Economic Mission: To operate the Company on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stakeholders and expanding opportunities for development and career growth for our employees.

So how is that worked out? Ben & Jerry’s actively gets involved a number of issues and by administering grants:

  • The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation gets employees involved in philanthropy and social work, and by financially supporting social change organizations.
  • And then Ben & Jerry’s supports causes such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, standing against genetic modification of food, and many other causes. See their Activism pages for more details.


ThoughtWorks is a global IT consultancy, delivering custom software and tools it has developed, providing consultancy services for transforming companies. It has over 1,700 employees around the world.

ThoughtWorks operates the company around Three Pillars (coming from the idea of Ben & Jerry’s three Mission statements):

  1. Sustainable: ThoughtWorks are not chasing huge profits to benefit shareholders, but instead want to be sure that the business keeps going, and can support the other two Pillars.
  2. Revolutionize IT: improve how IT is developed, champion IT excellence, not just within the company, but within the IT industry.
  3. Social Justice: ThoughtWorks aims to passionately advocate for social and economic justice. In a recent meeting, Roy Singham, founder and chairman of ThoughtWorks, wants to see one third of their people working on social issues.

Here Rebecca Parsons, CTO of ThoughtWorks, explains the Three Pillar Model

If you want to read more about ThoughtWorks’ Three Pillars, see Martin Fowler’s article.

How does ThoughtWorks walk out those social values? Their Social Impact Program site has full details, but here is a summary:

  • Pro bono development for social or humanitarian organizations or needs, such as a new web engine for Getup, or during the Queensland Floods building an application in 48 hours to support fundraising.
  • Developing open source software of humanitarian value, such as OpenMRS.


Atlassian is a software development company, with offices around the world. It has a number of initiatives to benefit the community:

  • Through the Atlassian Foundation, through the 1% revenue set aside for it, for a variety of projects, such as Room to Read (building schools and libraries).
  • Every employee can take up to five paid days off to volunteer at a charity of their choice.
  • Provides free licenses for its products to open source projects, and social / community organizations.
  • All starter licenses are donated to charity.


Salesforce is a company with over 8,000 employees around the world, providing business software online. Salesforce, too, donates 1% of its time and money towards philanthropy. This is how they do that:

  • Employees are given 6 days off a year, fully paid, to volunteer for their cause.
  • Donating free licenses to non-profit organizations.
  • Donating 1% revenue to their Salesforce Foundation, which provides funds for grants and monetary assistance, especially to support youth, technology, and employee-inspired volunteer projects.

The Foundation began just one year after the company was founded.

Side-Benefit: Happy Employees

Businesses driven by values such as these benefit not just the recipients of their philanthropy, but a side-benefit is increased employee satisfaction. Many of these companies are listed on the top of lists of the best companies to work for, such as:

  • Atlassian continues to be on the Top 50 Employers in Australia list (from BRW).
  • Salesforce is on that list, too, along with being on Fortune’s Top 100 Companies to Work For (from CNN).

No doubt employee satisfaction is based on more than just the business philanthropy, but if the company values philanthropy, generally it will also have other positive values, including how the company works together.

Do you know of other companies which place philanthropy at their core?