Whenever I see a Table Tennis table in an office my heart does a silent scream. I get it…. I understand why a business has the table tennis table, it is telling us that they care for their staff, it is totally ok to let off steam with a colleague, it is totally cool for our team to take time away from their desk, gather their thoughts and come back refreshed. After all it is a creative industry we work in and a good knock about with a game table tennis really helps the creative process.
What a lame and lazy cliché! And who polices it? I remember at one place I worked I had a Project Manager, who spent most of his day playing table tennis. You could never get hold of him to do the job he is paid for. The PM, let’s call him Mike, was a really nice guy, a talented PM, but on-one respected him and when his contract was not renewed, no-one was surprised.
Whilst Mike was at the table tennis table, with one of the creative team, or the junior designer, the rest of us were getting on with our work. An open plan office, you hear what is going on, the Account Director’s call with the client, the designers discussing and dissecting a brief, the general banter, which you miss whist you are wiff-waffing (Boris Johnson plays table tennis to let off steam FFS – so not cool!). You will also miss out on the brew runs! If you needed Mike to do something urgently for the agency or the client, you had to get up from your desk, go to the table tennis table, get yelled at for disturbing the game, putting him or his opponent off their stroke. It was most annoying, when you are made out to be the bad guy.
As it takes two to play table tennis. Mike would pick his prey to play with him. He would go to the creative team and pick them off one by one. When you called him out on this, “Mike, Bobby has got to get this functional spec to the developers by 3pm, he really doesn’t have time to play table tennis now – can you wait until he has finished?” you would get a tut, rolled eyes and a reluctant ‘Ok’ from Mike and then an email from Bobby saying thanks as he felt under pressure to play and he was actually on a roll with his work and didn’t really want to be disturbed.
Ok, so Mike is an extreme example, and if it is your business’s culture to be open to your colleagues to take time out that’s great. We all know ideas don’t always come from 9 – 5 and flexibility is crucial to the creative process. I am not that much of a dinosaur not to understand this. However, the key word is ‘business’. Whether making money / profit is your principle driver, or a consequence of your creativity, and you are a ‘creative lead’ business, you still need to make money. Your staff need paying, the landlord needs paying, the electricity bill needs paying and so on.
The key to ‘business’ is your staff, looking after them and their needs is paramount to the success of the business. Happy staff are generally productive staff; doh – stating the bleeding obvious! And if you think a table tennis table is the answer, well good luck to you. Believe me it is not the answer. I can hear all the owners and bosses protesting; ‘we do more than letting the staff have a table tennis table!’ But take a deep dive into what you really do for your staff and be honest. What do you really do to keep your staff happy and motivated? Who is looking after them, seeking out any staff who are struggling personally or professionally? Who needs help? Who needs time away to re-discover their drive? Who needs rewarding for a great job? Who is going ‘above and beyond’ to deliver? Who is mentoring? Who needs mentoring? Who is the go to person, trusted, who anyone can be open and honest with? Are people getting their appraisals on time? What about rewarding great work with promotion and a bonus? If someone asks for additional training – let them have it without having to go through the rigmarole of, doing a presentation, how your new skills will improve the business, ROI, can we afford it etc, etc…. If one of your team has taken the initiative to actively seek out self-improvement to make them more skilled, it can only be an asset to the business – get your hand in your pocket and sodding well pay for it!!
The table tennis table is an overt, physical thing that demonstrates to your staff and clients that you are a fun, caring business, progressive. But is it really?
If your team need to let off steam, or take a break during the working day, encourage them to leave the office, go for a run, a walk, a swim, a coffee. Just let the team around you know, so if anything needs doing urgently, they are aware and can handle it.
These points are far more important than bloody wif-waf.
My advice is take the table tennis table, along with the pool table (don’t think you can get away with a bloody pool table) and chop it up for fire wood…..