When work spells fun

From bring your pet to work day to dressing up in the office, remote working and workshops on positivity, UAE companies are increasingly introducing initiatives to encourge creativity in the workplace.

Action Impact's uniform day in April 2014 had some employees suited up as police and soldiers. Courtesy Action Impact
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One day every couple of months, employees at Action Impact do something which may seem a little odd to some people.

In the past they have arrived at work wearing a funny hat, a pirate costume, a Christmas jumper or a pretend uniform. Some have also brought their pets in with them. And there was even talk of bringing their children in but it was not possible from an insurance perspective.

The theme days, as they are called, are part of a strategy to encourage creativity in the workplace, and by implication, their work.

“It promotes discussion,” says Adrian Bell, the executive director of Action Impact, a creative communications agency in Dubai. “It promotes relationship- building, and more particularly it promotes fun. And fun is a really important part of the creative process.”

The company also stages monthly bake-offs, during which departments make cakes and other treats, which they sell to raise money for good causes.

But its alternative approach to the workplace does not stop there.

Mr Bell thinks employees do not necessarily do their best work in the office, so staff are encouraged to stay away sometimes.

“I don’t necessarily mean they don’t produce it while they are here but the creative process, which is very much an organic process, doesn’t actually occur between the hours of 8.30am and 5.30pm, in my opinion,” says Mr Bell.

“It requires a lot more stimuli around it and freedom than just coming into as I call them the disruption factories. We find it is very important that the creative group has that freedom.”

Freedom for Action Impact employees means working flexible time and remotely. Staff are encouraged to work from home, or a coffee shop, or anywhere other than the confines of their office.

Many companies stage similar initiatives. Remote working is now so popular that there are applications out there to make it easier to manage, while companies like LinkedIn hold annual Bring in Your Parents Day, and Google has been seen to lead the way in the creative workplace by installing things such as Lego play stations and treadmills in its offices.

“If you are happy you come up with ideas,” says Jasim Al AIi, the chief executive of shared services at Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI), which staged a workshop on how to increase happiness in the workplace last month.

“They mentioned how we have to be positive. Positive energy improves performance and increases productivity in the workforce. People have to change the way we are working,” adds Mr Al Ali.

As part of DMI’s efforts to increase workplace positivity, employees will receive a handbook with tips, while the top management will meet to discuss ideas to encourage a harmonious atmosphere in the environment and among colleagues.

Efforts to improve positivity and initiatives like remote working or theme days may increase creativity and productivity. But they also serve another purpose, according to an expert in the workplace.

They make a job more than a job – it becomes something people actually enjoy doing.

“We are going back now into how to create a great workplace culture for employees,” says Maha Zaatari, lead consultant at Great Place to Work.

“One of the main drivers that we assess an organisation on in order to say this is a great place to work or not is camaraderie.”

Camaraderie is important because it lifts staff morale, she adds.

And through their initiatives companies such as Action Impact, LinkedIn or Google effectively show their employees that they care about them and want them to have a good work-life balance.

They often also have better staff retention rates as a result.

“If I work for an organisation that looks after me and cares for me as a human being, not just a number or a cost, I would rest assured that no matter what happens I have a management who really cares for me, who really sees my value and the value of me staying,” says Ms Zaatari.

Action Impact works in a competitive industry, but by all accounts the staff turnover is low. Around half its staff have worked there longer than five years.


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