Work, Rest & Play

With a workplace, we obviously mean a place for work. However, looking to the future of work and the workplace we can clearly see a number of trends that suggest we need to think beyond simplistic ideas of work and start engaging with other parts of the human experience. Work is important, but the company aiming for success needs to pay attention to both rest and play, in order to ensure optimal performance. In the following, we want to look to the future of rest and play in the workplace, and the ways in which these can enhance work and create value.

Rest and sleep might seem like the opposite of work, but in fact they are tightly interlinked. In their 2016 report, Why Sleep Matters, the RAND Corporation estimates that across five key OECD countries (US, UK, Germany, Japan, and Canada), a staggering £535 billion are lost yearly due to insufficient sleep. In the UK alone, more than 207,000 days (567 person-years) of working time is lost annually because employees do not get enough sleep! For the real estate industry alone, that’s more than 11,000 days lost, making the cost of deficient rest tremendously high. 

Sleeping On The Job 

No wonder, then, that more and more companies are exploring the benefits of better sleep. At Google, VP for Real Estate and Workplace Services David Radcliffe has stated, “No workplace is complete without a nap pod.” Nike agrees, and has installed ‘quiet rooms’ at their Portland headquarters and encourage staff to use them for power naps or meditation during work. NASA has done extensive research on the performance gains associated with workday naps, and now mandates them. This practice has spread in the aeronautics industry, where many pilots take ‘NASA naps’. 

In the office of the future, quiet rooms might become standard, but companies can also take Google’s lead and explore the use of nap pods. These can either be larger capsules of the kind made famous by Japan’s “capsule hotels”, or look more like reclined seating with a cover that ensures limited light and outside noise. Regardless of which type one uses, such pods enable workers to take 10-15 minute power naps without falling into deep sleep, a technique suggested to greatly increase workday productivity. In a similar manner, research suggests that meditation during the workday can be an efficient way to de-stress and improve focus. Apple offers employees classes on meditation and yoga on-site, has dedicated meditation rooms, and allows employees to take 30 minutes of work time a day to meditate. Considering their commercial success, maybe we should all learn from them. 

Rest in the office, then, does not fly in the face of work and productivity. On the contrary, many companies have found it both increases employee well-being and improves the bottom line. But once the employee returns from a power nap or meditation, things are all business, right? Well, not necessarily.

Strategic Game Play 

If there is one thing that defines the contemporary competitive environment, it is constant disruption. Innovation has gone from something that occurs once in a decade to something that can topple established firms in a few years. The rapid development of technology and a bevy of new business models mean that contemporary companies need to have a focus on creative experimentation, so as not to fall behind. In other words, companies need to make play a strategic priority!

Here, play is not the opposite of work, but rather a special kind of work. It is the work of curiosity and testing, of exploration and acceptable failures, and our offices are rarely built for this. Part of the reason is that we often design for the timeframes of the normal organisation – financial quarters, end-of-year reports, annual holidays and celebrations. Play works differently. As Michael Schrage (2016) suggests in his The Innovator’s Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More than Good Ideas, testing out novel ideas should be done in weeks to validate them. Playing means testing one thing, and then another, and requires a workspace that is tolerant of pop-ups, temporary testing grounds, and the rapid construction of prototypes.

Designing a future-ready workspace, then, requires balancing the need of the “normal” corporation – permanent offices and workplaces, dedicated meeting rooms – with something far more fluid and adaptable. As global design and architecture firm Gensler detail in their 2015 report The Future of Workplace, adaptability is a key part of how workplaces need to be built in the future. This is in part to be able to attract top talents, who expect offices to work with rather than against them, and in part to ensure that the company can develop with the times. They also highlight how more and more companies strive to bring people “under one roof”, so that the more staid parts of the company work side-by-side with colleagues engaged in play and experimentation. 

In the workplace of the future work, rest, and play come together. Rest, even in the workplace, supports work by making us more focused and productive. Play, specifically in the workplace, supports the business of the company by finding new ways forward before others do so. All of these aspects are needed, and in the best workplaces they co-exist, in harmony.