Creativity is encouraged at forward-thinking firms, writes Helen Frances

A spot they call The Sandpit occupies centre space in the office of Jasmax, Auckland.

A small "Hut," complete with miniature whiteboards, is being trialled there and this adult play house has been very popular says Jasmax principal, Tim Hooson.

The company's 170 architects, designers and support staff are free to use The Sandpit as they wish - whether it is to fire the imagination or rethink a budget. It's about play being a vital part of people's work.


Play stimulates creativity and innovation, and can make tedious tasks more enjoyable - something a number of workplaces recognise. The way this plays out varies according to the nature of the business and culture.

Hooson heads a team that designs workplace interiors. He says the company operates according to this mantra - "it's not the object we produce that is important but the people that occupy the spaces."

The diverse people and cultures at Jasmax are, he says, empowered to perform at their optimum as individuals and committed team players.

The Jasmax culture and physical workspace aligns with the company's management style. Principals and directors work and play in the same space with their staff. In the open plan office staff are free to move around and interact, sit where they need to work - at workstations or on sofas, or have a coffee at the company cafe where work discussions also take place.

Jasmax has identified different personality and work styles among staff, which among other things influenced the location of interactive and quieter areas, plus bright and quieter carpet colours in the centre and perimeter respectively.

The company engages and supports staff in a number of ways.

On Fridays, Jasmax musos pick up their instruments and hold a jam session. The physically active can take part in "boot camp" fitness sessions in a local park, or stretch out in gentler Pilates, all subsidised by the company. In winter, dress-up quiz parties enliven the season; design talks bring dancers, fashion designers and the like to give their take on creativity; design weekends give any member of staff the opportunity to play away from the office.

Fun is part of the DNA of the company says Jasmax human resources (HR) manager Kavita Khanna.

"We know that even during tough times we can't switch off fun because that's what keeps our culture going. We don't what to lose that."

She says HR is not seen any differently.

"We come up with ingenious solutions for our creative people."

At Kiwibank's call centre, team leader Paul Byrne reports an attitude of "looking at how we can make things more fun - just a better working place really."

Call centres require customer service reps (CSR) to be available to answer customer calls so it is by nature a restricted environment.

"We look at how our teams can play in between calls. If you've got people happy in the workplace and happy in their jobs it's win/win for both staff and business - [and] you'll get better retention."

Byrne says they follow the Fish philosophy, which evolved from a film about the Seattle Pike Place Fish Market. Engaging their colleagues and customers in laughter and repartee, the fish mongers toss fish to each other as they fill orders. While the film may enhance reality, the philosophy, followed by Kiwibank call centre, emphasises play, being there for colleagues, making their day, and choosing your attitude. A team at the call centre drives the project. Teams compete to win a monthly trophy.

"It's [about] enjoyment - what has your team done to be Fish team of the month?"

A night shift team made a Fish Bomb piata [decorated container, filled with toys and or candy which is ceremonially broken apart]. They lavishly decorated the next shift's workstations and shouted them morning tea.

The call centre's Rugby World Cup campaign became a vehicle for looking at measures, such as adhering to schedule and post-call processing times - work that is inherent to call centre work.

"It wouldn't work having someone spend five minutes with a customer then 10 minutes doing wrap up work," Byrne says.

During the campaign, if individual CSRs scored high adherence to schedule and achieved low wrap work time they gained a try or a conversion. Every team had their own country name (excluding the big ones). The teams' measured results were totalled to determine the winner. The floor was also "aflood" with national decorations, which came down in time for the final game.

Awards are given across the bank for different themes, such as best Kiwiana, Footrot Flats, at the beach, Santa's workshop, and recycling.

Byrne reports staff from around Kiwibank say they love coming through the call centre as it's such a vibrant place to work.

"When we are getting that from other areas of the bank you know you are pretty much doing it right."

Fiona Ireland HR manager, Trade Me, describes the company culture as "entrepreneurial and non-bureaucratic," staffed by energetic and engaged people.

"We have an open and collaborative working environment with minimal hierarchy and open-plan offices."

The Trade Me social club, "Club Soda" organises events, pod parties, quiz nights and ski trips

She acknowledges any role can have tedious aspects. The company likes innovation, so "if tedious work can be done another way or not done at all we encourage our people to challenge the status quo and come up with new ways of doing things."

One job required responding to members who asked to be informed about interesting auctions.

"We came up with the Cool Auctions rotator on the Trade Me homepage and members can now email us with their nominations. The process of loading the listings is pretty tedious, so when we train our staff members to use it we provide them with a Fonzie badge to show they are a, "Cool Auction guru." The badge asks: "What would Fonzie do?" which is a good thing to bear in mind when they are deciding whether a listing chins the bar of coolness or not."

Why workplace fun leads to productivity

* Promotes a positive culture
* Improved staff morale
* Less absenteeism
* Better working relationships
* Greater motivation
* Reduced stress
* Improved performance