Having fun at work can make your teams more productive -- and these experts built a business around it

Lizzy McLellan Ravitch, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

At many workplaces, coworker bonding looks vastly different now than it did pre-COVID-19. Even for those who have returned to the office regularly, the default ways of connecting have changed.

A prime example of that is at the fun dept. This Wilmington, Delaware-based consultancy, founded in 2006, helps companies administer team-building activities and inject fun — think trivia games, pop culture quizzes and low-key physical challenges — into meetings. Its business was 80% live events pre-pandemic, and now that's flipped to putting on about 80% virtual events for clients, most of which are based in the Philadelphia region.

Fun dept. founder Nick Gianoulis and chief creative officer Christopher Bruce spoke with The Inquirer about the business case for having fun at work, and how business leaders can fit game play and team-building into the workplace of the future.

The interview has been condensed for brevity and clarity.

Q: Your whole business is based on making the workplace more fun, right? So what does that mean to you, and why is it necessary?

Gianoulis: As a young manager, I was charged with not just generating revenue and that kind of thing, but motivating employees. And that company had a work-hard, play-hard ethic — that was before anybody was even talking about culture. This company was having fun at work primarily with celebratory things, [such as] when we hit milestones, and the typical holiday party and summer picnic on a Saturday.


I thought geez, what if you could do things consistently throughout the course of the year ... something brief during the work hours. Would that yield a better result? So that was the whole basis genesis for starting the fun dept. I just believe in my soul — it's what I've been doing all these years — that people need these little restorative breaks at work and it does lead to a more productive, happier, healthier workplace.

Bruce: What fun does for companies is really important. A lot of times, we get lost in the grind and buried in our task lists, and we get burned out, we get stressed. The way that we encourage people to have fun really helps to reenergize, to refocus, and make you that much more productive. We're not saying, "Abandon everything, so much for work, let's just play." It's not about that. It's about being able to take a step back and regain some perspective.

Q: From your viewpoint, how did workplace fun fare during the pandemic?

Bruce: With remote work and hybrid work schedules — and we've all been through so much over the last few years — there's more and more of this disconnect happening. People are just sitting there staring at a screen, staring at a list of to-dos, and they need an opportunity to become connected with their teams. ... There's a huge difference when a team feels connected, when they're bonded.


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