The case for (and against) the office games room

Office games room

Is the games room dead?

Some seem to think so. After all, the whole tech startup vibe of office-meets-playground isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. (In his book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, Dan Lyons refers to it as “a cross between a kindergarten and a frat house.”)

But while some see the games room as an entirely outdated (or at least misguided) employee engagement tactic, others firmly disagree. And, if the shiny new offices popping up all over are any indication, games rooms aren’t falling by the wayside any time soon.

Games room at Scotiabank Digital FactoryTake Scotiabank Digital Factory, the newly-opened hub for the bank’s tech talent, including visual designers, engineers, analytics professionals, and digital marketers. The 6,500-square-metre office space was designed to maximize collaboration across teams, who are focused on building digital solutions for Scotiabank customers.

The space has all the bells and whistles: gym, fireside lounge, speakeasy bar (reached via vault door, of course). And, it has a handsomely decked out games room. Ping pong tables, foosball, wall-mounted board games fill the space.

So, are these accoutrements really necessary in the modern office?

“An active break”

“I believe that it really depends on the culture of the office and what that particular group is interested in providing for their employees,” says Beverly Horii, a managing director at Interior Architects, the design firm behind the Scotiabank Digital Factory.

“Game rooms are about team building and de-stressing on a daily basis, rather than waiting for a team building event. Also, companies are interested in providing for game rooms to attract and retain a certain demographic of employees.”

And, in fact, at some offices, games rooms are still somewhat of a requirement. (Wealthsimple comes to mind: “If we took away the Ping-Pong table, there’d be riots,” said PR manager Rachael Factor in a Toronto Life article on its new Toronto office.)

And there are plenty of reasons for that – reasons that go way beyond company culture and recruitment strategies. In essence: people need breaks.

“It provides an active break from coding in a software engineer’s day,” says Horii, adding that though she expects AR and VR to start playing a bigger role in games rooms, the old classics like ping pong are here to stay.

“The more high-tech a company, the more low-tech they want their recreational options to be,” she says.

“A relic of the Dot Com era”

On the other hand, other companies are doing just the opposite: taking away the opportunities for “active breaks,” like ping pong and foosball tables, in lieu of bars and lounges.

Take Motley Fool. We recently chatted with “Poobah of PR” Alison Southwick about some of its outside-the-box employee engagement strategies – and, naturally, their games room came up.

And despite the fact that it has received plenty of praise, it’s essentially on the way out. Or, rather, it’s being reborn.

“The game room is a relic of the dot com era. It’s a symbol rather than an actual benefit. There’s nothing wrong with having a game room but, honestly, it is probably one of the least-used rooms in our office,” says Southwick.

“Having a game room, more than anything, is a short hand to communicate something about your brand and workplace culture to the world: we have fun, we are friends, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But in practice, the game room doesn’t get a lot of use.”

“The intrinsic benefits of doing good work”

The idea that a games room is a way to show-not-tell the world (and, most notably, prospective talent) about your company culture is certainly a common one.

After all, it’s a lot more engaging to show job candidates a games room filled with happy employees than it is to give them a 20-minute dissertation on why it’s a fun place to work.

“People may come to work here at The Motley Fool because they heard about our game room and other benefits, but they stay because of the intrinsic benefits of doing good work and getting to collaborate with awesome coworkers.” Says Southwick.

“It’s more complicated to talk about intrinsic benefits than a game room, so game rooms get a lot of attention and you can brag to friends at parties about your cool office. However, across the nation, at hip companies everywhere, ping pong tables are collecting dust.”

Motley Fool is in the process of moving, and as part of that process, will be re-thinking their games room altogether. First, it likely won’t be called a games room any more. Second, it will be more of a hangout space for meetings and collaboration.

“Our new game room will be a much more flexible space with a bar, fridge, and couches. You can go there to host a team happy hour, have a casual meeting, or yes, if the mood strikes, even play ping pong,” says Southwick.

So maybe, in a refreshed, updated setting, it won’t be gathering dust after all.

(Scotiabank Digital Factory photo ©doublespace)

See also:
How corporate culture can work against you (and how to avoid it)
Alternatives to beer cart Fridays


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