I’ve been thinking a lot about games lately. And work. And fun@work. A few days ago, I read a BBC article written in 2003 that suggested fun can happen at work and actually increase productivity. It covered a study done in the Netherlands. University researchers had the hypothesis that games at work just might make sense – and cents.

In 2003, the poster child of casual gaming was Solitaire, a piece of anti-productivity malware that most big company IT departments feared more than a resurgence of the ILOVEYOU worm.

Lead researcher Professor Jeffrey Goldstein felt differently.

A round of Solitaire could be used as a strategy to break up the day and help people work more effectively because it gives their brain a break from complex work tasks.

Goldstein likened game playing to coffee breaks. “If you are like me,” he says, “you use them in strategic, functional, useful way.”

Also being free to play games within certain limits, and having more choice over how they spend their work day, could contribute to job satisfaction.

Jason Fried of 37signals alluded to the same thing in a 2010 TED talk. He notes that most managers don’t want people working at home because of distractions. But, paradoxically, people are likely to encounter far worse distractions while at work.

At home, people choose their distractions. At work, distractions choose people. In my own words:

8:30 am: Arrive at work.

8:55 am: “Hey, did you read that email I just sent?”

9:28 am: Back to work.

9:37 am: “Do you have a minute?… I want to get together in the conference room. Shouldn’t take long.”

11:03 am: Back to work.

11:17 am: “What was the name of that plumber you used last year? I’m just wondering because my aunt, who had hip surgery last week, which is a whole other…”

Perhaps the greatest testament to the ingenuity of the modern knowledge worker is that any work happens at all in the places we dub “work.”

And as far as games go, most big companies are already games. They’re really big, expensive pinball machines that require utility bills and human bodies, but not necessarily productivity.

Fun, explained

People goof off, ostensibly, to have fun. But I think it’s really more about control than it is having fun. People who feel in control of their day are going to be many times more productive than those who feel like pinballs. If games add an element of control, then why not?

Questions for you

  • Do you play games at work?
  • Does your workplace encourage games? “Fun time?” Breaks at all?
  • Do you have creative ways of making boring work more fun?
  • Do you schedule time wasting?

Comment, email, or tweet me. Or don’t: go do something more fun.