Given Dhaka's traffic, an average person spends more than 10 hours at work and the commute to and from work, if not more. In fact, for those of us with a full-time job, most of our waking hours are spent at work.
It would be unfair to expect people to simply bury their heads in work for all these hours. Not only is it unhealthy, but from the perspective of an employer, it is unproductive as well.
Recognising this phenomenon, a slow paradigm shift has been marking workplaces in Dhaka and other urban centres. More and more upper management are trying to introduce fun activities and a new energy to the office.
Leading the way are start-ups. Recreational facilities are a common sight at startups everywhere. Often operating from a small rental place at a semi-commercial or non-commercial building, start-ups almost always have some sort of recreational setup, be it a corner library or a foosball table.
That is because most startup environments have a fast-paced culture that value communication and creativity. Startups are typically smaller than established organisations during their initial stages, and allow employees to form close bonds and openly share ideas. Hence, resources that help employees form better bonds are very important.
"We spend the most energetic portion of our days at work. Hence, a workplace must be a fun place with modern recreational facilities," said Jayed Abdullah, the founder and CEO of Next Venture.
Next Venture, a Bangladesh-based digital business group providing Fintech products and solutions, has recently moved to a 21,000 sq ft office space, equipped with advanced amenities and popular recreational facilities such as foosball, billiard, console gaming, table tennis, etc.
"Our employees have to use both their intellect and creativity in their line of work. It is very important that we give people some breathing space. I would definitely love to see my employees who are engaged in critical work – like data analysis, content creation, programming or website development – rejuvenate themselves through these activities," added Jayed.
Moreover, Jayed believes that relaxing is the best mode of recreation. Hence, the office has been very thoughtfully designed, paying careful attention to open space and relaxation zones.
"A 21,000 sq feet office can roughly accommodate around 400 to 500 people. But we are using the space for 200, which allows us to have free communal areas. There are different designer pod chairs, private pods, hot desks and other private zones where the workers can sit, chat and relax," said Jayed.
Making the workplace more fun is beneficial for both employees and the company in the long run. Therefore, it is worth the time and effort. Happy employees are counted as healthier and more productive individuals.
The positive effects that happiness has on the workforce's health also aid in lowering presenteeism and absence costs. Employees take fewer sick days as a result.
A research by Collaborative Trends and Technology revealed that nearly two-thirds (65%) of knowledge workers collaborate multiple times a day with their colleagues. So encouraging an effective way to improve cohesion within the organisation should be a priority for recruiters.
Spending time with coworkers in a laid-back and enjoyable setting promotes open communication and mutual trust. Employees will work better together and communicate more effectively if they are friends rather than just coworkers with the people they work with. Moreover, a lot of HR experts believe that these activities channel the creative side of employees.
Happy workers are productive workers
Tasmia Nova, Regional HR Manager at Hindustan Unilever Limited, believes healthy workers are the most productive ones at the office.
"Employees spend a significant chunk of their time at work, and therefore it's not a luxury but a necessity for workplaces to be equipped with facilities that help them unwind, relax, destress and most importantly have fun," she said.
Nafis Shams, a copywriter at a leading marketing agency in Bangladesh, feels amped up after lunch when he spends half an hour in the gaming room at the office.
"After lunch, I feel quite lethargic, and my motivation falls. Playing table tennis while having a good chat with my colleagues works like an energy booster for the second half of my day," he said.
Indoor games like foosball, table tennis and billiards are fun to play anytime, very easy to set up, and take up very little space. Hence, most workplaces opt for these options.
"As a creative person who has primarily worked with creative teams, I feel it's imperative to have some sort of recreational activities at the workplace. I felt like the best ideas and inspiration came to me when I was looking away from the planning board, or away from my table," said Mashroor Hossain, a former employee at another marketing agency.
Mashroor's previous office had plenty of facilities for recreation. And as a cherry on top, the office had cats!
"These allowed us to have casual conversations and a time away from work-talk," he added.
A change of culture
Large corporations tend to have a slow-moving, hierarchical, workplace culture. They focus more on productivity than anything else. As a result, the concept of workplace recreation is not common within the culture.
However, over time, traditional workplaces are adopting this culture. Almost all the MNCs in the country now have recreational facilities for their workers.
"Entertainment facilities are hardly a startup thing anymore. Most organisations have some form of recreational activities at the workplace. Some organisations are creative in their approach and have employees' needs in mind, ensuring the right kind of facilities," said Nova.
Unilever, in all global markets, has numerous kinds of recreational options – ranging across sports, wellness/gym, entertainment, and even personal grooming and styling.
All of these facilities are an essential part of the Unilever Bangladesh HQ, which is built under the FOTO (future of the office) concept.
The tech giant Google is well-known for providing its workers with world-class recreation, including games of all kinds, free meals and gyms. Besides, Google employees can enjoy video games, nap pods, mini-golf and more – right at the office.
Google has tried to set itself apart from other tech companies and has even been called a "playground for grownups."
Google lets its software engineers, the core of its intellectual capital, design their own desks or workstations, many of which resemble oversized Tinker Toys. Engineers write on walls to express themselves. The end result may appear a little disorganised, like a futuristic refugee camp, but Google claims that's how the employees prefer it.
Despite everything, employees there still find it hard to find the work-life balance, given the extreme work pressure of the ultra fast pace of work. A blog named 4 Day Week reveals that around 48% of the workers there feel burnout at work, so the issue of working hours may still be a pressing one.
Is too much entertainment at the workplace a distraction?
To this day there are plenty of companies that ban social media usage in workplaces because they are afraid that it will cause distraction and lead to a drop in productivity.
The concept, however, is changing. Upper management is now more concerned about its workers' well-being and satisfaction. Equipmentation of gaming tools is a clear indicator of that.
However, one question still lingers: can recreational facilities become a distraction?
"If the company sets daily or weekly KPIs for its employees and offers them the flexibility to finish it in their own way, within the deadline, I think it's all good and there is nothing to be worried about," said Iftekhar Ahmed, founder of a content writing agency who offers his employees a handful of entertainment resources at the workplace.
Are these recreations a trap?
No matter how fun these activities may look from a distance, many employees believe that this is a trap to keep them in the office for longer hours.
"It all comes down to the work hours and environment. If the job is taking up too much time out of your day, then the recreational facilities are irrelevant. When the day is done, I prefer going home, instead of playing FIFA at work. In retrospect, the workplace that offered the most entertainment was also the one where my work-life balance was the worst," said Mashroor.
Similar emotions were echoed by Salman Rahman as well. Salman used to work for a leading e-commerce company in Bangladesh, and the headquarter, where he worked at, was full of recreational facilities. His office also had a gym for the employees which he considered a useful addition.
"We definitely had the resources for recreation and many enjoyed these luxuries. But the work pressure was insane and we could rarely leave our desks," he explained.