How to Make Work Fun Again

When was the last time you laughed at work?

No, not a polite ‘haha’ response to a cringey joke. Not that maniacal laugh either, you know, the kind of crazy howl you do alone when everything is going wrong.

I’m talking about a deep belly laugh, with your coworkers. The kind that fills you with endorphins, wakes you up, and connects you to the people around you.

Has it been a while? You’re not alone.

With the compounding stress of a pandemic, constant industry disruption, and awkward return to work plans, for most people, work is lacking in the fun department these days.

But we need fun at work, to survive, and it also fuels our engagement and creativity.

So, how do we add fun back into the day? Here are 4 tips to help.

1. Bring fun into the flow of work. Waiting until there’s more blank space in the calendar is not an option. In fact, times of great stress are actually when your team needs fun the most. You don’t have to carve out a half day to play ‘never-have-I-ever’ to make it happen. Try opening a meeting with a funny story from over the weekend or by playing a silly game.

I was in a meeting last week where we spent the first five minutes trying to guess animal sounds. By the end, we were all laughing. The ice breaker was a teammate’s idea and we all saw firsthand how something initially silly contributed to more open, creative conversations down the road.

2. Outsource it (to get started). When you feel like you’d rather take a nap than lead virtual team building, bringing the energy can be tough. Try hiring it out, at least at first. There are tons of options from external facilitators, virtual events, even watching a pre-recorded Netflix special together (Ted Lasso is life-changing) can add some levity. The added ‘external’ factor will also help your team mentally step away from day-to-day business.

3. Build real relationships, and the fun will follow. If your ra-ra is falling on deaf ears, all hope is not lost. Bringing ‘fun’ to someone in the midst of intense challenge will likely be ineffective. Instead of focusing on fun, shift your focus to developing a more deep, human relationship. We have the most fun with people who we trust; our protective instincts must relax in order to make way for the vulnerability and empathy required for humor.

4. Make it tangible (virtual version of bring snacks).  Whether it’s a make-your-own-cocktail kit, lunch delivered via DoorDash, or just some company swag, tactile elements break up the groundhogs-day feeling. If you’re finding that most days are full of back-to-back Zoom calls, think about what you can do to add an element of physicality.  Our physical environments send us cues and when you change the environment, even in small ways, people’s brains can’t help but to engage.

I get it, your to-do list is long, and ‘fun’ typically lands at the bottom. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is no need to wait for the ropes course off site team building. Use small bursts and your own vulnerability to bring the joy back to daily work.