A Study of Inclusion Through Workplace Play: Kambo Energy Group

Have you ever looked at a colleague who is “having too much fun” at work and caught yourself thinking, are they really working?

How productive are they?

We are adults and the work is called “work” for a reason.

It is a serious business.

Or is it?

A Brief History of  Workplace Play

Play at work actually gained popularity over 20 years ago with the dot-com boom in the 90s. Thereafter, in study after study, we have been learning that joyous, playful work environment boosts staff creativity and productivity — give a Google to Fluegge Woolf, John W. Newstrom, Dave Hemsath and Leslie Yerkes for studies and examples.

Companies like Google and Twitter have become living proof of the value of playfulness in boosting innovation and creating new business models. Yet, you do not have to be a multi-billion corporation to create a fun-loving culture at work.

Fun = Inclusion 

After working extensively in the realm of diversity and inclusion, I recently gained even greater reason to believe in the power of such ‘playful’ thinking. This summer was an eventful one for me, filled with a lot of unexpected fun. First, my older Gen Z offspring returned home after six months of flirting with independent living. Secondly, I started a new day job.

These two events — at first seemingly-unrelated — got me thinking about the two things I probably value the most in life: having fun when trying new things and the connection between playful work environment and a culture of inclusion. 

The Millennial Mindset 

Do you remember being asked what you would like to be when you grow up?

This question is not as relevant any more. According to a 2017 report by the Institute for Future, 85 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not been invented yet.

However, this is not the only reason why the question about a future ‘dream’ job is becoming obsolete.

My daughter is a part of Gen Z (those who were born after 1996). What fascinates me about Gen Z is that instead of dreaming about who they would like to be when they grow up, my daughter and her friends talk about what they would like to DO and how they would like to be a part of the CHANGE. Whatever future they envision, it is inherently diverse and inclusive.

The perception of diversity and inclusion (D&I) for this most well-educated generation yet, who never knew a world without the Internet, is also much broader than my old-fashioned ideas around D&I (focus on gender, race, culture, abilities, etc.).

For Gen Z, the D&I initiatives are not about compliance or moral imperative. Gen Z is looking for companies that have a purpose, foster cognitive diversity and offer fun, flexible and fulfilling work environments. Growing up in the digital era has made our kids true global citizens, for whom freedom of expression and diversity of thoughts are more critical than security of a job.

Our kids who are now rapidly entering the workforce are not attracted to the idea of nine-to-five office jobs. They hop from one job to another in pursuit of cool learning opportunities and career advancement. They are risk takers, designers, creators and entrepreneurs.

A New Kind of Company

Some progressive HR practices, aimed specifically at attracting and retaining young talent, are featured in The Globe and Mail’s list of Canada’s Top Employers for Young People. Yet, provided that most of the companies included in that list are large corporations, I thought I would share with you my experience of joining a different kind of company that lives and breathes fun at work.

In August of 2019, I joined Kambo Energy Group. A big chunk of the workforce here is quite young, but the rest of us are also enjoying the “funky” and purpose-driven culture. All of the employees truly believe in company’s vision to provide clean and accessible energy to everyone.

Most importantly, when it comes to culture, the company shows how to walk the talk:

  • ‘We Will Treat You As Adults’: On my first week I had to ask for a couple of hours off to take my mom to her doctor, so I sent an email to my supervisor—and received a reply that sounded something like this: “Thanks for letting me know and I hope everything is okay with your mom, but in the future you do NOT need to ask for my permission if you need to take time off. We believe our employees are adults and trust they can manage their time to get things done. Next time, just let us know about your plans on Slack.” 
  • Building Culture, Cutting (Edge) Slack: Slack is an online platform which we use for internal communication. Every morning, every employee writes on Slack about their plans for the day (i.e. what they are planning on achieving this day). This also includes notifications such as “coming late … working from home … bringing a dog to work” or photos of staff biking to work. Daily sharing creates a culture of transparency, accountability and inclusion and lifts the bar in terms of communal excitement and fun at work.  Apart from Slack, there are eight other digital platforms that help staff communicate better and be more productive and which I have yet to master.
  • Wear Your Values On The (Kitchen) Wall: A recent global Steelcase study found a strong correlation between work satisfaction and employee engagement, “with employees who have greater control over their physical space at work reporting greater work satisfaction.” My new employer has recently moved to a new office space which features open working space, multiple rooms of various sizes for team meetings or working alone and a cafe-and-bar-like open kitchen space that is used for all staff meetings and socials after and during work. There is also a wall in the kitchen that reminds everybody about company’s vision and values. 
  • Lead by Fulfilment and Betterment: A 2012 study by the Bell Leadership Institute, that surveyed over 2,700 employees in various sectors, found that the two most desirable leader’s qualities are a good sense of humour and a strong work ethics. One of the values at Kambo is “fulfillment” which emphasizes work-life balance. Another one is “betterment”—we want leave all things better than we find them, including our company and ourselves. Values at Kambo do not just live on the wall, they are embodied and demonstrated by top leadership. Whether it is biking to work, brainstorming in open space, eating together in the kitchen while cracking jokes or asking staff to challenge them (so that the best idea wins), the leadership of the company lives and breathes their values of fulfilment and betterment. This role modelling creates a true culture of inclusion wherein people are allowed and encouraged to express their ideas, celebrate their unique assets and identities and have fun at work. 
  • Mix Business with Silly Stuff to Bond: Every quarter the company holds all-staff-meetings. They are called town halls and they are…all day meetings and I learned how fun they can actually be on my first week. The day started with an icebreaker and meditation, which were led by different staff members and followed by updates from executives and divisions. The potluck of the day celebrated the International Food Day and the last two hours  were dedicated to playing GAMES. These were truly silly games that had nothing to do with work, but got our competitive and creative juices going and allowed for team building and getting to know people from other divisions. Playing with somebody, as well as socializing, truly broke the ice and made me feel 1,000 per cent more comfortable approaching colleagues from other departments.
  • Know and Show Your BFGs: Everyone fills in the middle differently, but at Kambo, we call them Flamingo goals—and we have flamingos everywhere in the office. They are on BFG boards in the kitchen area where everybody can see how each team is doing; we have stuffy flamingos around the office and on some days you could find our CEO wearing a flamingo shirt to work. These pink and beautiful creatures are constant reminders about our business goals, but somehow they do not raise people’s blood pressure. In addition, meeting rooms are named after mystical creatures and teams are always coming up with new names for old and emergent projects alike. Here’s to the seals and foxes, as well as flamingos.
  • Recognize the Return on Inclusion: Remember when I asked for time off to help my mom and the reply I received from my supervisor? The freedom was immediate and appreciated. Having been imbued in their culture, I, in turn, have had no problems signing on attend a community work event on what would traditionally be a non-work day.Simply put, and I have had the pleasure of both promoting — and now experiencing — If you treat people as adults (with a culture of trust) and create spaces where they feel safe to play like kids (with a culture of fun), organizations will get three-digit multiplier returns on their investments.Namaste.

     


     

    Olga Scherbina is manager of community relations for the “Empower Me” division of Kambo Energy Group.

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