Empowering people to deliver excellent work is one of my greatest passions as Lucidchart’s vice president of people operations. In this pursuit, we, like many companies, spend a lot of time strategically designing the workplace to maximize productivity, including stocking our kitchen with healthy snacks and lunches, providing ergonomic chairs with mountain views as a cozy alternative to our employees’ desks, and offering quiet rooms for people who need to focus without interruption. While these perks are nice and certainly make a difference, they actually pale in comparison to what we’ve learned is one of the biggest secrets to energizing and boosting employee productivity: Time spent outside the office.
Seems counterintuitive, right? After all, the more employees get done, the more they contribute to the bottom line. But research shows that productivity and giving employees frequent out-of-office breaks from the daily grind don’t have to compete. In fact, providing consistent opportunities for people to walk away from their desks and decompress — even if it’s in the form of an off-site lunch hour, yields higher rates of overall engagement and performance from employees. Furthermore, with the average American worker spending over 90,000 hours at the office in their lifetime, studies show that adults who form strong friendships with their colleagues are more enthusiastic and productive in their jobs.
Whether your company is large or small, it’s important to prioritize activities that lead employees to interact outside of the office. This can be done in many different, creative ways. Here are some ideas we’ve implemented, as well as a few examples from other companies to inspire you.
Create opportunities to interact
To make our new hires feel welcome at Lucid, we match them with two or three people from any department and level for several off-site lunches in their first few weeks. This helps both new and more tenured employees get to know each other (especially people who might not regularly interact).
Several other companies like Microsoft and L’Oreal randomly match their employees every week in different sets of two to go out for coffee through coworkercoffee.com, allowing them to take a short break and get to know each other outside the office, on the company’s budget. If a US-based employee matches with an international employee, they grab a beverage and video chat. This is a great example of a creative way companies can get their people from all over the world to connect and build relationships outside of normal work responsibilities.
Provide team building activities
What do axe throwing, fencing, high tea with feather boas, and art classes have in common? They’re just a few of the quarterly, out-of-office department activities our teams at Lucidchart have done. These frequent, small excursions, which we dedicate budget for every quarter, have brought about some of the greatest improvements in how we operate at Lucid. During one particular go-karting activity, an employee crashed into their director, and while no one got hurt (and everyone got a laugh), the experience broke the proverbial “hierarchical ice,” allowing the employee to connect with their boss on a human level, making it easier and less intimidating to approach and communicate with them at work.
These out-of-office team excursions go a long way. In a recent survey, we asked our employees whether they thought there was anything unique about Lucid that made it a great place to work. Of all of the free form comments, nearly 10% specifically noted Lucid’s outside team activities as one of the top things that contributes to enhancing their performance and engagement at the office. Budget for bonding! It’s well worth the investment when it produces meaningful connections, friendships, and increased productivity as a result of the change of scenery and stress relief these activities facilitate.
Involve family and friends
We’ve found that involving employees’ significant others, children and friends gives people the chance to integrate both the professional and personal parts of their lives, resulting in them feeling more supported, anchored, and engaged in their work.
We do this by planning summer parties, reserving movie theaters, and encouraging employees to bring their significant other or a close friend to our annual holiday party.
Every year, we also hold a three day “Hackathon,” where many of our engineers work upwards of 50 consecutive hours on a passion project of their choosing that create solutions and improve the functionality of our product. Some participants don’t even leave the office during those three days!
While we understand the value and impact each employee can have on our product by participating in this intensive event, we also recognize the sacrifices in time away from family and friends they make during the three days. That’s why, on the final day, we have a celebration where family and friends come, participate, and see the results of their loved ones’ hard work. Past events have included food, face painting, balloon artists, VR, and even a magician.
Consider a company-wide retreat
When Lucid first began, its seven employees, including co-founders Karl Sun and Ben Dilts, went on annual biking trips to Moab. As the company grew, that little retreat became a camping trip to Zion National Park for over 170 employees. This eventually turned into an annual excursion to Utah’s Bear Lake where this year, we had over 400 employees in attendance. We’ve found that not only are these events fun, but they allow people to get out of their everyday silos and relax, connect, and recharge together in a beautiful setting. Although we insist that people leave work at the office during the retreat, the change in scenery and cross-departmental interaction often leads to out-of-the box ideas that have resulted in some of Lucid’s most significant innovations throughout the years.
I’m sure that first retreat required a major investment for Karl and Ben, who were trying to get a startup off the ground on a shoestring budget, and I can attest that present day, despite our success as a company, it’s still a major investment as our headcount grows, but we’ve continued making it year after year because the dividends it pays in teamwork, morale, and yes, increased productivity are priceless. Never underestimate the benefits that a good, old-fashioned rallying cry can have on bringing people together around a shared vision and goal!
Learn as you go
Remember, every company looks different and has different needs, but creating opportunities for people to take a break and recharge is what’s most important. It may be an exercise in trial-and-error, but it’s worth the challenge in the long run. Whether that means holding family-friendly events during the day, or planning a quarterly happy hour or yoga class, when you find the right fit, sit back and watch engagement, productivity, and morale at the office soar! It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job.