What I learned by gatecrashing another workplace

Let me start by saying that the title of this piece is a little misguiding.

*cough cough* 136 zombie kills. Just saying.

*cough cough* 136 zombie kills. Just saying.

It wasn’t a real gatecrash in the true sense of the term.
More like an invitation extended on which I acted.
Alright, I was an invited guest.
But it made a really good title.

I recently returned from a trip to Melbourne, during which I covered the swarm conference (it’s my annual national-scale giving back to the community project) through live tweets and blog posts of the two days it ran. It is always an eye-opener and an educational experience, sharing the room with so many amazing minds in the community and social media management arena. If you missed my work, or if you want to learn more about the only annual Australian conference for Online Community and Social Media Managers, you can check them out here.

I also took some time off to just enjoy the sight and sounds of Melbourne. I had the chance to catch up and hang out with my very good friend, Venessa Paech. If you don’t know this amazing lady, then you’re missing out. She is a wealth of knowledge concerning community management and a constant source of awesomeness.

Venessa is Senior Manager for Community & Content Strategy with REA Group, and I was invited to pop into the office to catch up with her and the crew after swarm. What I learn was very valuable indeed.

Lessons I learned at REA Group.

1) Work hard, but make time for play.
While many workplaces pay lip service to facilitating the work/life balance of their employees, few really offer ways in which to truly help. Even fewer employees seem willing to accept such offers. Whether it’s not wanting to appear unable to cope, or if it’s a lack of willingness to let their guard down, employees are not striking a true balance in their life and employment. REA Group has made some great moves to endorsing and encouraging fun in the workplace, with an emphasis on helping their employees strike their own sense of balance. Whether it’s taking time out to sit on the couches in breakout areas and play Guitar Hero, or if it’s grabbing the Oculus Rift gear to thwart zombies, these guys have really taken the “Balance in all things” phrase to heart. They even hold classes in the office for Zumba and subsidise gym memberships, showing that healthy choices are all part of striking the balance employees need and want in their lives.

2) “Hot-desk” isn’t a dirty word.
Sure, there are some roles in which you simply can’t have a different desk every day. sometimes, you really do need your own place and for that place to be always yours. When possible, and properly implemented, hot-desking can prove to facilitate employee productivity. It can stop the silo-ing effect of nesting, and helps teams to find a place that works for them and their particular efforts. It also means that if that person who insists on clicking their pen ad nauseum (or any other really annoying habit that you simply can’t stand) isn’t so offended when you simply up and shift to a new position.

3) Employee health IS an employer’s concern.
We often forget that, unless properly managed, one of the cons to increased work hours is a decline in employee health. With office hours on a general increasing trend, it falls to the individual AND their employer to ensure that health, physical and mental, is protected. Walking meetings, standing desks, opportunities to move around, offering exercise incentives, allowing regular breaks, ensuring good office ergonomics and allowing flexibility in work conditions are all ways in which employers can genuinely assist their employees in finding their own ways to ensure good health.

4) Your workplace is a community.
We spend so much of our time at work, but often forget that the people we work with are people too – people with feelings and families and a set of ethics and values. For that reason, your workplace is a community of people, each bringing valuable societal information to share. The moment you start looking at your colleagues in this way, work becomes less of a place to hack away at tasks, and more a place of collaboration and communal problem-solving that makes everyone feel good about the work they are doing.

5) Helping people is good.
REA Group holds regular Hackathons. These Hack Days are a chance for people to pitch ideas they want to work on, for customers, or as a way of giving back to their community outside of work. Whether it’s setting up a national volunteer database, or helping homeless people find a safe place to sleep, allowing employees to work on tasks that benefit someone outside of the workplace not only provides exposure for your company, but also shows that you recognise your place of privilege without society and are wiling to use that position for the greater good.

REA Group is a huge crew, but these lessons aren’t only for big organisations. They work and have meaning on smaller scales too.

And every work place should have zombie-smiting sessions.

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#cmtygames101

I was fortunate enough this week to attend Western Australia’s first ever Community Games 101 workshop held at Perth’s SpaceCubed, run by Curtin lecturer, Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie.

It was an intensive two-day workshop, so there was little time to dilly-dally. After a gentle icebreaker exercise to get to know the other people in the room with us (a useful exercise when you’re going to be creating games with them), we stepped up and started making our first game, based on the Race to the End model.

This is your usual board-based type of game where all the players start somewhere and have to finish somewhere else. We broke into two teams and came up with very different results. Strangely enough though, both teams had a game mechanic wherein the board and rules changed. Perhaps that was because, as adult players, the “usual” board games is boring for us? Either way “Space Crash” and “Switchboard” both ended up going through the conceptualising stage, on to the prototype stage within a couple of hours. Just before lunch on day one, both games were ready for play testing. Now, that’s nothing if not incredible. From thinking up the rules and mechanics to making the game in a few short hours is an incredible feat for a group of people who had little knowledge of each other before entering the room, and had maybe not created a game before.

We play tested each others games, debriefed as “real game developers” would, and thought about how to iterate our games to come up with something better and fix the bugs.

We then popped outside and played a game of Gargoyles. For those not familiar with this game, take a look. No props, except for team designation bands, just people in a space playing. What could be simpler?! The inherent learning in this game is all about proximity and overcoming the fear associated with entering another person’s space to overcome a problem, namely getting your team to win. There are also lessons about collaborating and teamwork in a small space of time.

Heading back inside, we thought about the various reasons that had brought us to the workshop. Breaking, again, into two teams, we began brainstorming community games that would satisfy a general consensus of our interests.

Day two began with a short presentation by Kate of what a community game could look like, how it could work, and what it brought to the community.

We also played a game about the creation of a game, aptly named “Metagame”. Players are dealt a series of cards, with a pile of potential props in the centre of the table in front of them. Players take turns pitching a rule, utilising the instructions on the cards they have been dealt (points awarded as per the cards if theirs is the successful rule as voted by the other players). Rules cannot created a paradox, illogical loop or an otherwise unplayable game, then the universe is destroyed and the game is over. Needless to say, there was laughter as people pitched their wacky rules.

We then formed back into our teams from the previous afternoon, and continued working, brainstorming and prototyping, our games. By just before lunch, both team had working prototypes of their community games.

One team had come up with a local area narrative collection or challenge game, utilising QR codes and a “treasure map” of stories to collect in a specific area of a local council’s jurisdiction. Aimed at promoting local area awareness, it was customisable and adaptable for various events and end goals, all the while promoting knowledge of the immediate area and its people. Designed to make residents aware of the local history, local businesses, and local features, it seemed to me to be an wonderful way of gathering families together to explore their streets and go a little outside of their comfort zone to do that exploration.

The Zombies Are Coming! I Need To Get To Know You.

The Zombies Are Coming! I Need To Get To Know You.

The team I was part of came up with a collection-based game as well. Breaking a real space down into zones (in this case the various areas of the SpaceCubed collaborative space), players had to gather stories under the premise that the players were a crack force of humans. Being briefed at HQ, they then had to go out into the space and collect stories, feelings and re-enact random acts of kindness in order to develop a map of the humanity in the space. Those approached who didn’t want to take part, or who refuse to play along, were dubbed “Zombies”.

Aiming to reconnect people with the stories in the space they are occupying, and forcing human face-to-face interaction in an environment where people may well feel they are there to work on their own project, alone, we felt this was a fun and safe way for people to realise that we are edging towards a state of aware zombie-ism.

After being being run through each team’s games (and running our team’s game within the space), we then debriefed and got feedback to iterate the games and make them better.

So, what is a “community game”?

A community game is a space of play where in the community is engaged, rather than isolated, and where the Magic Circle of play has an embedded goodness in it. It fosters, instead of cutting, community ties and educates “under the radar”. By this, I mean, the lesson is not the objective. The lesson is incidental and may well not become apparent to the player until well after the games has ended.

So, what did I take away from the whole experience?

All those times I have been playing a board game or a card game, and I have thought “This could work so well in an urban space”, I now have the tools and knowledge to make that happen. All those times I was sitting wondering how to get kids to think about recycling or the environment in a way that wasn’t the same old boring ways that are taught in school, I can now make that happen. Any time I was sitting in a public space thinking everyone is so set in the routine of “look down, keep walking, rush rush rush” I now have the tools and knowledge to subvert that in a way that will make people smile, look up and realise there is something else going on in their world if only they would stop to smell the roses (stay tuned for that game! *lol*).

At then end of the workshop, we all realised that this was something that needed to happen in Perth. The community-game community is strong elsewhere, and has brought so much to other places of the world, that we thought it was high-time Perth joined in the game.

Stay tuned for more details on what community-gaming events are happening around Perth. If you would like more details on community games, let me know in the comments below. Have you played a community game and want to tell me about it? Cool!

Melissa won the Curtin University Department of Internet Studies scholarship to attend the Community Games 101 Workshop. The workshop was presented by Atmosphere Industries and sponsored by Curtin University, in conjunction with SpaceCubed, the Film and Television Institute (W.A.) and yelp!.