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How Putting Greens and Ping-Pong Can Encourage Creativity & Productivity

(This post was previously published on The Wall Street Journal’s Accelerators blog.)

We recently doubled our corporate headquarters in Manchester, N.H., by adding an additional 30,000 square feet, making our headquarters now roughly the same size as the White House. And, like Barack Obama’s current home, our office also includes some crazy amenities like a putting green, indoor climbing wall, and two secret speakeasies (one of which is adorned with giant stuffed 12-point buck’s head).

When people tour our facility, they often ask: Why? Why do you need beer taps, a flight simulator, and Nerf guns? Aren’t these distractions and complete wastes of time and money?

No, they are not a waste. In fact, they are a necessity.

Technology has made it possible for work to be done anywhere and at any time. In a world in which coffee shops are startup incubators, an office has to offer value and bring out the best in your employees. Now let me be clear: if your startup is made up of only you and your co-founder, you shouldn’t break the bank on a climbing wall. Working at an incubator (like the Manchester, NH’s abi Innovation Hub) is a great resource and a way to make connections. In fact, our first office was a windowless dungeon in a Worcester, MA, office park back in the early 2000s. It was there that we spent all of our time and energy listening to our customers and building our products.

But once you nail that and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll enter the hyper-growth mode and will need to compete for talent. When that happens, having an enviable workplace can be a huge selling point. We moved into our new digs (which we rent) in August 2011 when we outgrew our more conventional workspace.

How do you give people the room to do all this?

Obviously, trust is the biggest key, but an overlooked aspect is creating an environment that encourages creativity — not only mentally but physically as well. Creativity is paramount because we serve clients who do business online. Next, hire the best, brightest, and most passionate people you can find. Then trust them and give them room to experiment, fail and succeed.

Great ideas don’t come from sitting at a desk from 9 AM-5 PM Monday through Friday. They come at the gym, the golf course, while watching a movie, taking a nature walk or escaping to the lodge. We want to create an environment that encourages as many bouts of inspiration as possible. Besides actually leading to better ideas, this sort of interaction leads to better camaraderie. We’ve found that people work harder when they’re working with colleagues they’re invested in professionally and personally.

In reality, “play” can also contribute to significant business objectives. For most high-growth tech companies, there is internal competition between sales and engineering. We found that a game of ping-pong was the best way to smooth over the relationship. We’ve also found the putting green to be the ideal location for a manager to give tough feedback to an employee. Perhaps, that’s because some of us associate the truly humbling game of golf with instruction and critique.

Are there downsides?

Of course. There are pros and cons to everything. When you’re drowning in work, it can be frustrating to see someone playing ping-pong. When you’re dealing with a customer crisis, the last thing you want is for an employee to tweet about the Nerf gun fight he just won.

And yes, it may be cheaper to simply let employees work from the local golf course, coffee shop or cinema. Our recent expansion cost more than your average build out, but we looked for a cheaper space, so we could spend the extra money customizing it. I should also note that Dyn was bootstrapped for more than 10 years. We made these facilities decisions with money from our own pockets not our investors.

Still not convinced?

Our office space may seem unnecessary, but innovation and creativity is critical for today’s businesses. Therefore, we must provide an atmosphere that caters to it. If you have questions or other ideas that have worked, interact with me on Twitter or send me an email.


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Whois: Gray Chynoweth

Gray Chynoweth is Chief Operating Officer for Dyn, the world leader in Internet Performance Solutions that delivers traffic management, message management, and performance assurance. Follow on Twitter: @GrayChy and @Dyn.