Whoever came up with the old adage, ‘You can’t mix business with pleasure,’ must not have played pickleball. Employers all across the United States are incorporating the sport into their culture to build teamwork, communication, and other leadership skills vital to a successful workplace.
Seth Besmertnik, CEO of the software company Conductor, recently leased a New York City office space to provide coffee and beer for his 200 employees. Besmertnik also plans to build a pickleball court at the facility.
Each year, the company institutes what it calls YOLO Month, allowing employees to work at home for an entire month without missing out on in-person activities. The office completely shuts down to allow everyone the opportunity to work, travel or recharge.
While Conductor encourages flexibility in terms of working remotely versus in person, Besmertnik believes face-to-face interaction is still an important element in the company’s success.
“If people are going to come in, it’s got to be a great experience. The reason why people come in is they come in for each other. The coffee, the extra things are nice, but they come in for each other. They come in for the friendships, they come in for the community and ultimately to do great work for the customers.”Seth Besmertnik, CEO of Conductor
In Charlotte, North Carolina, a financial services firm is taking employee wellness to a whole new level. Last year, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA) began remodeling a massive 92-acre campus that resembles a resort or public park more than a workplace.
Employees can enjoy walking trails, disc golf, putting greens, bocce ball and pickleball courts. The new space also includes a redesigned food hall, fitness center, pharmacy, and new workspaces for both individual and collaborative work.
TIAA, established by Andrew Carnegie in 1918, offers wealth-management services to over 5 million clients in the academic, government, medical, and nonprofit sectors. The Charlotte location is one of four across the country.
The goal of the remodeled campus, which is spread across 24 floors in six buildings, is to place as much emphasis on physical and mental wellness as productivity. Employee wellness became a major topic of discussion during and after the coronavirus pandemic, and the renovated campus offered a great opportunity to rethink what that blueprint could look like.
“Wellness was one of our guiding principles (before the pandemic),” Jennifer Cline, TIAA’s head of workplace strategy and execution told Time Magazine in 2022. “What really shifted with the pandemic was our focus on our outdoor spaces and amenities—this was something that was not in scope for us pre-pandemic.”
Microsoft, Google, and Walmart have added pickleball courts to their campuses. But entrepreneurs are also discovering the sport can be a great tool for networking.
Every Friday, startup community leaders and newcomers in Pittsburgh gather at Frick Park to share news about their companies and make new friends over games of pickleball. Known as Dinks and Deals, the weekly event was launched by Kit Mueller, co-founder of the XchangePgh innovation series.
Mueller wanted to bring founders, entrepreneurs, and angel investors together in an informal setting. One of those investors was in the process of building a pickleball course. Mueller, a longtime player, thought the game would be a fun, low-risk way to bring people together.
“When we were planning XchangePgh, I actually talked to this angel investor, and he was like, ‘hey, we should do a pilot of that’ just because it’s such an easy sport for anybody to play,” Mueller told Technical.ly.
The first Dinks and Deals was held this past April during XchangeInnovation Week, and hosted 21 participants. Encouraged by this turnout, Mueller brought in other partners, and the event averages around 10 people each week. Daniela Osio, a former tennis player and CEO of Kloopify, told Technical.ly she was excited to use sports as a way of growing her brand.
“As we continue to scale and grow Kloopify, it’s really important to stay close to the community and to expand our network. Meeting some good people and getting a good workout in before the rest of my day is just a plus.”Daniela Osio, CEO of Kloopify
As pickleball continues to grow in popularity, more companies are realizing it offers many of the same qualities as other physical activities: teamwork, social interactio, and improved mental health. In other words, you really can mix business with pleasure.
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