Room & Board, a Minneapolis-based furniture retailer, found it had inadvertently hit on a novel concept to attract its workers back into the company space after they had become accustomed to working from home during the Covid pandemic and were reluctant to go back to their old office-based routines.
A “Stroke” Of Genius
In what turned out to be a “stroke” of genius, the indoor pickleball court it had built right there on its office premises about 10 years ago became a big factor in getting its staff to return to the office.
The court was originally built at Room & Board to complement its in-house gym way before the sport became the crackerjack it is now.
As we all know only too well, pickleball experienced an unexpected surge during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It emerged as a favored, cost-effective way of providing a safe means to pursue some kind of outdoor activity. What is more remarkable is how this appeal has not only persisted but has exploded beyond the pandemic.
Inundated With Requests
While pickleball has always been relatively well-received among R&B employees, the popularity of the court has recently skyrocketed, most notably over the past two years, according to Nancy Manley, Room & Board’s chief people officer.
Shortly after Room & Board summoned employees back to the office in the autumn of 2021, following the subsiding of the pandemic, Manley found her inbox inundated with requests for pickleball lessons, matches, and partners.
Merchandising and design specialist Liz Martin makes good use of the facility, often squeezing an hour on the court before she is due to attend meetings. She only actually started playing pickleball a year ago, taking it up after the pandemic.
She told cnbc.com, “I never thought I’d be into pickleball, but now, it’s one of my favorite parts of the day.”
Two Days A Week In The Office
Room & Board mandates that employees be present at its Minneapolis headquarters for a minimum of two days per week.
Among the 350 employees stationed at the headquarters, Manley estimates that a minimum of 50 engage in pickleball on a weekly basis.
Staff members are allowed to utilize the court at any point before, during, or after the workday. However, most prefer playing pickleball during the morning and afternoon hours.
As Manley explains, “We don’t want people coming into the office and sitting on video calls all day; otherwise, what’s the point?” before adding, “Work should be fun.”
Book Your Court Like You Would A Meeting
Matches are managed in the same manner as any other work meeting within the company.
Players are coordinated through an email listserv, and the court can be reserved using the same online platform employed for booking conference rooms. Room & Board also furnishes paddles and balls for its staff.
“To have happy, healthy, and productive employees, you need to give them the space and tools to take care of themselves,” states Manley.
“Pickleball is just another outlet for people to destress and sweat a little.”
Debbie Hutson, a compensation manager who joined Room & Board’s staff in January 2022, recounts that meeting individuals beyond her immediate team and establishing connections was initially challenging.
However, playing pickleball at the office “changed all that,” she says. “Now, I’m teaching other employees I normally wouldn’t cross paths with how to play pickleball,” says Hutson.
“It’s helped me build stronger relationships at work, for sure.”
“I Feel Sharper, More Awake”
Other employees vouch for the cognitive benefits derived from playing pickleball. Martin asserts that even 30 minutes on the court heightens her productivity upon returning to her desk. “I feel sharper, I feel more awake,” she adds.
The sole drawback? At times, games may become lively. “You can hear the echoes of laughter or groans of disappointment down the hall when someone misses a shot,” says Manley.
“But it’s hardly disruptive. And I haven’t gotten any complaints yet!”
It seems as though the “pickleball-in-the-office” is becoming a thing: WaFd also recently set up a pickleball court on the roof of its Seattle headquarters.
Seth Besmertnik, CEO of software company Conductor, plans to build a pickleball court in his newly-leased New York City office space. Free cold-brew coffee and beer are already available on tap!
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