As offices start to reopen, reentry to the workplace will officially begin for many companies. After working remotely for more than a year, employees may need time to adjust to new routines and settings. The head of Paradowski Creative, a Saint Louis, Missouri-based ad agency, found a creative way to ease his team back to work by sending his 100 employees to “Camp Paradowski,” an outdoor summer day camp situated on 2 acres in Webster Groves, Missouri.
“By traditional metrics, we were performing well, adding new employees and clients,” says CEO Gus Hattrich. “But by the fall of 2020, we were feeling a void. Our company culture had been wonderful before the pandemic—we regularly rented out Demolition Ball courts and bumper cars—but things felt different since we were on screens all day. We didn’t have a chance to laugh or exhale.”
The Power of Nature
Hattrich came across a study from Yale University about the benefits of ecopsychology, the study of humans’ relationship with nature.
“Nature can reduce blood pressure and stress hormones,” he says. “It can help you focus better and increase your overall sense of well-being. The idea stuck with me, and when the vaccines started to come out, I got the idea of creating an outdoor office for our team to get together whenever it was appropriate.”
Hattrich leased 2 acres of land and drafted a few coworkers to develop an adult business camp that could help employees reconnect, collaborate, and be together again to have fun. An outdoor conference room was created with Adirondack chairs spaced 6 feet apart. Tents were added for individual tasks, like brainstorming sessions. The company hired a chainsaw artist to carve its logo into wood.
The site was also stocked with a variety of games, like tug-of-war, a giant Jenga and Connect Four, and badminton.
“One thing COVID robbed us of was play,” Hattrich says. “Einstein said play is the highest form of research; it’s central to creating solutions for business problems. You can lose yourself in an activity and forget about the task for a moment. As you play, solutions organically come up.”
While employees still worked at home for tasks like email, writing, coding, and designing, the camp was used for softer skills, like brainstorming, group prototyping, and client and team meetings. The company added 20 new team members during the pandemic, and camp also offered an opportunity for coworkers to get to know each other and build human connections.
“Camp became an interim place to get outside, be active, and remind people of the value of real human interaction,” Hattrich says. “On video calls, we’re all a bunch of Brady Bunch faces on a screen, trying to figure out who can talk and when. We found a way to utilize camp in meaningful ways. It became a great opportunity to have collaborative time together.”
Just like camp for kids, Camp Paradowski will close at the end of July. The company’s office is open, but most employees will work remotely. Hattrich says the company is already talking about bringing camp back next spring.
“Nothing compares to sitting down face-to-face, talking about issues and solving problems,” he says. “Camp offered better life balance. It felt like therapy.”