Government organizations like to use phrases like “fun environment,” “creative staff” or even “risk-taking encouraged” to describe the values they espouse at work. No one wants a boring office life.

Whether they’re attracting new talent, trying to keep existing high flyers from jumping ship or changing the office culture to suit the demands of Millennials, executives are always seeking new ways to keep the masses happy on the cheap. Management, which has long offered golf outings and birthday cakes, now permits social networking and other online activities (or looks the other way). At a recent technology conference, I overheard, “Oh yeah, we encourage Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype and just about every top Web service out there. We even let them have their fantasy sports leagues and surf Second Life. Our staff practically demands it!”

At the same time, public CIOs often struggle to balance productivity, security and fun at work. The same overheard conversation continued, “No, I haven’t figured out the security implications yet — but I’m more worried about my best and brightest leaving than having a security breach. Besides, we’re talking about grown adults here. They know when they go too far.”

Even if this conversation doesn’t hit home, most leaders worry about “the cloud,” social networking and inappropriate smartphone use. Perhaps you’re thinking, “What about project deadlines and wasting time? Should staff be paid for personal computer use or playing games? What about public perception?”

Which leads to this vital question: How can we have fun at work while not crossing the invisible line that decries inefficiency, or worse, security risk?

Before I provide tips to hopefully help, I’d like to mention a few basic 21st-century assumptions. First, gone are the days when pay and performance were measured only by the time spent sitting at your desk. We need to be (primarily) managing our staff on their results and outcomes that are measurable and agreed upon in advance.

Of course, ethics count. There are plenty of good social media and smartphone policies that can serve as models, but blatant violations of acceptable use must be addressed. Still, just as good parents look at each child individually and know when to discipline behaviors or encourage “jumping in the pool,” a good manager will mentor staff and make reasonable judgments about staff going too far down the “fun road.”

Second, an employee who is unhappy in his or her profession or role is unlikely to have fun or be very productive at work no matter what rules govern office activity. Dedication and passion ultimately come from the satisfaction from a job well done and not from social interactions at the office or online fun. 

Nevertheless, here are six ideas, both offline and on, that I’ve seen enhance office life in technical environments:

Offline Fun:

1. Buy some toys — I was once amazed at the fun that was created in one tight-knit area that was dealing with a lot of stress and heavy workloads. The answer: Nerf guns for everyone, along with daily attacks. Managers who entered their space were often greeted with Nerf ambushes as well. I loved the energy that those toys created.

2. Watch or play sports together — Golf, softball, bowling and other games bring groups together in fun ways outside the normal office setting. No league? Challenge another office to a game of kickball. Watch local sports teams together or wear the team colors.

3. Celebrate birthdays or designated “fun days” — food always helps, and brown bag lunch presentations that share hobbies are often popular.

Online Fun:

1. Create personalized Web environments (such as an intranet site) to share content — allow creativity, pictures, blogs and more. Share viral links, activities and professional tips.

2. Offer reasonable personal Internet use during breaks, lunches or other downtime. Balance connectivity with transparency and accountability that builds trust with staff.

3. Visit one of the many websites that offer team-building exercises and numerous online tips for fun at work.

A final thought: Historian Arnold Toynbee once said, “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” This lifelong challenge is not new, but the journey is worth the effort.

Dan Lohrmann Dan Lohrmann  |  Contributing Writer

Daniel J. Lohrmann became Michigan's first chief security officer (CSO) and deputy director for cybersecurity and infrastructure protection in October 2011. Lohrmann is leading Michigan's development and implementation of a comprehensive security strategy for all of the state’s resources and infrastructure. His organization is providing Michigan with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with Michigan assets, property, systems and networks.

Lohrmann is a globally recognized author and blogger on technology and security topics. His keynote speeches have been heard at worldwide events, such as GovTech in South Africa, IDC Security Roadshow in Moscow, and the RSA Conference in San Francisco. He has been honored with numerous cybersecurity and technology leadership awards, including “CSO of the Year” by SC Magazine and “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine.

His Michigan government security team’s mission is to:

  • establish Michigan as a global leader in cyberawareness, training and citizen safety;
  • provide state agencies and their employees with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with state of Michigan assets, property, systems and networks;
  • develop and implement a comprehensive security strategy (Michigan Cyber Initiative) for all Michigan resources and infrastructure;
  • improve efficiency within the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget; and
  • provide combined focus on emergency management efforts.

He currently represents the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) on the IT Government Coordinating Council that’s led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He also serves as an adviser on TechAmerica's Cloud Commission and the Global Cyber Roundtable.

From January 2009 until October 2011, Lohrmann served as Michigan's chief technology officer and director of infrastructure services administration. He led more than 750 technology staff and contractors in administering functions, such as technical architecture, project management, data center operations, systems integration, customer service (call) center support, PC and server administration, office automation and field services support.

Under Lohrmann’s leadership, Michigan established the award-winning Mi-Cloud data storage and hosting service, and his infrastructure team was recognized by NASCIO and others for best practices and for leading state and local governments in effective technology service delivery.

Earlier in his career, Lohrmann served as the state of Michigan's first chief information security officer (CISO) from May 2002 until January 2009. He directed Michigan's award-winning Office of Enterprise Security for almost seven years.

Lohrmann's first book, Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web, was published in November 2008.  Lohrmann was also the chairman of the board for 2008-2009 and past president (2006-2007) of the Michigan InfraGard Member's Alliance.

Prior to becoming Michigan's CISO, Lohrmann served as the senior technology executive for e-Michigan, where he published an award-winning academic paper titled The Story — Reinventing State Government Online. He also served as director of IT and CIO for the Michigan Department of Management and Budget in the late 1990s.

Lohrmann has more than 26 years of experience in the computer industry, beginning his career with the National Security Agency. He worked for three years in England as a senior network engineer for Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral Aerospace) and for four years as a technical director for ManTech International in a U.S./UK military facility.

Lohrmann is a distinguished guest lecturer for Norwich University in the field of information assurance. He also has been a keynote speaker at IT events around the world, including numerous SecureWorld and ITEC conferences in addition to online webinars and podcasts. He has been featured in numerous daily newspapers, radio programs and magazines. Lohrmann writes a bimonthly column for Public CIO magazine on cybersecurity. He's published articles on security, technology management, cross-boundary integration, building e-government applications, cloud computing, virtualization and securing portals.

He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Valparaiso University in Indiana.

NOTE: The columns here are Dan Lohrmann's own views. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the state of Michigan's official positions.

Recent Awards:
2011 Technology Leadership Award: InfoWorld
Premier 100 IT Leader for 2010: Computerworld magazine
2009 Top Doers, Dreamers and Drivers: Government Technology magazine
Public Official of the Year: Governing magazine — November 2008
CSO of the Year: SC Magazine — April 2008
Top 25 in Security Industry: Security magazine — December 2007
Compass Award: CSO Magazine — March 2007
Information Security Executive of the Year: Central Award 2006