Online productivity applications exist to help us be productive (no shit, right?) but they tend to engage in a bit of interface drag. After all, no one wants to work in an Outlook or QuickBooks clone. The future and — by the transitive property of modern office cheeriness — the present, is supposed to be sunny and fun. Asana, a task management system, perfectly models the approach taken by business-facing technology companies, inserting jokes and visual humor amid all the organizational grids. In a sense, this is the legacy of the Google Doodle. In another sense, this is how modern companies seek to inoculate themselves from the resentment that allowed them to trample older systems when they rushed to market.
Asana doesn’t need to be funny, but it’s a smart play. It’s good to have functionalities that set your software apart, even if that functionality is called “Celebrations” and features flying unicorns and narwhals. Vivek Sri, Lead Editor and Copywriter at Asana, is, if not the architect of this strategy, certainly its standard bearer.
“Because Asana helps people track all the things they’re doing at work, we want to be mindful about quirk (I’m really sorry that rhymed.),” Vivek told Inverse by email. “We’re aware that our users are in the productive mindset, and are trying to get things done, so our goal is to delight not distract.”
He brings up the loading phrases that sometimes scroll through — especially when it’s an out-of-the-norm day like National Donut Day or Star Wars Day, which was originally the idea of an Asana designer who now spearheads the appropriately titled project Loading Screen Phrases. A momentary scrolling of donut varieties is fun — an in-product joke that came up every time you made a new task would be annoying.
It’s that balance between being annoying and being fun that’s really at the crux of workplace humor. Bad jokes can be isolating and demoralizing. Good jokes bring companies together.
“I lead voice and tone, but Asana is a very collaborative workplace — a lot of the humor and whimsy in our writing is inspired by off-kilter lunch time conversations or hilarious tangents in meetings,” says Sri. “I consider it my job to find and trap the quirky elements of Asana’s culture and put them into words.”
In other words, Sri’s job is to not overthink it.
“We just say ‘yes!’ a lot. It can be easy to overthink things like jokes, so we err on the side of not taking ourselves too seriously.”
Asana’s decision to insert humor into its service is supported by the number of studies that have come to the conclusion that, yes, a workplace with humor is often a better workplace. Humor helps give people find a healthy perspective on a tricky situation and contributes to overall group effectiveness by spiking cohesiveness, communication, and creativity. Work and humor are positively associated with less absenteeism and generally helps coworkers feel more confident when sharing their ideas with each other.
Humor also reduces stress. The Mayo Clinic says that laughter triggers a series of physiological responses that make for a calmer mind. When you laugh, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, which sends out a relaxed feeling through the body. Laughter also causes you to intake more oxygen-rich air, which stimulates your heart and increases the endorphins released by the brain. Busting up over a joke also stimulates circulation and aids with muscle relaxation.
There’s also this: All work tools are recruiting tools and, increasingly, workers expect to laugh. Some 88 percent of American millennials want a “fun and social” workplace.
“Humor is particularly relevant to the modern workplace,” writes the authors of a 2008 paper published in Human Relations. “Today’s workforce is noticeably different from the past. . .When humor is used in groups, people experience positive affect which facilitates more efficient and effective social processes.”
It makes sense that modern workplaces are adapting to fit in humor, causing the products that they use to change accordingly. Sending an email to discuss a new product feature is efficient, sending a coworker a Slack message about the product feature attached with a cheeky GIF is a lot more fun (and in line with the company’s mission statement.) Slack just hasn’t created a product that’s fun for users to use, but actively throws in jokes into updates that otherwise would be mundane.
“Slack’s gamification of the workplace functions like a clever trap: Work is so fun, you never want to leave,” Amanda Hess writes in Slate.
And we know that gamification works. It’s a business savvy idea that makes people better at their jobs — humor may seem corny coming from your app, but it’s going to make you happier nonetheless.