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Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Art of Beer Thursday

About two months after our company moved from our office space in Eppendorf/Lokstedt to our new building in the middle of the city, management decided to introduce a weekly event, now known as Beer Thursday. Not quite two years later (perhaps my chronology is off), it's a company institution. The premise is simple. Every Thursday (unless it's a bank holiday) starting at 6pm, employees can mix and mingle in the atrium and drink free beer. It's intended to promote intra-company interactions/collaboration/socialization, which can be difficult with some 600 people. Not bad in theory (or even in practice, really). The tendency, however, is for most people to group together with the people who they already know and collaborate on a daily basis.

However, I've found it useful on a number of occasions. Especially if you're really curious about a co-worker's area of expertise or job responsibilities. I know you can just walk up to someone and strike up a conversation without beer. But I'm not a particularly smooth operator. My version would be more like stumbling into some random office, staring wide-eyed at the people sitting around, and screaming, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!" Let's be honest...that would be super awkward.

Beer provides a handy excuse to strike up a conversation. Especially with German beer drinking protocol, which requires that you clink bottles every 30 seconds. Or if you happen to just make eye contact with someone. You don't want to risk 7 years of bad sex, now do you? CLINK MY BOTTLE, DAMMIT!

So you establish right off the bat that you both have the manual dexterity needed to touch the bottom of one glass to the bottom of another, while staring deeply -- very deeply -- into one another's eyes. After that, you're ready to network.

Last week, Gamasutra cross-posted a blog post by Jen Whitson from Execution Labs called "Beer and Diversity". The article proposes the idea that the prevalence of beer at gaming social functions has an affect on diversity in general. And, specifically, that it can be somewhat alienating or exclusionary in terms of appealing to a female demographic.

I think Whitson makes a pretty valid point regarding beer and the overall effect on diversity. In general, the people who are going to show up in the first place are the people who like to drink beer. In the case of my workplace, there are also soft drinks, non-alcoholic beer, Malzbier, and beer mixes (e.g. Beck's Green Lemon) available. So, there's at least some effort to include non-drinkers and people who don't like beer. Still, those people tend to leave early on in the evening. And some people just have a difficult time being in large groups or socializing in general (been there, done that).

It's kind of like the smoker's circle scenario. Smoke breaks can be excellent opportunities to get the lowdown on what's going on around the company. I mean from gossip to actual business stuff. If you don't smoke or don't congregate with the smokers as a non-smoker, it can be hard to keep up. Should you have to keep up? I dunno. You shouldn't have to pick up a smoking habit, but you also can't really prevent the conversations from going down.

I'm not really sure I agree with the part about beer excluding women, but as a woman (who also loves beer) I'll readily admit my personal bias. I still think it straddles the "Ladies love frou-frou drinks and bubbly" stereotype.

Towards the end of the article, she mentions a suggestion from a friend to treat the testing sessions (in which they want to attract female gamers) like a vernissage, which to me just sounds like "same concept, different booze-type". Most of the exhibitions openings that I've attended follow pretty much along the lines of your typical Beer Thursday, except swap beer with wine.

Doesn't matter, drank booze.

Personally, I don't think that dry events are the solution either. Not that every event has to serve alcohol, mind you. Maybe there's some kind of middle ground?

I'll ponder it over a few beers in the atrium this evening and get back to you.

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