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How One Local Company Is Proving That Work Can Be Fun

Nicol Turchin and Kurtis Kam

Photos by Hilary Ehlen

If there’s one thing North Dakota needs more of, it’s sunshine and 79-degree days. Nicole Turchin and Kurtis Karn are bringing the joy that goes along with those days to companies with their new business, aptly named Sunshine & 79.

Much Needed Change

Nicole Turchin knows that there’s something wrong about the way workshops are done. 

“At the end of 2018, I was part of a leadership group asked to plan a quarterly leadership offsite. We decided the topic would be purpose,” she said. “I wanted to do a half-day session on purpose like a workshop. Everything I found was super expensive or super traditional like let’s write a purpose statement or the eight principals of being a purpose-driven person. None of it was resonating with me. I connected with Kurtis and said, ‘If I can’t find it, I think we should build it.’”

So that’s exactly what they did. 

Sunshine and 79 is changing the way we look at the workplace. And the studies back up that we should all be looking at how we run our offices. According to the Mind the Workplace Report from the nonprofit group Mental Health America and The Faas Foundation, nearly three-fourths of Americans are actively hunting for a new job. What if we engaged our employees in a different way?

“We did digging on data and it’s funny because your happiness level or joy within your life is pretty high from being young to your mid-20s and then it drops until your 50s or 60s and then it goes back up,” said Karn. “Where are people miserable? When they’re working full-time. Do you have to be like that all the time? Hopefully not. 

“We’re passionate about being good humans and being able to do something like that to get people to take a step back and go, ‘It’s not so bad. I can do something a little bit different within my workplace to help make it a little bit better and not such a dreary place to work.’”

A Purpose Driven Life

Every company has a mission. It’s usually hung up on a wall, plastered on newsletters and scattered across a website. However, not many people have a mission. If a person doesn’t understand who they are and why they do what they do, how can they be fully engaged in a company’s mission? 

That’s why Sunshine and 79 focuses on the individual’s purpose. 

“Notoriously, when you ask people what their purpose is, they say, ‘I want to help people.’ Well, duh. Who’s going to say I don’t want to help people?” said Turchin. “Our goal is to say that’s great in theory but there is a deeper meaning to that. What does that mean? Everyone’s purpose is to help people. 

“The workshop that we did, one of the first activities outside the gate was – and it made people uncomfortable – we had people write their own obituary. It’s scary to stand in front of a room and say, ‘Here’s the first thing you’re going to do.’ It’s very morbid and sad to think about. It really helps to think about what’s the legacy they left here.”

While these may seem a little silly and impractical for the workplace, Turchin and Karn are finding that the workforce is clamoring for this. With an unemployment rate of 2.5 percent, every business is looking how to separate themselves from their competitors. This is a good way of doing that. 

“This is what this group and other people want,” said Karn. “We work in eight-second shots. That’s how people learn. You can’t just go in front of a group and lecture and tell them why communication is needed in their business. You have to give them opportunities to think for themselves, give them an activity to be able to come up with an outcome so they can take that and realize that on their own and how they can do it.”

Work Isn’t Supposed To Be Fun

The conversations that open up during these aptly named funshops can improve a person’s motivation and engagement in a company. 

What would Bill Murray do? Who the hell am I? My ideas are good, dammit! I got sweet nunchuck skills. These are just some of their funshops, which are essentially workshops developed to focus on specific issues faced by the company. 

While on the surface level, these may seem like fun and silly workshops, they actually tackle bigger problems faced by most individuals and workplaces. For example, “My ideas are good, dammit!” tackles how to present their ideas in the best way possible and make sure they’re heard. 

90,000 Hours

The average time a person spends at work.

What Are Funshops Anyway?

Below is a list of their funshops along with an example of what one entails. Learn more about them at sunshineand79.com

  • What Would Bill Murray Do?
    • If you know anything about Bill Murray, you know he’s a hidden gem of a role model when it comes to experience and leadership. He’s authentic, genuine and a whole lotta fun. We’ve designed a Funshop around Bill Murray’s commitment to spontaneity and joy that will help your teams build cohesion and support others!
  • Who the Hell Am I?
  • Love in the Workplace
  • Self-Care, Schmelf-Care
  • My Ideas are Good, Dammit
  • I’m a Change Champion (barf…)!
  • I’m in a Glass Case of Emotion
  • Truth-Telling Without the Help of Beer
  • You Suck at Appreciating Me
  • I Got Sweet Nunchuck Skills
  • The Blame Game

“We have defined funshops but a lot of our work is turning into customized programming,” said Turchin. “Every organization’s needs are different. We’re talking to a client right now that’s having communication issues internally. That’s hard to do a general workshop on that. You have to really understand what the issues are.”

This isn’t exactly rocket science. They’re finding that the more interactive, engaging and entertaining the workshops, the more impact it has on the employees.

“You can present this grandiose theory of how you can be a better communicator but if that’s all you do and you don’t give action items or the ability to leave that room with something to step out into, you’re just attending another seminar to attend a seminar,” said Karn.

“It’s always so interesting to me when we talk about budgets,” said Turchin. “Where does money come from to pay us? Does it come out of my team building or my learning and development budget? 

“For us, we think team building, connectivity and learning can fuse together. That’s really what brought awareness to me personally about how companies struggle with learning and development can’t be fun because it’s in a different budget bucket. It doesn’t work that way.”

The End Result

90,000 hours. That’s how long the average person spends working at their job. At the end of the day, people want to work for a company that cares for them.

“Ultimately, the work we’re doing, it shows that the company cares,” said Turchin. “I have been a part of companies that did not care about my development and I know what that feels like. I have had the great fortune of working at Corelink who very much invested in me as an employee. I felt that every single day.”

And humor might just be the best way to differentiate yourself in the workforce.

“We have a testimonial, ‘Use less humor.’ That’s my favorite testimonial,” said Karn. “Humor can bring people together. If you’re able to do that, but still get those points across and have people leave with an actionable item they can do that’s not this grandiose theory they have to accompany with is where we see the success.”

Nicole Turchin and Kurtis Kam sharing a drink.
Nicole Turchin and Kurtis Kam, like many business professionals, do most of their best work while sharing a drink.

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Written by Andrew Jason

Preston Braathen, Commercial Loan Officer Dakota Business Lending

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