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7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008

The days of leaving the office and your job behind each day at 5 p.m. may be long gone, but that doesn’t mean work has to be an anchor weighing you down.

Mike Simmons wants work to be a place where employees can have fun, and he has put a pool table and a Nintendo Wii into the break room at T2 Systems Inc. to facilitate that. And the recreation room is not just for his employees; T2 Systems’ co-founder, president and CEO plays right along with them.

“I want to work in an environment where we can laugh and have a good time,” Simmons says. “People spend too much time at work to do the death march in here in the morning and out at night.”

While Simmons and his 96 employees have fun, the provider of parking management solutions continues to grow. T2 achieved 2006 revenue of $10 million, growing at an average annual rate of nearly 52 percent since 2003.

Smart Business spoke with Simmons about how to be more human with your employees.

Q. How does having fun contribute to a productive work environment?

If you’re not laughing and having a good time, then culturally, it’s a job. You come in and do your thing, and you go home. There are certainly plenty of companies that operate that way.

Our approach is to create a fun environment. There are still hard times and tough projects. The more we can do to mitigate that, the better. The relatively small investment that we make in those fun kinds of things creates an environment where people want to work.

When you look at the cost of hiring and retraining people because of turnover, the investment we make in that is very small.

Q. How do you support your employees as the company grows?

The greatest issue for me is not recognizing that we need to change. I’m having to constantly learn how I can do a better job in my role and better serve my constituents and my direct reports in what they are trying to accomplish.

It’s more about looking at myself and personal execution than it is about recognizing the need to continually re-evaluate the way we do things.

I have absolutely no problem standing in front of my direct reports or in front of the company and saying, ‘I don’t know the answer to that, but let me work on it, and I’ll get you an answer by next meeting.’

But be careful. People expect a steady hand at the helm, and they want you to know all the answers. If you’re making up answers and you’re not willing to change and evolve and learn, I’ve seen people fail taking that perspective.

Q. How can you break down barriers with employees?

My experience indicates that when there is a void of information, it will be filled. We do our best to try to keep the void as small as possible and try to deliver as much good information as we can.

We share as much information as any company as I’ve ever been a part of or even been familiar with. ‘This is where we’re at. This is where we’re going. This is the hot project of the moment.’

The biggest challenge I face is I hear a lot of people say, ‘Well, I know you’re busy; I didn’t want to bother you with that.’ It tends to be more about their concern that they are wasting my time talking to me about those things.

I do my best to communicate to those folks that that’s a big chunk of my job. I don’t want you to feel you can’t come to me with a significant issue.

I’ll take that comment to the next company meeting or newsletter and let people know, ‘Hey, I got this question, and I thought it was a great question. I’m assuming other people have the question.’

Make an assumption that more people have that question than just the one person who asked it.

Q. How do you figure out what’s best for your company?

My wife worked for Southwest Airlines for many years. I was just always fascinated with the culture and the fun environment that they were able to create. As we’re doing our managing, it’s easy to get caught up in the spreadsheets and competitive analysis and the operating metrics.

‘Are we spending enough money on tech support? Do we have enough people in accounting?’ You end up in a situation of trying to make yourself the same as every other company.

What came out of my experience with Southwest and what I tell people internally was, ‘Ultimately, it’s not the things we do the same as everyone else; it’s the things we do differently.

HOW TO REACH: T2 Systems Inc., (800) 434-1502 or www.t2systems.com