Gini Dietrich

How a Harmless Office Prank Engages a Team

By: Gini Dietrich | July 21, 2016 | 

How a Harmless Office Prank Engages a TeamI love to pull a good, but harmless, office prank.

When we had an office, one of my most favorite things to do was to take a screen grab of someone’s desktop and then replace their desktop with that image.

It looks exactly the same, but when you click on a folder or an application, nothing happens.

Because, after all, it is just an image so it’s not clickable.

I did this to every new employee for two years.

It became a rite of passage.

That’s how you knew you were in and how the rest of the team knew you were in.

If I didn’t prank you, it was likely because you hadn’t done anything to earn my respect.

But the bigger the prank, the more I respected you.

(Eventually I was repaid when they wrapped my entire office in tin foil. I mean, entire office…mouse, pens, books, chairs, nail file, lotion, headphones, everything.)

Knowing a Person Well Enough to Prank Them

It’s a lot harder to do that with a virtual team.

When Lindsay Bell was our content director, it became a running joke that she was fired nearly every week.

One time, I pretended to have hired a friend to help “turn the ship around.”

He came to our staff meeting and announced he was going to move everyone to Baltimore for a few months.

He said he knew I liked this virtual thing, but he didn’t know how he could turn the ship around if we weren’t all together in person.

Of course, everyone was in on it except Lindsay.

And she freaked.

She went through every emotion and tried to remain professional while expressing her great displeasure about leaving the comfort of her home, her family, her dog, and her routine.

I knew that would be her reaction, which is why we played up that angle.

It still makes me laugh, to this day.

A Ghost In the Machine Is a Great Office Prank

When we were in an office, I could pull an office prank at least once a week (remove one wheel off of someone’s office chair, replace someone’s hard boiled eggs with raw ones, create an all-employee meeting and not invite one person).

But doing it when we’re all virtual means I have to be incredibly creative.

Last week, I invited a friend to pop into our staff meeting. I asked him to log in and then walk away from his computer.

Laura Petrolino was the only one not in on it and she got really angry with her computer when she was the only one who saw him.

She kept insisting there was a stranger amongst our midst and we all claimed we didn’t see him.

It could not have been timed better, either, because she was having trouble with her computer and, earlier in the staff meeting, her video wasn’t working.

So she assumed there was a ghost in the machine and she was just seeing things.

She even sent me a screen grab of what she saw, which I doctored and sent back to her to “prove” I didn’t see him on the screen.

We let her go an entire hour before coming clean.

Office Pranks Become Part of Your Culture

There have been a handful of colleagues who do not appreciate being pranked, nor do they like being teased.

But it’s part of our culture. It’s who we are.

I grew up with brothers so it doesn’t occur to me that someone might be angry or offended by a harmless office prank.

(Although, I will admit every time I tell my mom about an office prank we just pulled off, she lectures me about how that’s not nice. And I subsequently ignore her.)

I’m not going to stop doing it so it’s part of our interview process.

It also is one of the ways I’ve been able to engage a virtual team.

You’d be amazed at what happens when you tell everyone the plan and they all get to sneak around and get ready with you.

It’s also really funny to watch the team on video chat as they avoid eye contact and stifle laughs.

Perhaps your team isn’t into pranks, but there are ways to involve an entire team in something so they feel part of something bigger than their individual jobs…and it doesn’t have to all be work-related.

How do you engage a team—virtual or not—in something bigger than themselves?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I once mailed a colleague a job offer on our biggest client’s letterhead. He almost fainted when he opened and read the letter fearing the political mess such an offer would cause. So funny! Mean Sherrilynne. Very mean. But funny!

    • OMG. This is the BEST IDEA ever! I’m totally stealing it.


    • Corina Manea

      Hahaha. This is hilarious.

  • I LOVE pranking employees! I have a very junior employee (who has remained at the junior level, despite having been here for years) whom I prank by finding old pictures, I mean really old pictures, you know from the Jazz Age or Victorian times, and I post them on Facebook and tag them as her. People really seem to enjoy them. But I think she’s confused by it all! Do you think I should do it more frequently?

    • “A very junior employee” whose initials are GD and she’s not at all an employee.

      • I was going to call her by her official title, “The Senior Citizen Intern”

    • Clearly you should do it more frequently. 😉

      • PAULA KIGER!!

      • Thank you so much, @Paula Kiger. There are many wise people in the Spin Sucks community, and you are one of the wisest!

        • I may be wise, but I don’t think I’ve scored any points with you-know-who with my support of this concept. #trembling

  • Somehow this pranksterism does not surprise me in the least!! This past holiday season, we did a team effort … for every mile walked/run, our org donated toward the cause of one of our clients who was raising money for shoes for children in Cambodia. It was fun to compare notes as we accrued miles and to know we were collectively doing something good. 🙂

    • Oh. That’s way better than making Laura believe she’s seeing things.

      • OH NO IT ISN’T! I mean it’s great that these kids in Cambodia are getting shoes that grow three sizes with them so they’ll last five years and they won’t get horrible diseases from walking through Cambodian soil in bare feet and all but seriously, we all know there’s HUGE value in making Laura believe she’s seeing things. HUGE!

        • That made me laugh out loud. Literally! As in, I’m sitting at my desk, all alone, howling!

          • Me, too!

          • Laura Petrolino


            (And yet…there is a part of me that still enjoys the fact that I’m in the spotlight…even if I’m the one being pranked….so, OK. You have a point.)

        • This made me laugh so much!

  • “It’ll be fun,” she said. “It’s harmless,” she said. “What can go wrong?” she said.

    • You give me too much credit. I don’t say it’ll be fun or harmless. I just make them participate.

      • Corina Manea


      • The tyranny of GoD continues…

        • Laura Petrolino

          We don’t ‘spin’ the abuse of power around here at Spin Sucks Kate

        • THAT IS RIGHT!!!

  • We used to hide scent pellets around the office. (Think decaying wood, mammoth fur, gun powder, or any kind of scat scents.) There was also foil used a time or two.
    At some point in time, I may or may not have wrapped vehicles and toilets in plastic wrap.
    If Pete hasn’t told you about the fantastic prank a client pulled on him, you have to ask about it.

    • That is hilarious!! We have to figure out how to replicate some of these virtually.

  • Corina Manea

    OMG, this is hilarious. I can imagine Lindsay face when you pranked her.

    And speaking of Laura, she was so cute, all serious and trying to make sense of what was going on. 🙂

    I agree, teasing, making pranks is good for the team. It makes us part of the family, it shows another side of our personalities. And it’s FUN!

    (I’ll try to remember this when I am pranked!)

    • Laura Petrolino

      The prank with Lindsay was hilarious. I had to pinch my leg really hard the entire time so I wouldn’t laugh. I think it all went down hill when Dallas said something about calling the Canadian Embassy.

      The timing of my prank couldn’t have been more perfect. I had been fighting with my computer all morning and by that time I was so exasperated by it aliens could have popped with confetti out and I wouldn’t have questioned it. LOL!

      • Yeah, he screwed it up because he had it backwards. And she said, “Wait a second!”

  • I’m just waiting for the payback from Laura….

    • Laura Petrolino

      You should be very afraid Travis!

    • Please. She will have forgotten by next week.