The last Tim Tam paradox

How we came up with a way to fight moral sloppiness in our office kitchen.

Kitchen

Most of us consider ourselves as honest, yet most of us commit petty little acts of dishonesty. We witness them on an everyday basis: queue jumpers, too-much-change keepers, office-lunch thieves. And despite their frequency, each occurrence grinds our gears.

What do all these examples have in common?

First of all, the damage appears to be small, so we justify it — “who’s going to notice $1 missing?”. We are also short-term focused and have a tendency to overrate our self-image — “today I’m in a real rush and I always wait”. The only dark cloud on the horizon is getting caught or called out, which in social environments is highly unlikely.

What if we could do something about that? Wouldn’t you?

At the Niro headquarters, we faced that question due to snacks. We all enjoy refrigerated Tim Tams, yet we kept noticing a tendency to leave empty packages in the fridge without bothering to restock.

Message

Every frustrated snacker would immediately post their story on our team chat, we would all frown, cringe and commit to being better co-workers next time. As it kept happening, we became stuck in a cycle of vocal complaints, honourable commitments, great behaviour and eventually… disappointment.

We toyed with the idea of not buying them anymore — that’s what my mom would have done, but it didn’t seem fair.

Epiphany

That day we realised there was something we could do: working for a camera-based security company, we have IP cameras around the office and one in the kitchen. That’s how our Shame Cam was born.

Pointing straight at the office fridge and with appropriate branding, we trialled our new vigilante. The first time someone found an empty Tim Tam package in the fridge, the crowds wanted to know about the responsible, so we exported the caught-red-handed snapshot and shared over Slack. Many gifs were born — like the one posted above; we laughed and rejoiced, the culprit acknowledged his shortcomings and we moved on. Next time it happened, same outcome: the snapshot, the apology, the jokes.

Ideas

What do all the After-Shame-Cam occurrences have in common?

There’s no awful aftertaste: wrongdoers apologise and I’m happy to report that incidents have slowly but steadily decreased. We’ve stumbled upon a fun and smart way to fight moral sloppiness in the workplace.

As this has proven to be effective and celebrated amongst us, we have resorted to all of our office cameras to fight wrongdoers. It’s become part of our culture.

Popcorn

I believe the Shame Cam works for two reasons.

Firstly, because it’s not traditional CCTV, we know no one is actively monitoring our every move, no one feels watched. Yet we all know the Shame Cam is there, observant.

Would we have purchased a camera solely for this exercise?

Probably not.

But as we had hardware available, why not put it to work for us?

Most importantly, I think this mechanism works because it encourages ownership and forgiveness. And amongst all the messiness around us, we’ve come to enjoy those brief office moments where accountability prevails when integrity fails.

Even at the smallest, chocolatey scale.