While April Fool’s Day jokes have become something of an expected corporate marketing ploy – anyone remember last year’s “Kids Class” cabins on Virgin Australia or W Hotels 75% discount for guests willing to share rooms with strangers – those who pull off a genuinely funny prank in the office are few and far between.
There are some golden rules: after all this is annual funny business, not state-sanctioned one-day-a-year bullying. So don’t go and destroy business or personal property, don’t stuff up the working day and stress out your boss, don’t end up with anyone in A&E, and certainly don’t end up in a situation where everyone’s laughing at one person’s expense (unless you’re absolutely sure that person can take it).
Otherwise, all’s fair in love and war – so here’s our quick guide to eight top pranks to bring a grin to your April 1 office.
Anyone can cause a little merriment with a simple "out of order" or "closed sign" strategically placed on all meeting rooms, toilets, cafeterias or communal areas. Or you can jazz up the sign with a bit of additional information to stir things up some more: how about, "closed for pest control" on the canteen or "closed until re-training" on the toilet door? Just be aware that some of these types of pranks can back-fire - for example when a Los Angeles DJ back in 1987 announced that all freeways in and out of the city would be closed to traffic for a week for repairs sparking panic among commuters and an angry response from police.
As any parent knows - and countless behavioural scientists have proven - we're all really terrible at resisting temptation. The most famous test of this was the Stanford Marshmallow Test in the 1960s when a large group of four-year-olds showed they couldn't stop themselves eating a marshmallow when left on their own - even when told they'd get more marshmallows when the researcher returned. The April Fool's Day office prank version of this can be anything from a strategically placed box marked "do not touch" or "do not open" to an unguarded plate of biscuits, chocolates or cake. To make the most of the April Fool's lack of self-control ensure that packages are wired with an alarm or have a jack-in-the-box type of suprise hidden within, or that any "sweet treats" are actually flavoured with something nasty like garlic or chilli, or contain a food colouring that will stain the culprit's mouth and give the game away.
When technology is moving so fast, people are ready to accept almost anything announced by IT. Admittedly, when a notice is made on April 1, staff may be on their guard, but putting a sign on a coffee machine, toaster, snack machine, even keycard-controlled door, saying the technology is now “voice-activated” is bound to have a few folk shouting at inanimate objects – to the merriment of their clued up co-workers.
Little gets the blood boiling in office politics (and is therefore fair game for the merry April prankster) quite like who gets a car park and a company car. If you’re brave enough, you could change the parking signs in the car park to confuse those with company cars, or put out a round-office email saying all company cars are to be replaced by bikes – but, you could also take a leaf out of Google’s book after they last year announced the revolutionary “driver-less bike” to help tackle road safety in the Netherlands. I’m sure all your colleagues would love to hear that the company was investing in driverless bikes and getting rid of their fleet of company vehicles.
There's plenty of scope to prank someone while they're out of the office and distracted by the hectic schedule of keeping tabs on work and travel information. A single email or phone message about what's happening back in the office can have real impact ... anything from a text saying a sport or pop star is joining the team, to an email telling the traveller that there's been a major change to their work (say, a move to details around parking, desk, even office location).
It’s a hardy perennial for office staff and does eat up a lot of time when done properly, but the old chestnut of wrapping up a colleague’s desk, car, chair or any item of cherished office paraphernalia always brings a smirk. Kitchen clingfilm is the favourite, but wrapping paper, post-it notes or photocopies of images relevant to the “victim” can also bring a smile.
PCs offer the perfect playground for the April Fool’s prankster – just make sure you’ve got IT on your side and you’re not inadvertently downloading some bot that’s going to bring down your company. From being able to hijack a wireless mouse and editing auto-correct so that correctly spelled words come out wrong, to turning screens upside down and replacing system sounds with found sounds (it’s puerile, but screams and farts do work well here), there’s plenty of mirth and mayhem that a trained IT expert can wreak on an office.
Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a well-laid prank come to fruition – and the humour increases depending on the length of time spent on the gag. Maybe a few weeks out from the big day, start sowing the seeds of an issue – maybe start the rumour you’ve spotted rats or mice in the office, or a telephone message to a colleague that they’ve missed a delivery. Then over subsequent days or weeks, up the intensity of the rumour or message – mouse “droppings” and gnawed fruit or paper, or subsequent, more frantic late-night messages about the mysterious package. The big reveal can then come on April 1 – a fluffy toy mouse with a white “surrender” flag, or the “delivery” of a giant cardboard box filled with… well, whatever you think is funny!
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