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Gone are the days where the most exciting feature of an office is the communal coffee machine. The average work environment has undergone quite a few changes over the years. Productivity is no longer thought to be improved by micro-management and isolated workspaces.

Today, companies are defining their own rules when it comes to keeping their employees motivated and happy at work.

Here are some fun, unique, and slightly unconventional initiatives some employers are implementing in order to create a positive and productive working environment.

Tabletop and video games

More and more companies are putting tabletop games in their offices and break rooms.

Whether it be for the purpose of team building, socializing, or simply a break between work sessions, these activities can help boost morale in the workplace.

Many winners of Canada's Top 100 Employers: National Competition who have excelled in creating exceptional physical office environments state they incorporate these types of games and more in their employee lounges.

For example, KPMG, a Canadian accounting firm, has a Nintendo Wii as well as a pool table in their lounge. Molson Coors Canada's workplace has an outdoor patio where employees can engage in a game of shuffle board or darts. The research-based company, Bayer Inc.'s lounge is fully outfitted with both foosball and pool tables, a dartboard, and a Nintendo Wii.

Summer hours

Another means of keeping a happy work environment is taking part in is the implementation of special summer hours.

The exact policies vary from company to company but can take a number of forms. A survey conducted by Aon Consulting found that almost half (48 per cent) of the organizations do have some type of summer schedule in place. The majority of those companies allow their workers to leave as early as 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. on Fridays, provided they work an additional half-hour every Monday to Thursday.

Guidelines like these allow Canadians to enjoy and get the most out of their seemingly short summers.

According to Aon, employers who respond to the work/life balance issue in creative ways recognize that having additional time, particularly in the summer when the living should be easy, is of tremendous value to employees.

Puppy pals

A well-known fact that's been around for years is that petting a dog can dramatically reduce stress levels in both the human and the animal. As a result, some companies are now testing this method as a way of increasing productivity and overall contentment in the workplace.

In a recent study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, it was found that employees who were allowed to bring their dog to work recorded much lower stress levels compared to those without a pet.

Though this concept is not without its complications, such as allergies or potential messes that could occur throughout the day, there are still companies who encourage it as a way to attract and retain staff. Mars Inc.'s Canadian office is one such company that invites their employees to bring their pooch to work every day.

To ensure that everyone has a positive experience, guidelines and controls are put in place to protect the health and safety of both people and their pets, they say.

Other practices include more flexible hours year round and uniquely designed workspaces that help promote creativity and take the dreariness out of the plain black-and-white office environment.

Photos: Mascha_Glasa/Thinkstock