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Games, not con-calls, may help build strong remote teams

As covid-19 renders certain work practices redundant, it may do good to rethink and explore the world of gamification, as it can help ensure cohesiveness, productivity and sustainability measures for the long-term

The world has always maintained a strong dichotomy between work and play. In doing so, it has missed out on the integral essence of problem-solving in games. In the current covid-19 scenario where employers and employees are connected over texts and Zoom or Teams calls, it becomes crucial to add a sense of office camaraderie via interactive means. Gamification might provide a few answers.

In the book, Gamification By Design, Gabe Zichermann writes that “gamification is 75% psychology and 25% technology." Simply put, gamification is incorporating game elements like points, badges, leaderboard and competition into other activities to encourage engagement. And the popularity of gaming is increasing, especially during the lockdown. A study by MarketsandMarkets states the gamification market is projected to grow in size from $9.1 billion in 2020 to $30.7 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.4% during the forecast period.

If you are considering introducing gamification at work, there are three essential factors that must be maintained, as Ethan Mollick and Nancy Rothbard suggest in their paper, Mandatory Fun: Consent, Gamification And The Impact of Games at Work. First, consent. Employees need to be looped in and made aware of the fact that they are playing a game. Second, legitimation. They must understand the rules of the game. Third, a sense of individual agency: They need to believe the game is fair.

Gamers often attract myths of being slackers and non-serious as a community. Hence, a linkage of games with a core business function with an older and gender-balanced workforce is not seen as a fit.

In her TED talk, “Gaming Can Make a Better World", game designer Jane McGonigal focuses on World Of Witchcraft’s highly motivated gamers who spend 22 hours a week on an average, playing the game of strategy and problem-solving. She also draws focus on the nuances of motivation and feelings that games can arouse: sense of urgency, fear, competitiveness and a sense of deep, undivided focus. She goes on to explain the larger implications of this, where at the Institute for the Future, she alongside colleagues develop games like The World Without Oil. The players sign up and are provided real-life information, data feeds about real-time oil prices, food supplies, simulated riot situations to set up the game universe.

With the pilot rolling in 2007 with 1,700 players, most players , she claimed, adopted the practices they imbibed in the video game in their real life as well, to conserve oil.

As covid-19 renders certain work practices redundant, it may do good to rethink and explore the world of gamification, as it can help ensure cohesiveness, productivity and sustainability measures for the long-term.

SAP, for example, used a gamification app to motivate sales professionals. The app simulated client meetings and incorporated real examples and data on customer needs. While playing the game, sales professionals had to answer client questions accurately. They earned badges and competed against each other, and hence were better prepared to tackle complex sales meetings with clients. It also provided sales professionals with a better understanding of what to expect and helped them succeed in their meetings.

Gamification could also lead to community-as-a-service (CaaS) being utilized in the now virtual workspace. The post-covid-19 world should not merely want success as the fulcrum, its priority instead has to be on cooperation and collaboration.

Gaming environments should be able to gauge the level of skill that the employee holds at the moment to be able to assign the perfect “task" to test their skills while also levelling up just at the verge so that they can exceed and improve themselves in a slightly difficult terrain. All this while playing as a team and helping out the group’s collective progress.

The University of Washington tried submitting one of its projects to the powers of the collective brain. A team of highly qualified scientists worked on a technique, called protein folding, as part of a research effort for nearly a decade to understand, prevent and treat diseases like HIV/AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer’s. They, however, could not attain much progress as they wanted to and decided to try incorporating gamification.

In 2011, they created a puzzle that allowed gamers to fold proteins called Foldit, and invited the general public to play the game online. About 47,000 people volunteered for this challenge and solved the problem within a record time of 10 days.

As with any form of engagement, there are ethics to be followed in gamification as well. The games should work on nudges rather than manipulation. Employees should be prodded and not coerced to choose one form of working over another. The social architecture should try to push for collective good rather than drive for a profiteering venture which exploits goodwill of the employees by keeping some part of the agenda covert.

Maintaining full transparency and ensuring the employees opt-in explicitly to the game with full knowledge about its data management and consent procedures is the most desirable and sustainable form of boosting employee morale and performance at the workplace. Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com

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