Gamification in the workplace

Technology is now woven into almost every aspect of culture and commerce. It is changing how we live our lives, and this is true both at home and at work. Indeed, the pandemic has blurred both of these constructs into a stream of activity and actions that may now be hard to separate.

As companies continue to exploit technology to improve information flows and productivity, they are challenged to keep tasks ‘interesting’. Especially those tasks that would generally be classed as repetitive, or boring, but that may also require a high degree of precision and consistency. This is the backdrop a number of companies are using to explore ‘Gamification’.

Gamification is the description of using game techniques and elements to enable workers to achieve goals and complete tasks, while ensuring the worker enjoys the exercise. This can often include rewards for completing tasks within specific timeframes or against other teams doing similar tasks. This is not new, as in many industry sectors ranking team performance has been a feature for decades. The difference now is that technology can do so utilising all of the tools used by computer gaming platforms.

Amazon has been using these techniques in some of its warehousing and distribution centres as pilots for a more large-scale rollout. Alongside regular salaries, staff can also win digital rewards that can be exchanged in some cases for goods and services from the company. Although some people may choose to interpret this as part of a dystopian plan to develop zombies rather than employees, the company (unsurprisingly) disagrees.

Some employees have praised the effort as a welcome distraction across a lengthy shift. Also, the program (FC Games) is entirely optional for employees. It is also well known that Amazon is one of the largest users of robots across its fulfilment and distribution landscape, as it continues with a relentless obsession with improving productivity and reducing operational costs. So it is trying to ensure that while it still employs huge numbers of people at the same time as they are automating many repetitive and boring tasks, the human workforce remains engaged.

Using computer gaming models requires consideration of the following elements:

  • It is optional
  • It is safe
  • The objective is clear and reasonable
  • The measurement and scoring is fair and transparent
  • It motivates and supports appropriate behaviour

Some companies have been using games to connect with potential employees for years. Google published a series of riddles and puzzles online and on billboards beside highways frequented by the software developer community in California. Cisco also used similar techniques to recruit from competitors and helped existing employees connect with potential employees looking to get hired. Even SAP, the German enterprise software vendor, deployed a smartphone app for its sales teams to help enhance performance – although I suspect a closer look at their pricing policy may have been more effective.

Gamification can also be a powerful tool for training. It should help foster friendly competition but also build stronger teams. It’s also probably of greater appeal than some of the more traditional ‘crawl across a muddy field/shoreline while being taunted by your peers’ exercises. Competing in a virtual space also helps the more introverted, but no less talented, employees illustrate their capabilities. This enhances their self-worth and provides a neutral platform where naturally shy people can be recognised rather than the horror of standing on a physical platform.

In a recent survey by the organisation Talent LMS, 83% of employees felt more motivated if gamification was being used as part of the training programme. When gamification was not used, motivation slipped to just below 30%. Communication and customer contact training also benefited from the use of gamification techniques.

As employees regularly use digital devices to perform their tasks, it is common that the world with which they are interacting will be augmented with real-time data and digital overlays. It is into this landscape that game techniques can easily be introduced to improve the experience and enhance performance. But it is essential that this is done gradually and with sensitivity to avoid older workers (i.e. pre-millennial) feeling alienated. As stated above, as a minimum, participation should absolutely be optional.

There are also potential problems related to cybersecurity and digital highjacking of operational processes that exist in the physical world but are observed and managed through a digital one. The numerous fictitious examples portrayed in the media of criminals or foreign states using technology to disrupt or terrorise the global economy are not entirely implausible these days. So exploiting some of the techniques that were often seen as ‘special effects’ in movies 20 years ago, should reinforce the need to ensure a cyber secure operating environment.

Using technology to enhance the working experience and ‘entertain’ the workforce is a natural evolution of the general move towards digitisation. Companies will choose if, when, and how they engage with this development. If done correctly, it should be possible to do so with the encouragement of the workforce and generate real benefits for the organisation. So will it be ‘game on’?

Source: Transport Intelligence, May 20, 2021

Author: Ken Lyon