Monday, 26 November 2012

Gamification of the Workplace

Last week I talked about the gamification of classrooms.  However, gamification of work has been the focus of some attention recently.  The Economist published an article earlier this month titled: ‘More than just a game: Video games are behind the latest fad in management’ (click here for an online version).

The article talks of the general gaming trends and how people will spend a lot of time, money and real effort playing games.  At work, people are essentially bribed to do repetitive tasks, but have no trouble spending hours building up their characters in online role playing games, meticulously caring for their plants on virtual farms, chasing high scores and pursuing the tops of leader boards.  Management gurus have harnessed this power and installed some of gaming’s basic elements such as badges, levels and leader boards into workplaces.

However, the article argues several things.  Firstly, elements such as rewards (money), leader boards and employee of the month competitions have been around for a long time.  They refer to arguments that say gamification is simply a cunning way of exploiting human psychology to make a profit (akin to gambling).  Another argument against gamification is that people may soon become bored of the trivial, faddish interpretation of gamification and even see it as patronising.  Others argue that employees may become cynical of methods of boosting productivity that cost their organisation nothing and that enjoying work in itself, without the need for a reward is the best motivation.    

These arguments are completely valid.  However, they are valid for the simple, shallow form of gamification that the article is addressing.  In my previous post, I talked about how gamification can be understood in two broad ways: harnessing more games based learning and gamifying the classroom (or in this case, workplace) in a more general sense.  The general sense I am referring to is using gaming principles such as badges and levels to monitor and encourage good behaviour and attainment (productivity).

I do think that badges and competitions have their place.  They can be powerfully motivating.  However, I also see that their success could be short lived and seen as patronising, manipulative and not universally engaging.  Further than this, I think the main problem is the changes produced are short term and shallow.  By this, I mean that they may encourage competition and productivity.  But to work long term, the employees’ interest would have to be sustained.  There are some people who are just not competitive and others who would wonder why they should work harder for a badge and not a bonus or a promotion.

Gamification needs to be richer than this.  There is a lot more to World of Warcraft than simply gaining achievements.  Granted, you cannot turn work fully into a game, however, let’s just revisit the definition of gamification.  It involves taking game principles and using them in non-games.  In the workplace, this could involve making more use of games based learning.  For example, training is a great way of bringing games into the workplace.  Tailor made training games can involve complex challenges that lead to meaningful rewards: deep, long lasting learning.  These can have a real impact on the organisation and do not simply involve training vocational skills.  They can also be used to reduce silo thinking and increase collaboration, enhancing creativity, innovation and reducing wastage (and, in turn, money).  Some games can also train employees to be more environmentally friendly, which is good for both the CSR department and the Finance department.  For more information, see our previous blog articles: ‘Adult Games Based Learning and sim-uni’ and ‘Proof of the Pudding Part Three’.

Making every day working life resemble a game is also the way many offices seem to be going.  Google have slides, giant bouncy balls, scooters, foam baths, lava lamps and dogs in their offices.  They believe that this environment is perfect for generating creativity and innovation.  Some workplaces have aerobics sessions in the morning to wake people up and small logic puzzles to get the brain going.  These are already great way of getting short games and fun into the working day.  How about having Wii Sport, Just Dance or Wii Zumba breaks?  What about doing a level / mission of a game to get your brain going?  How about a game of sudoku, a crossword puzzle or an exercise on Nintendo’s Brain Training?  These could be done in groups or at a whole office level, which would integrate team building into everyday life, in a fun way.

Gamification is young; therefore it seems churlish to right it off as a fad.  I have seen many figures that suggest gamification is on the rise and will be one of the most important trends in the business world in terms of employee (and customer) engagement.  I feel that, to work, gamification needs to be given a little more credit and needs to be more rich than it is currently understood to be.  Have a look at this TemboSocial infographic for some of the statistics.  Gamification could be a powerful tool and I feel that it could be big, if properly utilised.
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