Video games might once have been considered the territory of children or teenagers, but a recent study has found at least a third of us have played games in the workplace to gain knowledge.
And there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting games can help us learn, get motivated and engage with challenging or complex ideas in the workplace.
It’s a concept known as gamification.
Kerstin Oberprieler, a designer from strategic design consultancy ThinkPlace, says gamification can be as low-tech as writing on a whiteboard, or as high-tech as an app.
But good examples have one in thing in common — they use what’s known as game mechanics, the basic principles that make games fun to play.
“We all are motivated by a range of things in everything we do … whether it be the need to connect with other people, to progress and have mastery and competence in what we do, to be autonomous … [or] the need for creativity.”
Fear of loss or of missing out can also be motivating needs.
“Gamification is really about overtly tapping into those [needs] in a very deliberate experience, designed to give people joy and for teams to enhance their productivity or achieve things,” Ms Oberprieler says.
A tool for recruitment and knowledge sharing
Professional services firm KPMG uses gamification to engage its workers in a variety of ways.
Gaye Haug, KPMG’s head of people experience, says in a world where people are constantly tethered to their phones, attention spans are getting smaller, and so employers need to look at different ways of engaging their staff.
The company also uses games in its graduate recruitment process.
“We’ve all done the old pen-and-paper numeric and verbal reasoning test … but we have a far more engaging assessment process through gamification,” Ms Haug says.
KPMG is also using game mechanics to share corporate knowledge. The firm has hundreds of thousands of employees spread across the globe, but this can make learning about all the different areas of the business challenging. So they came up with a game — KPMG GlobeRunner — to help solve the problem.
“It essentially is a learning program where people can take different missions in different locations and learn about the capabilities, the clients and the offerings that we have across our global network,” Ms Hoag says.
And according to KPMG, the results have been impressive.
“We have over 30 countries participating; 83 per cent of users have said it’s fun and engaging, and almost 90 per cent of people said they’ve had a really positive experience using the tool.
“And 71 per cent of our people said they’re more confident in understanding the connections across our firm globally.”
How game-like should it be?
Gamification has become something of an “it word” in marketing and human resources circles — but many high-profile examples have been discontinued.
To create an engaging gaming experience that gets results, Ms Oberprieler believes the designer and the business need to be clear about the desired outcomes and understand their target audience.
Millennials, for example, have grown up with video games, and can be more receptive to their use in the workplace.
“The younger generations do tend to be more aware, and more open to that type of experience,” Ms Oberprieler says.
“Having said that, though, it really depends on the type of gamification experience … and it depends on the environment.
She says some gamification experiences can feel quite kitsch and inappropriate.
“And while I’m all for getting playfulness out there, I just think that sometimes it gives gamification a bit of a bad name, because it’s not about being patronising at all,” she says.
“If you think about things like your frequent flyer program … those are actually already gamified experiences that are in your life. And they don’t feel patronising … they just feel like a good program.”
One of the design decisions made during the gamification process is just how game-like the client wants the experience to be. And it really is context-dependent, Ms Oberprieler says.
“For some of my government clients, I find we need to be a little bit on the side of traditional, professional interfaces,” she says.
“For some of the smaller teams and more innovative teams, they’re happy to go a bit more game-like.”
Best practice approaches
Ms Oberprieler is currently working with the Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (DIIS), designing a gamification platform to help building manager capabilities.
And as Lisa Hester, the strategic project lead for the department’s people and planning branch, explains, both the designer and the department are keen to make sure employees are at the centre of the experience.
“So basically we have a prototype that we’re testing on volunteers across the department … we take their feedback into consideration and we adjust the platform accordingly,” she says.
“We’re still in the user development phase or the research phase. But it will essentially be a platform that will have daily, weekly, monthly activities that employees can undertake and get points for … so there will be different activities for employees, different ones for managers, depending on who you are.”
The department have opted for a professional-looking platform, with elements like a customisable avatar and the chance to accrue points and get competitive.
“We’re not trying to play it safe, not by any stretch of the imagination. We’re one of the first public departments to look at gamification for employee engagement.
“But I think it’s important that we don’t go in too kind of gung-ho and expect that everyone’s going to jump on board immediately.”
Like the DIIS, KPMG has also been keen to adopt a best-practice approached to gamification in the workplace.
When asked whether there had been any drawbacks, or lessons the company has learned, in their experience with gamification, Ms Hoag said how the tools were rolled out was important.
“We had a really interesting way in one of the countries where it was launched with an email where one of the staff actually challenged the CEO. And then the CEO of that country copied everyone in and said: ‘OK, you’re on. Let’s game this,'” she says.
“They had a really [high take-up] in that country, just making a bit of fun and really connecting with people.
“So I think that’s probably one of the key elements, how do you actually engage people to take it up in the first place?”
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