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Work from home: How to keep employees engaged. Bring on your game face!

When Susan’s teenage son found out that school was closed and that he was going to do all his studies online, he jumped with excitement. A teenager with unlimited computer access and no school equate to what? Computer games, of course! If you think we are discussing computer gaming this week, you’re right. We’re talking gamification! But not in the form that your teenager understands… Gamification is a business term. Wharton Business School describes gamification as ‘the application of online game design techniques in non-game settings’. It is widely used in business, education, policy making and even in counterintelligence. One of the biggest challenges facing employers in the pandemic is how to keep staff engaged and motivated while they continue to work from home. In the past, workers have a physical place to report to work. They have fixed hours and routines. Now, they are scattered all over the city. They work alone at home -in an environment where professional, family and personal boundaries collide. Employers cannot physically go to every individual staff to see what they are doing or how they are coping. So, what can they do? Gamification could be what companies are looking. Computer games are designed for immersion. Why not take these principles and create a work environment – albeit a virtual one –so enticing that staff will want to log on every morning?

What is gamification?

It is said that when chased by a bear, you don’t have to outrun it, you run faster than your friend beside you. Similarly, to win a contract, secure a promotion or get the new corner office, we need only to ‘beat’ our closest rival. Everyone wants to win. It’s human nature. In business, gamification is about finding new ways to create value for the business, customers and employees. It is about applying the techniques of online games to a (non-game) business problem. Gamification takes all the elements that make a game fun and engaging and apply them to a work scenario to make it an immersive experience. If your staff loves what they are doing, it will be followed by them wanting to keep coming back for more. Creating a ‘game atmosphere’ works because it taps into our innate sense of competition and desire to succeed. Games trigger all the intrinsic motivators like the need for social interaction, meaningful contributions, achievements, affirmations and personal challenges. Done right, it could be the way to keep our staff interested in their jobs while we sit out the COVID-19 crisis. Plus, the word “game” excites everyone, doesn’t it?

Why gamification works

You might find this hard to believe but it’s true. Collecting gold coins and conquering villains have quite a lot in common with flying a plane. In fact, the mechanics used to design ‘Candy Crush’ or ‘Pokémon’ are the same ones used in the flight simulator that pilots practise on. According to global insights leader, Deloitte game-based and simulation-based environments can be used to train good leaders. Games employ extrinsic rewards that are extremely addictive because they appeal to our psychological needs.

Psychological appeal Outcome
Instant feedback Fuels our need for feedback and recognition
A sense of flow Helps us concentrate on work effortlessly
Progressive difficulty Satisfies our need for challenges and thrills

Source: Deloitte University


Instant Feedback

In gaming, the player receives instant feedback on their performance. If they have succeeded in the tasks, the game rewards them by moving them up a level. Feedback is recognition of their efforts. If they fail to level up, the feedback tells them what they must do to progress. Regular feedback promotes clarity in remote working situations. The physical distance caused by WFH can become a barrier to efficiency and effectiveness. Your team needs to know that they are doing things right. Giving them feedback can minimise mistakes. Feedback is also an effective way to keep track of what they are doing and how they are coping with their new work arrangements.

A sense of flow

Psychologists explained this as a sense of total absorption. When a player is in the game mode, they are ‘in the zone’. They are totally focused on the task on the goal. Creating a sense of flow in the remote workspace helps staff develop control over their environment. Introduce routines and structures into your WFH workflows. For example, scheduling meetings at the same time each morning or a weekly gamification session.

Progressive difficulty

Games level up for a reason. The sense of accomplishment the player gets when he/she completes a level is a strong motivator to keep playing. Studies have shown that staff are most engaged when their skills are stretched. In remote working, top down management may be difficult to achieve. Instead, consider giving staff some autonomy over what they do. Giving them control is a way of showing trust. It builds loyalty.

Ready to put your game face on?

Our super simple 5-Steps to Gamification Success can help you introduce gamification into your remote work model.

Identify your objectives

Define your objectives. One of the reasons companies use gamification is because they want to improve staff engagement. But staff engagement is not the only reason for gamification. Gamification can also be used to improve productivity, increase communication, increase sales or solve problems. Identifying your objectives makes it easier for you to design the ‘hooks’ that you will need to get employees involved.

Decide on a scoring system

Every competition has a scoring system. Get creative with your scoreboard. An assessment sheet is too dull. A balanced scorecard is too reminiscent of a strategic meeting. A dashboard sounds like it’s going to be a measurement. Need some ideas? Try using iconic computer games that you know for your scoreboard for example Space Invaders, Call of Duty, and others. You can also use gamification platforms to set up your scoring system. Don’t forget employees in WFH mode are not in the same office. They are working from home. To keep them interested in the game, display the scores graphs, lists, scoreboards or static rewards. Send shoutouts, friendly reminders and mini ads to keep the interest up.

Include rewards

Rewards are the essence of gaming. It is the hook that keeps gamers enthralled. Rewards can come in many forms but must be matched to your staff. For example, if your team are mainly women in their thirties with young children, you may want to consider online shopping vouchers as the reward. Scores and badges are brilliant ideas to promote interest and participation. Praise is even better. Remember that not every staff will excel in a scoring system but that does not mean he/she has not put in the effort. So, give praise where praise is due.

Talentank Top Tip: Do things differently Here’s an example of what we mean: Someone sends an email that says: ‘Well done!’ Emails come. Emails go. Before long it’s lost in email universe. So, we wanted to do things just a little differently. We created a badge and send it to the recipient and then shared it with others. The key thing here is that it never goes away. It has become part of the person’s profile – forever. A badge may seem like nothing but for employees it is an accolade. If they ever decide to leave the organisation and want to impress a prospective employer, these virtual badges can become quite valuable. This is what we meant when we say create value.


MMOGs (Massively multiplayer online games) reward players for slaying monsters, healing teammates, crafting equipment, tending a garden, caring for a pet, mastering an instrument or harvesting a crop. Similarly, success in one’s job does not mean just meeting sales target or KPIs. Use your ‘game’ platform to encourage coworking, multitasking, volunteering, positive attitudes and health and wellbeing in the virtual workplace. Start with a narrow set of attainable milestones and build up slowly – like a game.

Emphasise ‘the friendly’ in Friendly Game!

A competitive spirit is good. It can drive productivity. Rivalry is not. Setting tasks that can promote teamwork and unity is far more important. That does not mean you cannot encourage employees to outmatch one another. If you can find a balance between both, your gamification strategy will deliver results. Putting teams in a competition promotes teamwork and camaraderie. When everyone in the company feels like they are all working towards the same goal they will be more inclined to help one another. You can foster a community spirit through internal message boards, Slack and social media. [/vc_column_text]

Gaming is gratifying. Gaming promotes the release of dopamine – the happy hormone – that makes us feel good. Getting your staff to feel good about what they are doing for the company can go a long way in helping them cope with the difficulties of working from home.