REMOTE Step 6: Gamify tasks and activities to offset the loneliness of remote isolation and entertainment distractions
In our previous episode, on Teamplay, we detailed how to create a Remote Workplace that facilitates team activities to generate mutual understanding, bonding and that highlights strengths and weaknesses of colleagues.
The final instalment of our REMOTE series is about ENJOYMENT: creating fun during the REMOTE workflow to combat loneliness and distractions. When we discuss creating Enjoyment, we will sometimes focus on creating Fun instead. Fun can be defined as “that which gives enjoyment.” So the two are connected but they are not the same. Many things can create enjoyment (including “pleasure”, like having a massage), but they are not fun per se. In our opinion, what separates fun from pleasure is that fun involves cognitive effort to deal with surprise, obstacles and cooperation. So it implies an active stance rather than a passive one.
The REMOTE Workplace targets outcomes where people are highly productive and cherish a high Team Morale. This outcome needs active (fun) enjoyment, rather than passive (like in the case of that massage) enjoyment. So we will predominantly focus on creating fun.
What makes the case for fun in the REMOTE Workplace so important is the danger of your remote workers feeling lonely, disconnected and distracted. In order for the REMOTE setup to work, it needs to be an inclusive and fun place to work. You cannot just copy systems, culture and triggers from a physical office environment to the new distance work environment. It just lacks the things that are at the basis of Enjoyment: impromptu, social face-to-face interaction where people can express their identities.
Many managers may wonder:
“Fun on the workfloor? What does that have to do with running a business? I am not paying my employees to do fun activities during work hours. I pay them to add value when they work! We are a serious business!”.
And, at first look, many people might agree with that initial reaction. However, there are important benefits to creating Fun on the workfloor.
So why is Enjoyment and Fun so important?
Creating fun is not just a gimmick or an add-on. There is an extensive body of scientific research on how enjoyment and fun make employees better workers, colleagues and thinkers. Here are some key results of that research.
Fun leads to higher productivity when integrated in workflow
We know that we experience the highest enjoyment of executing our tasks when we are in a state of “flow”. Interestingly, the workspace offers the best environment to reach that enjoyable flow state. At work we often “feel skilful and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative, and satisfied”, according to the Father of Flow, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In “flow” we feel that our work is fun.
It is not about making work “funny” with all kinds of random games and gimmicks. The secret sauce is to make work feel like fun. The fun needs to be integrated into the workflow itself and not a standalone activity or game (as opposed to Teamplay, which is about building team chemistry in simulated environments). And when you achieve that integration, the magic starts to happen. People work harder, smarter and more productive.
The Octalysis Framework
Octalysis has now been mentioned hundreds of times in scientific research papers. Academic researchers recognize that it can be used to design long term engagement for employees. It works because it is a design that is optimized for human motivation. Most of the fun and enjoyment comes from the Core Drives on the right side of the Octalysis Octagon (so called Right Brain Core Drives). This is where human motivation is generated from activities that are rewarding and fun by themselves. We do not expect a reward for engaging with friends, being creative or engaging with activities that generate curiosity and unpredictability.
And most of what makes us feel good comes from Core Drive on the top half of the Octalysis Octagon. These Core Drives entail White Hat motivation: they make us feel in good and in control. So when we design for fun and lasting enjoyment we need to make sure that our designs encompass and balance out Right Brain and White Hat motivational design.
The Octalysis Group applied the Octalysis Framework when we created a fun employee engagement CRM experience for a FMCG distributor. The experience transformed the existing boring sales process, into a digital experience where sales staff enrolled in a 19th Century Merchant Trading experience. The experience was fully integrated with the existing CRM system. As these sales people were mainly on the road to clients they were actually working almost 80% remote.
In the experience, sales staff could strategize, cooperate and compete, and encountered fun delightful surprises.
KPIs up 60%;
Revenue up 30%.
3 years onward and voluntary DAU rates are continued high at 95%.
This project was awarded “Gamification Project of the Year Award” for 2017 by the Gamification World Congress in Europe.
Fun works, guaranteed. REMOTE or not.
Fun leads to higher employee cooperation
Employees tend to isolate themselves when their work is all about ticking off To Do Lists, meeting deadlines and avoiding negative consequences for not meeting targets. They are in a short term mindset, mainly focused on gaining extrinsic rewards (money, status, ticking off to do lists). And they are in a stressful, scarcity driven mindset. In ‘regular’ office settings some of that is offset by fun banter on the workfloor and company fitness and lunchrooms. Some cutting edge innovative companies already have game rooms with billiards and other games for people to relax.
When we consulted with BOOKING.COM there was a large space where staff could hang out and just play games. The people I met there loved the opportunity to have some fun together, and would even discuss business while playing. They said it made it easier to bond and work together. The only thing that was missing was that the gameful experience was not purposefully set up to come up with solutions for work problems. Therefore this would also be more Teamplay than Enjoyment.
If fun activities are setup for the purpose of having better meetings and brainstorming, then we would fulfil the concept of Enjoyment – making existing workflow and tasks exciting and engaging.
Back to the REMOTE Workplace Setup and you are back to ticking off To Do Lists, meeting deadlines and avoiding failure. But now it is worse as there are no colleagues around. In this setting, the fun needs to be explicitly created so that fun interaction takes place between colleagues. This is exactly what the REMOTE framework will do for your company.
Fun leads to more innovation in the workplace and to better products.
We already mentioned Steve Jobs’ experience at game development company ATARI and how it influenced his thinking about product design. And Elon Musk, who at times is a heavy gamer on the workfloor.
For them, fun on the workfloor is not only about Enjoyment and bonding. For Musk his gaming has become integral to understanding user experience design. It is no coincidence that both the Apple and Tesla designs revolutionized and cornered the mobile phone and car market by introducing truly enjoyable design. Their competitors (like NOKIA and Volkswagen respectively) may have had better engineered products, but they struggled to compete with the user experience of Apple and Tesla.
Get people in an enjoyable flow mindset fueled by fun, and innovation and creativity will flourish.
Should you want to know more about what creates fun and what kinds of fun there are, you can spend some time on Nicole Lazzaro’s work on the 4 Keys 2 Fun. Also Jesse Schell’s seminal work on game design can be helpful. We will get back to Lazzaro’s work later in this episode as well.
We have now seen the importance of a workplace where there is Enjoyment through fun. So let’s delve into how we can create an Enjoyable REMOTE setup. As always we shall use the Tools, Culture and Trigger Stacks to guide us along the way.
Earlier we explored why today’s workplace technology is not yet suited for REMOTE Workers (and actually is not suited for non REMOTE work either). Almost all office systems are focused on making the workflow more efficient, not more fun. They do a few things very well: create nice graphs, to-do lists and progress indicators. They excel in making you feel accomplished for a while. You are achieving progress, and are getting things done (Octalysis Core Drive 2: Accomplishment) on the digital to-do list.
The problem is…that is all they do.
Some of these systems have tried to make it fun by adding a layer of Points, Badges and Leaderhoards. But these gimmicks make the experience engaging only in the short term. In the end such approaches end in failure. You don’t create fun by adding game mechanics to an experience. The fun needs to have been built in the DNA of the system itself.
Redesign your (CRM) systems
The best way to implement a truly engaging and fun experience for you REMOTE staff, is to design an experience that fully integrates with your existing CRM system. Often the backend of the CRM system can remain, while a fully new User Journey is crafted on top of it.
Companies can still track the needed KPIs and other key management and sales data, but for the user the experience will be totally different. More fun, more engaging, more Enjoyment. And with that enjoyment comes higher productivity, higher workplace morale and lower churn.
Creating such systems is not just a pipe dream or a gimmicky afterthought. With more and more people working remotely, designing a system like that is a must for your company’s competitiveness. Companies take the leap and create fun and engaging systems that will have the edge on the laggards. They will enjoy higher productivity; more engaged workers; and higher creativity and better product design. We consider this a win-win-win setup.
The ROIs from our case study with the large FMCG Distributor show the edge you can give yourself for a relatively small investment they were making 30% more revenue. Year in, year out.
So what if you cannot change your CRM systems due to lack of budget? Or what if your company has committed to a platform provider with limited API capabilities (so you cannot integrate a new front end with crucial backend functionality)?
In that case you can still create an engaging standalone experience for crucial workplace tasks that you want to make enjoyable. What you need to ensure though is that the experience integrates fully with the existing workflow. Building a separate ‘game’ creates many challenges because people have to remember to include it in their workflows manually.
One example of building a standalone application that pops up in the workflow, is the work we did with APERAM (a daughter company of the largest steel manufacturing company in the world: Arcelor Mittal).
For them Safety Training and Adherence was a key metric. Accidents in factories may lead factories to be closed for days, and this costs millions of dollars daily. Now, safety training (as with most training) is done the old fashioned way. You gather people in a room, teach them what they need to know and then let them go back to work again.
The trick is to get people to interact with the training content while on the job. And that is exactly what we designed for: a fun experience where people interact and repeat training content while on the job. Safety can then go from the most boring topic to the most enjoyable in the company.
If we can reach such results with a boring topic like safety adherence for factory workers, think about what you can achieve with other topics. Make it fun, make it stick and make it pop up in workflows. It works like a charm..
Other tools to create REMOTE Enjoyment
Obviously there is a near infinite amount of tools that can be used to create Enjoyment for work tasks and activities online. As we described in our episode on Teamplay, there are a host of online games that teach and train mission critical skills . In Teamplay we mentioned the Octalysis Social Media Game as an example of how to make a key workflow task (sharing our expertise and thought leadership on social media) feel like a fun game.
Again, the key to making enjoyable work tasks succeed, is to make sure they integrate with worker workflow. Most stand alone tools, like our social media game, lack full workflow integration so we need to think about the Culture and Triggers Stack to optimize integration as much as we can.
Remember that Tools, Culture and Triggers are a mutually reinforcing trinity in the push for high productivity and team morale. When the power of Tools is less, the power of Culture or Triggers need to compensate for it, and vice versa.
So we know from experience and research that fun at work has tremendous benefits for workers. They are more productive, creative, task oriented and take charge more workers in non-fun environments. For Enjoyment to work in a REMOTE setting however, it needs to be embraced by managers as key to workfloor success. Just like Elon Musk talks vividly about his passion for games, they will need to discover their passion for a fun approach at and to work.
In The Octalysis Group we made ‘fun’ a cornerstone of our DNA document (see earlier episodes for other aspects of this document):
But creating a fun REMOTE culture goes further than being goofy in Zoom meetings and getting people to play games together (although both these things surely impact morale as well!). Creating a Culture of Enjoyment does not mean just letting everybody play games all day long.
It is all about balancing the types of fun you create on the workfloor and to make sure that the fun is useful for productivity. So how do we do that?
Different Types of Fun
Lazarro’s work states that there are various types of fun. There is Serious Fun, where it is all about collecting things and doing something meaningful. Then there is Hard Fun, or having fun through mastery of new skills and dealing with goals and challenges. We have Easy Fun where we come to a state of Enjoyment through exploration and role play. And lastly we have People Fun, where the Enjoyment comes from hanging out with other people.
Usually, engaging gamelike experiences incorporate at least three of these Types of Fun. So think about how you can create a culture where this happens. Promote group charity activities (Serious Fun); support learning new skills online (Hard Fun), and arrange that these online activities are done in small groups (Social Fun). Maybe organize Toastmasters events where people have the opportunity to role play (Easy Fun) and master a skill at the same time. As you see, Fun doesn’t mean an enjoyable waste of time. Valuable skills and knowledge can be acquired through these activities.
Human Focused Design Fun
We need to look at it from a behavioral science perspective. From the Octalysis Framework we know that the Core Drives on the right hand side of the Octagon are responsible for creating fun:
Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback;
Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness
Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity
Optimize your cultural design so that these drives get activated and you will have filled your Cultural stack for Enjoyment!
Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback
Always encourage autonomy and creativity. Give workers the trust to strategize by themselves, to be creative and innovative. An example are the 20% Projects: initiatives where employees are allocated twenty-percent of their paid work time to pursue personal projects. These projects are ideal for REMOTE workers, and gives them a creative and entrepreneurial outlet from the weekly grind.
3M started it in the 1950’s with a 15% project and it resulted in the invention of Post-its and Masking tape. Google is credited for making the 20% project what it is today. As a result we now have Gmail, AdSense, and Google News.
Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness
Encourage bonding within teams in fun ways, try to come up with ways to partner people when they do work activities. Think about ways on how the performance reward for one colleague is dependent on the performance of the other and how well they coordinate. Also think about collaborative competition, where sub-teams compete with each other to achieve work tasks.
Keep in mind that fun comes into play when we combine pleasure with challenges. In keeping with Flow, ensure that challenges are in line with the skills of the workers involved. Only then can we truly enjoy a blissful and actie state of Enjoyment.
We intrinsically enjoy the company of peers, and in a REMOTE setting we need to ensure that we encourage that bonding to take place online. Having your cameras ON is one of most important yet unwritten cultural norms here, as much of the fun comes from watching people’s face expressions when we collaborate or compete.
Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity
There is nothing more demotivating than grinding away to endless To Do lists. Yet this is often how workflows of people look and feel like. Empower people to create non-linearity and delightful surprises in the team but also in their own work. Allow them to explore different ways to do their job and through role play (see Toastmasters) let them find out how other departments look at their work.
Giving people different perspectives for a while is fun and empowering and has been recognized as such for centuries. During Dutch Carnival, for example, a citizen is crowned Prince and role reversal takes place between haves and have nots.
In similar vein, The Octalysis Group designed a fully gamified Leadership Management Meeting of a large Corporation. Participants were given roles where they had to act on behalf of other departments. It led not only to fun interaction and surprise, it also led to higher output, more cross departmental ideas and a better workfloor culture.
You now know what Tools can help us create fun and enjoyment in our REMOTE teams. You also have found out what cultural aspects drive Enjoyment and productivity.
So how do you create triggers that connect Enjoyment and enhanced workflow? We have to keep in mind that Enjoyment, contrary to Teamplay, is about making people more productive, ideally to make them more productive while creating a high Team Morale. So called Social Team Dynamics are fun ways to get people to work together more intensively and in an engaging manner. Build triggers around these dynamics.
A fun way to get your workforce to focus on being productive in a fun way is to designate Power Hours: hours where colleagues are allowed to focus on one thing only. So, for example, every day at 1200, you and a colleague (or colleagues) come together online and work on the most difficult task at hand.
You work non-stop for an hour on that one topic and then explain what you have achieved (and possibly ask for feedback).
You do not have to work on the same topic, as long as you focus on one topic only. Alternatively you can work as a team on one topic of mutual interest, e.g. next year’s Annual Retreat, and the only condition is that there has to be a concrete outcome. The build up scarcity due to the 1 hour limit, often leads to many new ideas and fun insights.
Another variant for a Power Hour is that a group of people get together to work on an issue but have to solve it with different strategies. So you are allowed to tackle the issue while assuming you have unlimited money; and another with the assumption of unlimited time; and the third one may assume manpower. This leads to insights into different strategies that can be employed to solve the problem. And strategizing is a fun and creative approach to problem solving.
Weekly Team Triggers
In our episode on Teamplay, we described how The Octalysis Group runs a Social Media Game (SMG). In this experience we combine fun and being highly productive in sharing our lessons learned and experiences with Gamification and Behavioral Science design. Once a week we come together in ZOOM and evaluate how we all did. Everybody (including management) is scored to the same standards. In addition, your score can benefit your SMG partner for that week.
Because your performance is open for all to see and your SMG partner will take special interest in knowing your progress, you will always try hard to achieve your targets. In addition, each team member has to throw a dice and move on the SMG Monopoly inspired board to find out what social media they will focus on promoting next week. This leads to a boost of Octalysis Core Drive 7: Unpredictability and Curiosity.
As you see, many Octalysis Core Drives come together in the design to make an engaging experience, culminating in the weekly meeting. That online weekly meeting is a very motivational trigger for all TOG members. And above all it’s fun!
Core Drive 7 Pop Ups
Nothing is more deadly than a linear repetitive workflow in your day. Simple joyful surprises go a long way in spicing up your day. Think of adding simple pop ups in your CRM dashboard that surprise. Every time you log in, you might see a Mystic Animal of the Day. Or a “Did You Know That?”. Or an Inspirational Quote.
Until last year the Slack Platform took up to 20 seconds to load. This gave them a great window to share Inspirational Quotes as Loading Messages. Your team could also add their own (quirky) messages. It was a fun way to discover new insights, and start your day with a smile.
These messages have now been removed, but are still sorely missed by many users, including ourselves!
The above are just a few examples of how to create triggers that create playful strategies; fun social team dynamics; and joyful surprises. What combination of triggers fits your company best is best determined through a careful weighing of desired actions within your remote workflow.
Creating a truly engaging remote workplace is not about adding a few elements to your existing remote set up. The REMOTE Framework is a carefully structured approach to achieving the most optimal outcome for needs.
REMOTE Set Up Support Available
It is not easy to create a truly engaging remote work environment for your staff. But luckily you don’t have to reinvent the wheel by yourself. The Octalysis Group can help you to create the most suited REMOTE Work Setup for your company.
In new REMOTE Episodes we will write in more detail on how we help companies transform to a truly engaging distance working environment, but here is a sneak peak into this process:
TOG will start with a REMOTE Audit of your current remote set up. The Audit evaluates all the 6 REMOTE Steps in terms of their Power to create a productive online workspace and high Team Morale. After that we generate our proprietary REMOTE Score that depicts your overall performance on keeping your employees engaged online. Finally we craft a plan together with you on how we can maximize your REMOTE Score. Your company can use the score to show high potential new hires that your company values REMOTE working and is investing in the tools, culture and triggers that come with it.
If you would like to know more about how Octalysis can help your company in creating high productivity and high Team Morale, reach out for more or a free discussion about possibilities: firstname.lastname@example.org