Gamification of the workplace has been an area of serious consideration for the last decade. As technology has evolved, the potential of applying game design, technology and techniques to non-game environments, including business settings, has grown. Not just as a means of incentivising teams, but of simplifying and streamlining processes, aiding workers and enhancing productivity.
Here, Nigel Cannings, CTO at Intelligent Voice, explains how gamification in the office environment could work.
In some verticals, we have already seen a strong move towards the use of augmented reality (AR). In warehouses, AR allows for faster stock location. And throughout the pandemic, Amazon has used AR to help its employees maintain social distancing. It also allows for simpler repairs and maintenance across sectors, as AR can provide detailed step-by-step instructions, as well as warnings of unusual failure states that the person doing the repair might be unfamiliar with.
But to date, there has been little movement to take AR/VR (virtual reality) out of industry and into the office. The new working practices necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, however, have presented a number of opportunities. Not just for the management of a remote workforce, but with the potential to change working practices for good.
What shape could the gamification of the office environment take?
Some applications of AR and VR are reasonably obvious: But it has potential to stretch across a wide range of functions.
At a time when remote working has become common practice, there has been significant focus on the enhancement of the digital meeting experience. Virtual reality and augmented reality hold the potential to completely change the game.
In a VR world, people can be placed into a completely virtual space, and interact with colleagues in a completely artificial arena. It’s a way to remove the distractions of the everyday home environment and focus the attention on the issues at hand. However, with some questions being raised about the long-term detrimental effects of prolonged exposure to VR environments, it might not be the best route to take for all communications. Instead, AR meetings provide the more accessible middle ground, allowing users to interact with colleagues in a familiar space, while reducing the long-term effects of dislocation. This allows VR to be reserved for team-building, and other occasions where a virtual world can be used to enable role play and help with the engagement of team activities.
The virtual office
Of course, there is more to work than simply time spent at workstations. Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the power of a physical workplace and the effects of proper employee dynamics and interaction, and the impact this has in terms of both productivity and employee wellbeing. With many people describing how they miss the casual interaction that they get in a physical office, businesses are looking for ways to return that sense of place and the experience of having a colleague sitting in close proximity, both at a time of social distancing, and as a means of extending the potential scope of remote working in the post-pandemic environment.
With AR and VR there is the opportunity for the creation of a virtual drop-in space. While this can’t replace the experience of working in a busy office, it can provide that virtual watercooler experience.
A major concern with remote working has always been employee engagement across the working day. However, Covid-19 has compelled cross-sector homeworking, revealing many corporate financial benefits. But sustaining that financial benefit, as well as employee engagement for the longer term, could be trying. So far, we’ve seen some of the slightly more sinister surveillance techniques adopted – the use of facial recognition for employee concentration monitoring in Zoom calls, and keylogging software. But VR and AR present more positive, proactive solutions to keeping teams engaged.
Equally, gamification holds potential in the field of customer engagement. So far, we’ve been looking at how to recreate what we had before. But AR/VR allows us to expand how we interact with our customers. Imagine if a customer service rep could actually diagnose a problem remotely, just by having a customer point their camera at a faulty appliance. Or a bank manager could sit virtually with a client and help them with financial advice. With AR we can stretch the interaction that we have between company and consumer.
But we can also go further. Because with AR/VR we only ever see a representation of the person on the other end (an avatar), there’s often no need for a person to be present in the first instance. Chatbots have become commonplace, but their capabilities are expanding. With VR, we can easily start an interaction with a chatbot that represents itself as human like, and when the going gets tough, or when we have initially triaged the problem, slot in a human to replace the chatbot.
What are the potential concerns around VR/AR?
The greatest tech concern right now is privacy, and it is as pertinent in gamification as it is in the adoption of online meetings and video calls. As we move our interactions online, there is a real opportunity to use the recorded data to help us make better decisions and spot problems. Automatic meeting notes seem an obvious first step, and then you can dig deeper, by looking at people’s behaviour. Tracking an employee over time might uncover patterns of behaviour that show they are under stress and need help. All of these are great positives that can be gained from this data. But there is also the dark side of this, where we start to track and monitor what employees say and do, and use this to evaluate performance, or use a declining mental health record as a reason to look to terminate contracts. And that’s before we’ve even got to the unauthorised access and dissemination of information. This places privacy and ethics at the forefront of any conversation linked to gamification.
Gamification is an area of an enormous potential in the office environment. It not only solves some issues thrown up by the pandemic, but begins the journey towards the blended workforce, allowing the onboarding of flexible working, homeworking, the seamless integration of freelance talent, and optimising employee experience and wellbeing. The issue is not whether gamification can support business, but how we can use it to best advantage and without ethical infringement. And that’s going to be the interesting area to watch as we move forward.