As Pokémon Go continues to surge in popularity – its daily user base recently surpassed Twitter’s, and the average player is now spending more time with it than Facebook – it’s likely that many employers will soon find themselves asking the question: “Could this game reduce our company’s productivity?”
And the answer is – maybe, but probably not, Nima Mirpourian, the technology division director of human resources consulting firm Robert Half, tells ITBusiness.ca: the key is to establish clearly defined rules around mobile device use during business hours, make sure management leads by example, and recognize the benefits of giving employees an occasional break to (in Go’s case, at least) catch Pokémon or hatch eggs.
“Distractions have always been an issue when it comes to employers figuring out how they can optimize employee effectiveness,” Mirpourian says. “In the case of Pokémon Go the question is, is it a threat to worker productivity? And the answer… really needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“Some mobile games can create a false sense of urgency for users, but most employees can find a balance between their responsibilities and entertainment,” he continues.
While Pokémon Go wasn’t released in Canada until July 17, that detail didn’t stop the Great White North from serving as the poster child for what could go wrong while catching Pokémon and driving beforehand, and a recent pre-Go CareerBuilder survey found that 24 per cent of workers already admitted to playing mobile games at work.
So it might be a good idea for Canadian managers to prepare for the inevitable by following a few simple guidelines.
Establish the rules
First and foremost, it’s paramount that a company’s leaders clearly define and communicate the rules when it comes to mobile device use during work hours, Mirpourian says, noting that the majority of employees who step away from their assignments to check Facebook or play mobile games are still likely to finish their assignments, usually by shifting hours or staying late.
“It comes back to the case-by-case basis,” he says. “In modern nations, non-work-related activities such as gaming, social media, or surfing the web may have a slightly negative impact on productivity, but they also might keep workers on track by providing them with much-needed breaks.”
Lead by example
“If employees see their boss constantly distracted by mobile apps around the office, chances are they’ll follow suit,” Mirpourian says.
In addition to ensuring their managers aren’t distracted by a nearby Jigglypuff, a company’s leadership team should also take initiative when it comes to potential concerns such as the game’s questionable privacy settings, which are currently being investigated by at least two government representatives: the Australian Privacy Commissioner and Minnesota senator (and former Saturday Night Live contributor) Al Franken.
“There’s an ongoing conversation about the data being collected by these sorts of online games,” Mirpourian says. “So if employees are using their corporate mobile device, it’s quite possible that could create some vulnerabilities – though there’s no confirmed threat at the moment – and that might be worth a discussion.”
Let ’em Go
Taking a walk or being outside during the work day can boost both creativity and productivity, Mirpourian says: It’s only when work appears to suffer because of personal activity that managers should be concerned, though he does not believe last week’s release of Pokémon Go has made that particular problem worse.
“What a lot of people refer to as work-life balance is really workload balance,” he says. “Managing your load according to your role and the tasks that you’ve been assigned doesn’t mean outlets like mobile games can’t act as a much-needed avenue for employees to take breaks.”
Those breaks can even serve as team-building exercises, especially if – as with Pokémon Go – teams are intrinsically part of the game. By encouraging gaming breaks with colleagues, Mirpourian says, managers can not only give employees a chance to refresh themselves, but help them build camaraderie along the way.
Make sure all workers know that Pokémon and paycheques don’t mix
Mirpourian says that as with other social media-friendly games such as FarmVille or Candy Crush Saga, it’s impossible to say how long Pokémon Go’s present popularity will last, though he admits that in the short term, it’s likely to have an impact.
“Some managers might think only of millennials or Gen Z as potential offenders, but mobile devices and smartphone apps have really gone mainstream in the past few years, and I think it’s safe to assume that all professionals could be tempted by those distractions,” he says.