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Companies are taking cues from games to make office interactions more fun—and meaningful

Problem-solving, devising strategy, even checking the box on mundane tasks can be great fun...when you’re doing it in a game.

Take the example of a game like Minecraft. It’s a bit like virtual building blocks, but with advanced creativity and strategy elements. Not only is the game popular—at least 20 million people have purchased the $26.95 (Rs.1,700) game worldwide, according to Minecraft.net—there’s also an entire community of people who post YouTube videos on how to ace the game, spending hours testing new ideas and taking well-considered gambits.

Now, imagine if office work could inspire this kind of tenacity and sense of ownership. If employees could be charged up enough to score against team members in a rush of healthy competition, and be willing to learn from peers or collaborate on projects if it serves the objective of the game/work.

Gamification of the workplace is about doing just this: carrying forward the intrinsic motivation to overcome problems from the gaming world to the workplace, to accomplish real tasks—essentially, completing work by turning it into a game. So this takes game concepts like competition, being personally invested in the result and sharing small wins on social media, to the workplace.

“Games are one place where you play to win, but you also don’t mind losing as much,” says Moorthy K. Uppaluri, managing director and chief executive officer (CEO) of human resource (HR) consultancy Randstad India and Sri Lanka. Bengaluru-based Uppaluri says gamification is not just about slapping points and badges on to routine work—the points have to mean something. At the end of the day, he says, it’s about motivating employees to care deeply about what they do, and draws heavily on data analysis and an understanding of human psychology.

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Employees at gamification solutions company eMee in Pune using picture cards. Photo: P Akhilesh/Mint

Pune-based Siddhesh Bhobe, CEO of gamification company eMee and business head at eMee’s parent company Persistent Systems, cautions that gamification can quickly turn into a “joke” and “die” if company seniors don’t take it seriously. “If my immediate manager says, ‘These points are fine, but what about the KRAs (key result areas),’ then my motivation to play drops dramatically,” he says. “Everyone needs to be on board with the value of what you are doing.”

In India, gamification made a soft entry two-three years ago, with some companies testing it briefly at an offsite or in a single function, like sales. But it has only now started taking the shape of a nascent trend (at least two people we reached for this story asked what we meant by “gamification”).

We spoke to HR heads of companies that have implemented gamification as a programme in their offices for at least one year, and asked why they chose to gamify some of the regular work at the organization, the hurdles they faced, and how they did it.

Staying on your toes

The objective: Learn something new; remember it.

The challenge: “We are in the technology space; there are new protocols every day and entirely new concepts every six months. To know about, and develop, leading technology ideas for clients, the 100,000-plus employees have to keep learning throughout the year—sometimes, they are completely new things (making them harder to imbibe),” says Bengaluru-based Parag Pande, managing director, HR, at management consulting and technology services firm Accenture.

The traditional way to do it would be through classroom training, through video modules that employees can see whenever they have time, or by compiling a list of reliable resources and websites interested employees might use. Organizing classroom teaching for 100,000 employees across the country, however, would have been a logistical nightmare, says Pande.

How they do it: The idea of gamifying learning came from this challenge. They now break lessons down into bite-sized courses. Employees can “play” these modules individually, or form global teams or study groups. If they want to talk to another employee who’s taking the same module in a different part of the world, they can do so on an internal Facebook-like social media network called Accenture Stream.

Employees can endorse a programme, leave comments, etc., that could help others pick the most popular courses.

Making the best use of resources

The objective: Breaking silos; encouraging employees to partner with the best internal talent for the job.

The challenge: Pune-based firm Terragni Consulting has a team of 25 employees. But people usually work on-site—that is, from the customers’ offices—for the duration of a project. The result: The 25 consultants don’t get a chance to interact with each other.

This was turning out to be a problem on two fronts, says Harsh Kapur Pillai, Terragni’s founding director. First, people often picked the same team to work with, based on comfort levels rather than the best person for the job. Second, this had a domino effect, where some employees were underutilized and others overworked because they got picked by senior consultants to be part of most teams, most of the time.

How they do it: The gamification experiment at Terragni started about a year ago. The consultancy began by organizing a panel which designed and explained the rules to everyone: Employees can give stars to co-workers to acknowledge their helpfulness and resourcefulness under heads like “You made me happier” and “You did something cool”. The star stickers are put up on a cafeteria wall on a 5.6x5.4ft chart, for everyone to see. The panel tallies up the stars for each quarter as well as at year-end.

The stars and ratings on the wall translate not only into endorsement and validation for employees, but also real rewards. These could be something the employees wouldn’t have access in the usual course, like an expensive training programme that wouldn’t normally be available to junior associates. “The 23-year-old (youngest employee) in the company won a training programme that cost Rs.1 lakh. She would not have been considered for the programme normally,” says Kapur Pillai.

The results, Kapur Pillai says, are plain to see: The teams are more diverse now, and the lead time for team members to get comfortable with each other and get started on a project has come down.

On-boarding new hires

The objective: Talking to new hires about office culture and introducing them to important people in the company. Plus, training.

The challenges: Gurgaon-headquartered travel portal MakeMyTrip routinely gets up to 30 new joinees on the same day—usually Mondays. Inducting them in any meaningful way can seem like an onerous task to many an HR manager. The company also has to train customer-facing staff on the sights and customs of a foreign land they may not have visited themselves.

How they do it: The induction programme at MakeMyTrip is almost entirely gamified. New joinees are broken up into teams of four-five and given tasks. In one exercise, called Scavenger Hunt, the teams are given a closed envelope with instructions to find a key employee.

Yuvaraj Srivastava, senior vice-president (HR) at MakeMyTrip, says they could be tasked with finding him, for example. They could take any number of routes to do so: Run around the office looking for a nameplate, ask a guard or talk to other employees (this kills two birds with one stone, driving away Monday blues for old employees by adding a dash of excitement). The new hires have to keep an eye on the clock, because the teams are also competing with each other to do the best job fastest. HR is able to assess the new joinees’ inventiveness and soft skills under pressure.

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An iPad game about exotic locations for MakeMyTrip employees

MakeMyTrip’s second problem—teaching sales staff how they can make suggestions on restaurants and activities in exotic locations like Bali—is also partly resolved through gamification. The company has designed games with picture cards and quizzes to create an immersive iPad game experience of being in Bali or other locales. The employees “click” the right answers from a multiple-choice list, and stand to win points on the internal “MyPerks” point board. These points can be redeemed later against packages and gifts.

Picking out the leaders

The objective: Designing an induction programme that addresses new joinees’ anxiety and reveals something about their ability to lead from Day 1.

The challenges: Kulwinder Singh, senior director of global marketing and communication at Synechron, a Pune-headquartered technology company, says a key challenge was the “anxiousness among new joinees to learn about the company”. New hires might want to know about the dress code or have a question about transportation and reimbursements, for example. Who could they go to for these things?

Plus, the company wanted to devise a way in which HR could learn something about the way new joinees think, process a problem, take initiative and show leadership qualities by taking charge of the situation and helping others in the group.

How they do it: Synechron’s induction programme is split into two halves—the first half of the day comprises presentations on everything from the dress code to the sexual harassment policy. During the second-half, new joinees are divided into teams of four-five and given tasks, like finding out something cool about the office’s marketing or finance team. The employees have 2 hours to chat with older employees, gather information as well as first impressions, and present slides. “Everyone in the team has to present a slide,” says Singh. The observations could be anything, even disclosing a little-known fact about the head of HR. The other teams rate the value of the information presented, and the company HR takes notes on leadership traits.

Singh says the process has some positive side effects: Someone in marketing might learn about what people in HR do and a coder might develop an understanding of what it takes to stay calm under the pressure of ambitious sales targets.