E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

September 19, 2011

How Playing Games at Work Can Help Boost Your Productivity

Gran Canaria - Artenara in the winterI am not sure whether folks may have noticed it, or not, but it surely looks like every couple of years, or so, we keep having an influx of articles, blog posts, mainstream media items, etc. etc. on how more and more businesses are continuing to block the use of social software tools inside of the firewall, just because they feel their employee workforce may be goofing around more than they should. In fact, they shouldn’t at all! So, once again, we go for the easy way out and, instead of figuring out what we could do to address and fix that concern, once and for all, we are witnessing how companies decide to go ahead with the blockage of the Social Web, just because they believe their knowledge workers are no longer as productive as what they should. It’s starting to get pretty boring, and rather disappointing, after all of these years, don’t you think?

I mean, that’s only half of the equation, isn’t it? Yes, of course, there will be a group of knowledge workers, on every company out there, who would try to find any means of not wanting to do their jobs and, instead, do something else. And not just with the Social Web. We have been experiencing this very same concern back in the day with email, Instant Messaging, the Internet, the water cooler, etc. etc.;  all of them having been blamed, over the course of decades, for being responsible as well for people’s lack of productivity and for getting us all far too distracted from real work. And, lately, it looks like the next victim from that group is gaming or playing games at work. Like Angry Birds.

Now, I think you would all agree with me that group of folks who are always finding an excuse to wriggle themselves from their daily work duties are much more of a profound problem with HR itself, and, specially, with the methods they may employ to hire new employees, supposedly, as hard working professionals. Perhaps they may not. So why do we keep blaming technology, and this time around, the Social Web in particular, as the main culprit that keeps enticing knowledge workers into goofing around activities? And now, we have got a new layer … With all of the buzz going on about gamification, it looks like the latest scapegoat to help prevent employees from becoming more productive is playing games. But what happens *if* playing games actually makes you *more* productive?

That’s the rather thought-provoking idea behind one of my favourite futurists out there: Ross Dawson, who, just recently, put together this rather insightful blog entry (Under the heading “Angry Birds and productivity at work: why distractions can help“) where he comes to share how “people who browsed the Web in work breaks were more productive than those who continued working or did other things on their break“, quoting a recent piece of research under the suggestive title “Impact of Cyberloafing on Psychological Engagement“. Just think of it, what would happen if, indeed, playing games at work would make us all more productive, as a way to provoke an interruption in what we are doing at that particular moment to help us break through on a potential issue, or problem, we may be facing and for which we don’t have a solution just yet? And then, when occupying our minds with something else that allows us to trigger our thinking braincells… bang! we find the solution to our problem?!?

Isn’t that quite something? Now, let’s face it. How many times have we been in that use case scenario ourselves, that I have just described above, specially, while on those long working days we keep adding further up time and time again and in which we would eventually need some kind of distraction to help us re-focus, address whatever the showstopper may well be and move on to the next thing… with the problem solved? I am not sure about you folks, but I have got moments like those pretty often, specially, while working on a virtual, distributed environment of multiple projects, multiple teams, multiple tasks at hand, but all of them ending up, always, with the same deadline. Sometimes it pays off to step back, relax, do something that doesn’t have anything to do with what you got stuck with in the first place, let your brain do its magic, find that solution, apply it, and move along, once again. The Social Web is brilliant at doing this. Just as well as playing games.

Believe it or not, I am not much of an Angry Birds fan; instead, I play Words with Friends. Why? Mainly, because, first, it gives me an opportunity to unwind, relax doing something else, while my brain keeps thinking of a solution to something I may have gotten stuck with, and eventually be done with the interruption having another problem fixed, but, also, secondly, because playing games at work allows me to build further on my social trust with my peers, customers, thought leaders, friends, you name it, as I have blogged about in the recent past.

Yes, indeed, the key message in here is how are we going to handle our interruptions, while at work. Having too few is perhaps not such a good thing, since we all need to come to terms with the fact that we can’t work and be consistently productive 8 hours straight. However, having too many is not such a good thing either, since it would probably become far too complex, over time, to stay focus while trying to achieve something. However, when looking into this more in detail, we may need, perhaps, some new, fresh thinking to apply and help us solve the issue with interruptions. Something that I have already talked about last week and which my good friend, Harold Jarche commented on, brilliantly!, on Ross’ blog entry: Measure your knowledge workers by the results they deliver, i.e. their overall performance, and not by their sheer presence at work, or how many hours they put together behind them day in day out.

To quote Harold, since I think he pretty much nailed it, as far as I am concerned, on what I do strongly believe needs to happen within the corporate world, and beyond, if we would all want to facilitate, embrace and live the upcoming Era of the Social Enterprise:

What’s wrong with playing all day? We need to discard the Taylorist notions that time is money. Results are money. If I play all day and bring in more revenue than my peers who don’t play why would you want to stop me? A results oriented work environment gets rid of this notion of time for money. It doesn’t work in a creative economy” [Emphasis mine]

So, to close off this post, every time that someone comes up to me and shares that influx of news items, blog entries, or whatever else about companies banning social media tools, I just can’t help but share this blog post I put together a little while ago on “Top 10 Reasons to Ban Social Media in the Organisation! — Really?“, which comes to reference this excellent resource put together by Jane Hart that confirms that instead of going the easy way out and keep blocking these social tools, we should perhaps, and finally!, do another piece of research or study on the impact of NOT having social software tools, or games, to build trust, connect, collaborate and share your knowledge with your peers, customers and business partners.

Something tells me that study would actually be rather revealing, if not too shocking altogether! And that’s probably the main reason why we haven’t done it just yet. Too scary of the real impact of not living social to help you become more productive at what you do, regardless of the interruption(s).

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