As we all know, Pokémon GO has swept the nation (reports state that on its peak usage day of July 14, there were approximately 25 million U.S. users) and its addictive properties make it hard for individuals (including professionals who are at work) to pull away. According to a recent Forbes poll, 69% of users play at work?? , and according to Vox.com, 40% of adults who have downloaded the app are 25 or older. So, how are Pokémon GO and other highly-addictive mobile games affecting workplace productivity? Who is at risk and how can managers effectively deal with it?
To answer that question, I caught up with John Reed, Senior Executive Director of Robert Half Technology, a leading specialized staffing firm providing IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. In this role, he manages operations for more than 100 Robert Half Technology locations worldwide. Reed has an extensive background in both IT and staffing, including 13 years in IT product sales and over 17 years in the staffing industry.
Here’s John’s take:
Kathy Caprino: Given the Pokémon GO craze today, how has the game impacted actual productivity at work and in the workplace?
John Reed: If you’re playing mobile games at work, especially those that require moving around and changing locations, chances are you are not being productive during those times. While this has certainly been somewhat of a phenomenon, in our daily conversations with clients and technology team leaders nationwide, we haven’t heard anything that would support that productivity in workplaces has taken a tangible hit. The premise of the game required the user to be away from their desk, or even the building, so while playing during a lunch break may be fine, being absent from your duties can certainly be an issue.
One story I heard was from an employee who is part of a large team who have all become extremely interested in playing the game. The team, including their manager, did go out for a bit after lunch one day to continue playing all together. That said, the manager did also make it very clear to his team that while he understands the current fascination with the game, and even participates a bit, that this was only acceptable if all work got done as expected.
With any potential distraction during working hours – be it games, social media or even just texting – there is the real need to exhibit self-control, but it also requires effective management. As an employee, if other team members or clients are relying on you to be responsive, you have to realize that while some distraction may be acceptable, it could have a negative impact on your job over time.
Similarly, as a manager, it’s even more important that you are establishing the ground rules for behaviors?? – and setting a good example for your team. Since I work primarily with technology team leaders, I cannot stress enough the importance of establishing security policies that will help protect against any potential security threats to the network and organization, but leaders of all departments need to be in touch with these policies and passing them along to their teams.
Caprino: It’s become commonplace for a majority of professionals and workers to carry a smart device with them at all times. What are the pros and the cons of our being hyper-connected to our smart phones as a culture today, and how has that impacted productivity at work, especially in the technology sector?
Reed: According to a 2015 Pew Research study nearly 70% of Americans own a smartphone, which means work and non-work activities are at an arm’s reach at all times. The benefits of connectivity come when we are able to travel, telecommute and multitask in order to meet the demands of life while never truly being out of reach.
The fact that we can quickly respond to emails or check on items even if we’re away from the office can help relieve the stress that sometimes comes if you are completely disconnected. While I don’t think it should be mandatory to check emails during vacation and personal time, there is a sense of relief when you can see what’s going on without necessarily having to respond. Sometimes it gives you more freedom to enjoy yourself because you have the assurance that everything is running smoothly.
On the other hand, there can be the idea of being overly accessible – which can lead to burnout and unhappiness at work. If someone doesn’t feel that they can ever get time away from the office or that they must be responsive even during off-hours or vacation times, it can lead to unnecessary stress.
Our current state of connectedness has the power to positively or negatively impact productivity. On one hand, it can help us find a better work-life balance, allowing us to tend to personal obligations while never being truly unavailable, which has become a relatively standard perk of the modern workplace. On the other hand, of course, it can be a source of distraction. Responding to a text or personal email in the middle of the day is now a normal occurrence, where at one time we had to wait until we were home or the day was over to connect with our personal networks. In extreme cases, such as the popularity of certain mobile games, it can be difficult to avoid notifications as they show up on our devices.
IT professionals tend to also be very plugged in to the latest trends and may even enjoy gaming as a personal hobby – so while they are often responsible for tracking and enforcing vulnerabilities in the workplace, they can also be intrigued or even into the trend. This is where it’s important to strike a balance between interests and responsibilities.
Caprino: In your experience in staffing in the technology field, is it acceptable for leaders, employers and HR managers to allow or encourage employees to escape from their work for a limited time each day, and use technology for personal uses (online shopping, social media, checking latest headlines, etc.)?
Reed: Using personal devices at work for limited times should be accepted by managers as long as employees are exhibiting responsibility when it comes to these non-work activities. We live in a hyper-connected world, and a number of messages are being delivered to us through a variety of channels at any given moment, it is almost unavoidable to silence all of the “noise” coming our way. The lines have become blurred between our personal and professional lives, which means sometimes in the office we’ll take care of personal items, like answering an email from a family member, but we also answer work emails from our seats at a baseball game or work on our assignments over the weekend. This new “normal” allows us to achieve more of a sense of work-life balance, as long as the scales don’t tip too far in either direction.
Robert Half Technology has conducted research for years around online shopping habits at work – especially around Cyber Monday. Over time, CIOs have loosened their policies and have even said they are happy to have their coworkers spend a few minutes putting things in their carts as long as their work gets done. This theory can translate across mediums, so whether it’s shopping or playing a game during a lunch break, managers should use their discretion, but also realize that sometimes being able to step away from work can be beneficial to boosting creativity and can help inspire new ideas.
Similarly, when employees are able to get “personal” things done during the workday – as long as it doesn’t impact deadlines or quality of work – it can enhance productivity and reduce stress. Still, employers should keep two things in mind:
• ensuring that productivity remains on track
• company security isn’t being compromised
If managers see this as an issue, they should address it right away and remind employees of their responsibilities, as well as your company’s policies regarding issues such as breaks and internet usage. Of course, it’s also always a good idea to lead by example. If employees see their managers are making sure business needs are attended to while also displaying responsible smartphone usage, they’ll be more likely to do the same.
Caprino: How can we as managers or leaders effectively manage (some would call it “police”) the amount of time that’s spent by employees on technology that isn’t directly related to their work?
Reed: It can be difficult to police time spent on technology, especially when it comes to personal devices, but the best line of defense is to have a strong policy around technology use that is well-communicated throughout the organization. As long as employees are educated about acceptable-use of technology, it then allows managers to enforce policies and understand what they are able to allow their team to do and what activities they can encourage.
Caprino: Regarding the Pokémon GO craze, are millennials the ones who are most engaged in playing this game (either in the workplace or outside), or is play spread evenly among other generations? What is myth vs. fact regarding the distribution of gamers across different generations?
Reed: These kinds of trends can appeal to people of all ages. (See data on age of users since July.) While it may seem that younger generations are more likely to participate in online gaming, these activities are – for tech professionals especially – a part of the culture, and often a serious hobby. Mobile devices and smartphone apps have gone completely mainstream, so it’s likely that the temptation to engage in smartphone app usage and gaming spans more generations than what one might assume.
Read the original article on Forbes.