What Remote Work can learn from Online Gaming
“What’s missing in the remote working tools you use today?”
I’ve posted this question a lot during the last few months. And reflecting on the answers, I realized that people use the given tools much more because they have to, than because they actually like them.
We need these tools to stay somehow connected, efficient and productive to ultimately get things done. Plus, one has to keep in mind that remote work was seen as an additive rather than a necessity for most organizations. So it is understandable that remote tools didn’t evolve as quickly as mobility apps.
But things change, faster than anyone would have guessed. And this new intensity and scale of remote work demands tools that go beyond what we use today.
Productivity is NOT the holy grail
The recent announcements of Twitter, Shopify, Facebook and Coinbase show: More and more people will work together from a distance. And so, suddenly, the shortcomings of the tools we use are becoming more visible. ‘Surprisingly’, productivity is not one of the problems at all. The true challenge is to enable day-to-day interpersonal connections and a more fun and social way of collaborating between colleagues.
When it comes to productivity and efficiency, machines (will) outperform humans in more and more areas. The human capital of the 21st century is creativity — the ability to create something from empty space. This is where humans shine. So we have to find a way to bring more social interaction especially to remote work, because human exchange, shared experiences and sociality fuel this precious creativity.
The major problems with remote work
In late 2019 I was talking to a friend, about the time we remotely studied Business Psychology. At one point he said:
“[…] I really regret that we didn’t get that ‘campus feeling’.”
Then something began to dawn on me, and I started to research and talk to people about the struggles of working remotely. What I found were three problem areas that repeatedly showed up, and which I have experienced myself: inconvenient communication, lack of social interaction and feelings of loneliness. And these problems still exist, even in times of Slack, Skype, Trello, Zoom, Asana, Teams, etc.
Could the solution be … Gaming?!
If you, like me, grew up in the 90s/00s you most likely also enjoyed playing computer games. As technology evolved and the internet became accessible, my friends and I were able to play together. And by playing, I also mean adjust our actions as a team, express our personality with virtual characters and talk as if we were in a room together, despite being miles apart.
Then in 2004 World of Warcraft and the genre of MMORPGs came along. Suddenly my friends and I, all citizens of small towns in south-west Germany, were able to talk to people from all over Europe. We formed groups and guilds to help each other improve our characters to reach the ultimate goal and beat that nasty dragon called Onyxia.
To be clear, you have to picture the technological gap between remote working tools and online gaming at that time already:
In 2004 — 16 years ago — when Email & Skype were the go-to remote work solutions and looked something like this …
… roughly at the same time, there were 40 people gathering in a virtual environment, being briefed by their group leaders on how to approach a task. Afterwards, these 40 people would interact, communicate and coordinate their actions synchronously to reach a common goal. So much regarding productivity, but it didn’t stop there:
Once the dust settled, we would sit around a (virtual) bonfire in our damaged armors. We joked, argued and exchanged. Everybody was making memories and experiences. Thinking back, I realized these were our own little rituals, our own little culture.
The future of remote work looks … fun!
With these memories in the back of my head I thought: What if we bring certain mechanics and principles of MMORPGs to contemporary remote work. Doesn’t that sound freakin’ awesome? But it is not all fun and games. Psychologically and technologically it must be pulled off properly. The solution should be fun, but not a game. It has to be social but not distracting. There should be team insights but no monitoring. It has to be accessible for most remote setups and shouldn’t be too resource-hungry.
So in late 2019 I developed a concept, which turned into a small software company named bonfire, in memory of these social moments many people had around virtual bonfires. Our goal is to lift remote collaboration and exchange to a whole new level and bring people closer together. To give you an impression how such a solution could look, I’d like to share a screenshot of our earliest click dummy:
I believe embracing and improving remote work can change many things for the better:
- Economically, through a more connected workforce and the saving of office expenses.
- Environmentally, by reducing commute.
- Personally, by enabling a better work-life-integration.
We have to ask ourselves: Do we only want to be little green or red dots in a list, chatting in endless streams of text? Or, as I believe, is it time to enhance remote work with the technological possibilities we have today.
Florian Bogenschuetz, CEO of Wayra Germany
Bringing distributed teams closer together, professionally and personally, enabling them to build their own day-to-day-structures, routines and culture has never been more important. The connection of people and knowledge is key for our mission, and we are looking forward to work with bonfire to bring our 10 global hubs closer together. Raphaels approach is a good example of how open innovation environments like Wayra are connecting disciplines and people to create something truly new.