A gamified approach to managing your employees remotely

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 13 minutes

A gamified approach to managing your employees remotely

Day #314: We’re still eating from our canned food stocks, as our fresh food and flour reserves have diminished. Thankfully we still have enough toilet paper to see us through for most of the century. Peering outside in the morning through the wooden slats and blinds we can see people milling about outside, like zombies, they seem to go about their business unhindered. But we remain strong in our resolve, who knows what the outside world has become like. At least we still have pie.

Obviously, I hope it doesn’t come to this, where we’re in lockdown for such a long amount of time. Though I can fully see people simply staying in and not realising life has returned to normal. And with their ridiculous need to hoard, they simply don’t need to leave their homes anymore.

But back in reality, in this piece, I would like to look at how managers can manage their teams and employees during this period of remote working. Recently I published a piece on how individuals themselves can more effectively work from home or work remotely. But I was made aware that it may be helpful if there was a piece that deals with some advice and best practices for managers and their ability to oversee employees remotely. As it’s difficult to offer training for the unexpected in these interesting times, perhaps a collection of research, advice and best practices will help some of you in your roles when managing others.

The aim then is to make this piece as straightforward as possible in its approach and advice. And naturally again using some gamification sparkle to make the whole thing a little more enjoyable. Therefore I felt that perhaps one of the best methods to approach this was to use the player journey model when creating a more enjoyable environment for yourself, as a manager, and those that you manage.

The model we’ll be looking at is the one used in Press Start (Griffin, D., van der Meer, A. (2019) Press Start, pp. 197). And as such this piece will look at building an experience of how best to manage your teams using these stages, or floors:

  • Discovery Floor – purpose & belonging
  • Onboarding Floor – mastery & safety
  • Scaffolding Floor – autonomy & belonging
  • Adept Floor – esteem, belonging & safety

Included in each stage is a suggestion of which motivational levers could be useful to you for engaging and managing your employees.

Some of the points that we’ll be exploring in each floor are:

  • Communication – shifting from face-to-face to virtual
  • Team cohesion & collaboration
  • Responsibility and accountability
  • Performance (of employees) – micromanaging
  • Roles & tasks
  • Schedules
  • Having the right resources available
  • Respecting people’s time

We’ll be taking these points and incorporating them into a step-by-step progression of each of the floors of the player journey, essentially as if we were designing a journey for any game. As a manager, therefore, it will be up to you at what speed you take your players through this journey and how much you will need to share with them and manage. This will be influenced by the pain points that you may experience when your team has been thrust into the world of remote working.

Managing Remotely

Managing teams isn’t an easy task, to begin with, be it remote or not. And for many who haven’t had the experience of doing it remotely, it can become a daunting task indeed when you are thrown into the deep end with it.

Thus, let’s have a quick look at some of the main pain points when managing remotely:

  • Effective collaboration & delivering on time
    • You will need to have the right tools and resource for this point – make sure that you make time for one-on-ones and larger team get-togethers.
    • Some first-time managers, remote or otherwise, may suffer from anxiety that their teams won’t deliver on time. Trust, understanding and agreements are needed for assuage these anxieties.
  • Cultural differences & Time zones
    • Different cultures have varying attitudes to the boundaries between work and other parts of life, you will need to be aware of this in advance.
    • Being in different time zones can also affect collaboration, take these into account when managing teams globally.

Being aware of these pain points, and others will aid you in thinking about how best to build an enjoyable and beneficial working experience for your teams. We will use this knowledge when building our short ‘player journey’, but it is entirely up to you as to how you use it and/or alter it for your purposes and needs as a manager.

 

Building a remote player journey

I felt that perhaps for easing-in managers into this new world or role, it might be best if they can see and build a player experience journey for their employees and team members. To do this I’ll be using a variation of the tower framework that is explained in Press Start: Using Gamification to Power-up your Marketing (2019).

As within Press Start, each floor of the tower framework for the player’s journey has a few suggestions for motivational levers that can be used and game mechanics that work well with those levers. These are merely suggestions, every lever and game mechanic can be used on any floor and you can change it as you see fit as you become more familiar with building these types of journeys and experiences.

The outline of the various floors will be slightly different from traditional descriptions, as we’ll be altering the execution to better fit for the purpose what you need as a manager for your team.

Discovery Floor

This floor could be the very first time that you and your teamwork remotely. Or you can use it as a starting point for every project you do from now on, the choice of how you use it is up to you.

  • Call to Adventure: Introduce your team to the journey that you all will be undertaking, give a briefing on the fact that they will be working remotely and what that entails.
    • Quest Goals: Outline what the objectives and expectations are of your team and build a roadmap with them.
  • Suggested Motivational Levers: Purpose – Belonging
    • Mechanics: Narrative || Teams/Guilds

Purpose

  • Traditionally in a player journey, the Discovery floor is where a player is introduced to the rules of the world, the status quo as it were. This has likely already happened by this point if you’re using the journey to introduce working remotely. If not, then it is your job to lead them comfortably into the new situation that you and they find themselves in. If you need some ideas on how to do this then HBR has a few tips for you.
  • As a manager, for your team, you are the first and most immediate point of contact within the leadership structure. As such, you must determine and set the Purpose for your team. This is true both on-site and when working remotely. One of the best ways to craft the Purpose for your team is through the use of narrative. Build a story around what the purpose is for you and your team or the project that you are currently working on. Imagine this as the journal entry or a quest giver’s monologue when receiving a new epic Quest.

Belonging

  • As you build and craft your narrative, start checking in with your various employees and team members, engaging them with what you wish for them to do. As you relay the story to them, make sure that each individual has a clear and essential part to play in the adventure. It is incredibly important that each member feels a strong sense of belonging from the very start. No person should feel left out or be left behind. Great game mechanics for ensuring this are the Guild or Clan creation methods. If you don’t have teams yet, then encourage that teams are formed, and give them a push to create their own identities, for example by giving their team a fun name. This technique for cohesion is an excellent intrinsic motivator for many people.
    • Some additional aspects of belonging are the ability to share knowledge. Therefore create an area where your team members can share their knowledge, have something like a wiki-page or document that could be a Guild Hall for where your players share experiences.
    • Another nice method is introducing a ‘buddy-system’ within your teams. Colleagues will naturally form friendships, but when working remotely this can be difficult to build and/or maintain. Try to have your team-members check-in with at least one other colleague regularly to share with, relate with and be accountable to. Much like the sponsor-system within Alcoholics Anonymous.

 

Onboarding Floor

  • The threshold of the Adventure: Here you must engage your team fully in your plan. The best way to do this is to determine the knowledge, skills, boundaries, responsibilities and ambitions of your employees. And to take these into account as you move forward.
  • Suggested Motivational Levers: Mastery – Safety
    • Mechanics: Progress System || Perceived Value

 

Mastery

  • Creating a method that each employee can centrally update how they are progressing on their projects, or the overall project is a good way to keep everyone informed and motivated. Having the game mechanic of a progress system is thus perfect for this, and also allows everyone to share where their mastery and expertise lie when tackling a project. Having this knowledge share is essential for remote teams, as you will miss the face-to-face interaction that often reveals hidden skills, abilities and knowledge that could improve effectiveness in a project.
    • One thing I would say when using a progress system, make sure to focus on performance and expectations of deliverables. It doesn’t matter how your team gets to the deadline, as long as what is delivered is on time and of high quality. Having a progress system will also allow you to pinpoint and evaluate where a problem area is occurring or occurred and offer useful feedback. It is not meant to be a method for micromanaging and critiquing your teams.

Safety

  • When working remotely, your teams need to feel that they are being heard, are valued and are safe in what they are doing. Therefore with the motivational lever of safety in mind, ensure that you follow up with each member of your team regularly. This is not an opening for micromanagement, which should be avoided at all cost. But rather a healthy habit of making sure that each person has the support and access to ‘masteries’ that they need to be successful.
    • Good ways of promoting a sense of value are to offer random, but authentic, moments of praise and rewards for your team members. Highlight moments of the genuine contribution that have added value. Acknowledgement is a very powerful motivator and mechanic.

Scaffolding Floor

  • Delving into the Dungeon: This is the moment where teamwork becomes quintessential and where it becomes clear whether your team is well equipped to perform, or not. As a manager, you must continue to collaborate with your team, don’t make the mistake of thinking your above and can take a step back. No, you’re in the trenches just like everyone else. Just remember to enable a sense of autonomy and accountability in your team(s), while working with them to keep improving team cohesion.
  • Suggested Motivational Levers: Autonomy – Belonging
    • Mechanics: Decisions, Customisation || Communication, Inclusivity

 

Autonomy

  • As a manager, you will need to trust your employees and teams. Allowing them to make their own decisions, taking responsibility and having them be accountable for them is the best way to foster an environment of trust and autonomy. It is exceptionally important when doing this in a remote working environment, because you cannot, and should not be a hawk and hover over them trying to micromanage. Give your teams space and flexibility to manage their work as they see fit, and allow them to customise their at-home and/or online workspaces as much as they want. This level of autonomy will intrinsically motivate them far more than any kind of helicopter managing ever could.

 

Belonging

Communication is one of the most important aspects of any team, especially in remote working. As a manager, you will need to make sure your communication frameworks and tools are of the highest level and quality. Generally, this type of advice would be on an earlier floor, but in all honesty, this should be a systemic consideration that doesn’t need a special mention. The reason I do bring it up on this floor is that communication is here to provide and support inclusivity for your team members and teams in general as they progress through projects. Communication and collaboration in this floor are more about fostering a positive working culture while furthering trust among team members with each other and in you as the manager and leader within this virtual part of the business.

Adept Floor

  • The Endgame: At this point, your team should be a well-oiled machine. Working and delivering remotely. In this floor the best course of action, therefore, is that you, as the manager, start focusing more on acknowledging your team members, promoting the team feeling. Do this by having tavern moments; such as a virtual coffee or beer get together, where you and others check-in informally, making sure everyone is doing well mentally, physically and emotionally.
  • Suggested Motivational Levers: Esteem – Belonging – Safety
    • Mechanics: Milestones || Mentors || Rewards

 

Esteem

  • As mentioned, as a manager you should focus on outcomes and performance, and celebrate successes. Don’t condemn failures. Remote working can be challenging enough already for some, and if you start criticizing your team if they fail, then you are only exacerbating feelings of alienation, loneliness and isolation. Thus be sure to interact with your teams constructively and find the reason for why something failed. Offer support and then work on a strategy for how to make sure it succeeds the next time.
    • Having clear and agreed-upon milestones and events for which outcomes are expected, is, therefore, a much healthier way of working, and it allows all of your team members to be on the same page. Using the right tools and resources to ensure this is what will give you long-term successes.

 

Belonging

  • Just because you don’t have a face-to-face interaction does not mean that you should not be talking to your employees and teams and helping them to continue developing as individuals and teams. Remain vigilant in fostering their ambitions and abilities, and as they are already working remotely, they can learn remotely as well, from any number of online courses.

 

Safety

  • Rewarding your teams can come in many shapes and forms. You can reward them with monetary incentives, but make sure that these serve a purpose for them as individuals and for their remote working environment.
    • As mentioned before, another reward method/structure is to have a weekly call or tavern moment, where you’re all having an (alcoholic) beverage, possibly on the Friday afternoon. In this call discuss something other than work and enjoy catching up about other things. Naturally, foster this kind of openness and culture of belonging beforehand, there’s nothing more unpleasant and awkward than a forced “fun get-together”.

 

Final Thoughts

Working remotely from anywhere can be challenging, and it is up to you as a manager to oversee and anticipate those challenges for your team and to help and support them as much as you can. Remember that you are not alone in this, find and share knowledge with other fellow managers who are in or have been in this position before. Not everyone has all the answers, but together you can collect knowledge and perhaps take some of the ideas from this piece and create for your teams an enjoyable player journey which fosters a healthy and pleasing remote working culture.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æStranger.com, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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