Gamifying working-from-home performance

Does WFH really work? If yes, how can the benefits be used to maximise business results?


As organisations around the world adapt to working from home (WFH) to create the desired results, HR professionals are rapidly developing a deeper understanding of this modern practice. It is critical to help WFH employees maintain or enhance team performance to improve the organisation’s business results. The pandemic has created several worries for all employees, about their own wellbeing and that of their families. Inclusive practices by people managers have facilitated a significant amount of sharing to counter the individual and collective fears.

But does WFH really work? If yes, how can the benefits be used to maximise business results?

Does WFH work?

As noted by researchers Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts and Zhichun Jenny Ying (2014), a rising share of employees now regularly engage in WFH, but there are concerns that this can lead to ‘‘shirking from home’’.

In their article published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, they reported the results of the first randomised experiment on WFH, run in a 16,000-employee, NASDAQ-listed Chinese firm, Ctrip.

1. Employees who volunteered to work from home were randomised by even/odd birthdate into a treatment group, that worked from home four days a week for nine months, and a control group, that worked in the office five days a week.

2. A highly significant 13 per cent increase in employee performance from WFH, of which about 9 per cent was in employees working more minutes of their shift period (fewer breaks and sick days) and about four per cent from higher performance per minute.

3. They found no negative spill-overs onto workers who stayed in the office. Home workers also reported substantially higher work satisfaction and psychological attitude scores, and their job attrition rates fell by over 50 per cent.

4. Furthermore, when the experiment ended and workers could choose whether to work from home or in the office, selection effect almost doubled the gains in performance.

How can the benefits be used to maximise business results?

The key ideas to sustain and maximise the benefits found in the above research are:

1. Coaching conversations to “Share and Discover”

The pandemic and the pace of change it has unleashed are impacting the emotional wellbeing of all talent categories, at all levels. The situation demands time for personalised conversations that encourage sharing issues openly and discovering new solutions together. Managers who are trained to use ICF coaching competencies know that coaching conversations require them to ‘do’ and ‘be’ competencies. Essentially, they need to have a ‘coaching mindset’ that establishes a trusting ground for such conversations, along with ‘coaching skills’, for partnering in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires employees to maximise their personal and professional potential.

Many senior leaders who do not receive regular performance support or feedback require professional coaching services. Coaching is undeniably the most individualised HR practice at the workplace. In today’s world, when team members are looking at overcoming the low-touch aspect of the WFH environment, professional coaching can be used to pre-empt and resolve many engagement challenges.

2. Gamification of WFH performance

Gamification leverages desires, such as mastery, self-expression and status, to engage employees. For instance, HR professionals have applied this with great success to make e-learning more interesting. A thoughtful system that promotes objectivity, along with autonomy, takes a WFH employee from the course to mastery. Gamification also makes feedback readily acceptable, which in turn, makes it easy to lift up performance when required. It allows HR professionals to continuously align the employees with changing priorities, even in a remote-working environment.

A great way to review and realign the priorities is to answer the following questions:

  • Which behaviours are you looking to modify?
  • How will the employees know where they stand vis-à-vis the target, their personal best and their peers?
  • How can the above be framed in a game narrative?
  • How can I ensure that recognition takes place in a team environment?
  • How can we create a ‘gaming community environment’- where performance questions get answered?
  • How will performance support be offered to those who need it?

Using a graphical game narrative to bind all the above is a creative challenge of making gamification of performance succeed in the remote-working environment.
For instance, a metaphor of a ship can be used with each team member depicted prominently.

Having a regular view of the peer performance, knowing where they stand vis-à-vis their peers and being able to learn from each other’s success are the aspects of a shared workspace that WFH employees are missing the most these days!

Professional Coaching is the first step in this two-step solution, and will provide individualised space to resolve several individual issues. At this stage, many unexpressed emotions find expression and acknowledgement. A manager’s role as a coach is critical at this stage. If you are looking for a coach, your search needs to begin with ICF as ICF-credentialed coaches do not only meet stringent education and experience requirements, but they also demonstrate a thorough understanding of the coaching competencies that set the standard in the profession. They also adhere to strict ethical guidelines as part of ICF’s mission to protect and serve coaching consumers.

Professional coaching services can be found using ICF’s directory of credentialed coaches spread all over the world

The second step of gamification requires involvement and inputs from the entire team to succeed.

A manager’s virtual facilitation skills to create the right environment for these discussions is often key to success at this stage.

In 2020, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) celebrates 25 years as a global organisation for coaches and coaching. Dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high ethical standards, ICF provides independent certification and builds a worldwide network of credentialed coaches across a variety of coaching disciplines. Its 41,000-plus members located in 147 countries and territories work towards the common goal of enhancing awareness of coaching, upholding the integrity of the profession, and continually educating themselves on the newest research and practices.

In India, ICF is represented by five vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi, ICF Mumbai and ICF Pune.

Sunil Verma, the author is an ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC), with expertise in leadership assessment through psychometric tools, leadership development and cross-cultural competence. Before starting his coaching company, ComeToBe, Verma worked in India and the United Kingdom, for leading retail and investment banks. He is an alumnus of IMD Business School in Switzerland and is a proud member of the ICF Mumbai chapter. In his leisure time, he likes to do yoga, play with his children and travel with his family.

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