The pandemic changed a lot about the modern workplace. Due to COVID-19, companies had to shift away from an in-person work model in 2020, embracing remote work. It didn’t just change how we do work, but had an impact on team bonding as well. In a new age where 71% of business was being done at least partly from home and with 58% of employees saying the hybrid and remote options are here to stay, companies needed new ways to approach workplace culture.
Positive work culture can mean different things, but many see it as the attitudes, behaviors, and connectivity of those working under an organization’s umbrella. That isn’t preserved just through conversations in the break room or during meetings, but with bonding exercises and retreats as well.
With offices now digitally scattered, what are some modern ways to keep co-workers connected? In a conversation with Jackbox Games’ CEO Mike Bilder, I found that video games continue to be a solution to that puzzle — specifically party titles like Jackbox and others like it.
Connection through play
“Our games are always designed with the intention of playing them in the same room. We consider our products digital board games. So instead of playing Life or Monopoly, we want to create an environment where people are having fun playing party games in the same setting,” Bilder tells Digital Trends. “But because they’re digital. it just so happens they work remotely as well. Quarantine and lockdown really showed that behavior where people discovered us for the first time and found our games added a little levity to a pretty stressful time by connecting through a Zoom call, sharing your screen, and playing a Jackbox game.”
I spoke with Bilder about how games like Jackbox have become the key to not just keeping employees connected, but also to keeping collaborative effort high. While this was the case even before the stay-home mandates, it’s become even more so due to COVID-19. “2020 going into 2021 with shelter-in-place orders, we saw quite a bump in usage and new customers,” Bilder says. “It’s certainly leveled out a bit in the last year, but we’ve had the good fortune of acquiring a bunch of new users that are still with us and buying the product.”
During the earliest stages of social separation two years ago, Bilder began to see a positive reception to the Jackbox games and how they were impacting offices. “We’ve had a lot of positive messages on social media through Twitter or LinkedIn,” Bilder says. “They’ll talk about some fun Friday at the office where instead of happy hour, they’d play Jackbox, whether it’s in person or virtually. As you can expect, in the game industry a bunch of our peers play each other’s games. But we’ve seen it across other industries as well. Some use it for fun and levity, some for team building or ice breakers to introduce new hires into the workplace.”
The positives of Jackbox games and other video games being welcome in a work environment don’t end there. A Brigham Young University study shows that newly formed work teams experienced a 20% increase in productivity on subsequent tasks after playing video games together for just 45 minutes. Studies on gaming being positive at work date back to 2017, with scientists finding that it’s a good idea long before the pandemic was a factor.
It’s not just about team building, though. Bilder believes games can help produce creativity at the office. “I think in any creative field, video games are great for a lot of things, like stimulating creative thought,” Bilder says. “To be spontaneous or to be creative, I think they’re absolutely pivotal to that. Talk to anyone in the games industry and you’ll find they play everyone else’s games, too. You definitely draw inspiration and get juices flowing on what you can do, even in non-gaming-related fields. It’s definitely not for everybody you know, but I think in many places it can work to great effect.”
Maintaining social skills
Perhaps the biggest benefit of gaming in the modern workplace is that it can also keep social skills sharp. We’ve all seen the jokes about how people have forgotten how to interact and talk to one another with actual voices in a post-lockdown world. After Bilder told me that the games are built with the intent of creating a great social experience, I asked if he felt Jackbox could keep people primed to socialize offline.
“Yeah absolutely,” he answers after letting out a laugh. “In fact, we did something along those lines with a fun social media-type thing. There was a blog post about trying to help people remember how to socially interact with one another since we’ve been in quarantine so long. It contained a bunch of recommended ice-breaking games to keep people laughing and having fun. On the corporate side, we’ve heard a lot about companies using it with remote and hybrid employees in such a manner.”
“In any creative field, video games are great for a lot of things, like stimulating creative thought.”
So with so many benefits, can games fully bridge the hybrid in-office and remote working worlds? It depends on what you want. In the case of completely replacing a worker retreat in a virtual-physical hybrid world, Bilder thinks there are limits to what games can do.
“I feel we fulfill a certain component of those, depending on what the goal of the retreat is,” he says. “If they’re ropes courses with trust falls, I doubt we could replace them. But from a social interactions perspective where we’re trying to get people to know each other better, then games like Jackbox are great.”
While physical exercises and face-to-face interaction can never be completely replaced, introducing social video games has proven to be a strong component in the world of office spaces. Even a quick Google search will show that years ago, bosses and employees alike were looking for games to increase collaboration and social connectivity at work. Whether it’s one of the various Jackbox games, something like Among Us, or even an outlier like a first-person shooter everyone’s talking about, the hybrid gap can be filled with “digital board game” experiences.
As far as the Jackbox series goes, it’s in a better position than ever to fill those gaps. Amazon is even partnering with Jackbox Games to present a Jackbox subscriptions service through Luna, showing that the tech giant sees major value in the series.
That’s great news, because the hybrid work world isn’t going away anytime soon. Offices are opening back up, but remote work is a part of that new normal, especially after many business studies saw productivity go up after pivoting to the model. Companies will need to accept it if they want to retain talent, which means they’ll need to continue thinking outside the box when it comes to social activities. Video games can be the playful link that unites workers even when they’re on opposite sides of the country.
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