Microsoft is making a team building game with benefits • The Register

When a film or television director wants to show people wasting their time at work, they inevitably play computer games. See Peter Gibbons in “Office Space” or the staff of Dunder Mifflin in “The Office”.

But that was then and is now a hybrid work era where employees working from home and companies are wondering how to continue to foster close and collaborative relationships between their employees in these almost post-COVID times.

Microsoft says computer games can play a role in this. The software giant is adding a range of casual games – like Minesweeper, Solitaire, Wordament and Microsoft’s team-building game IceBreakers – to virtual collaboration platform Teams this week.

Games, which not so long ago were considered productivity killers, are now seen as essential for a healthy (distributed) work environment.

“Over 3 billion people around the world play games and play a critical role in bringing people together — especially in the last few years,” said Jill Braff, general manager of Microsoft’s integration and casual games unit, which powers the Games for Work App has developed in an opinion. “Games encourage creativity, collaboration and communication in powerful and unique ways.”

The Games for Work app for teams “inspires productivity and helps foster connections in the workplace,” Braff said.

There has long been a concern among bosses that workers use technology to waste time. In a 2015 CareerBuilder survey, employers cited cell phones and texting, the internet, and social media as the top time wasters for employees.

Five years later, a study by gaming company Word.Tips found that 80 percent of workers—employees and managers alike—played a mobile or PC game an average of 2.5 days a week at work, and about 50 for five days Minutes lost work.

Thinking has evolved. A 2019 study of teams from Brigham Young University showed that teams that played short video games together were 20 percent more productive than teams that used traditional team building activities. And Microsoft, in its September Work Trend Index, found that 40 percent of business leaders said building relationships was the top challenge in hybrid work environments.

According to Nicole Herskowitz, Vice President of Teams, Microsoft is betting that computer games can do this.

“Games can be an easy way to connect with our teammates and build trust,” Herskowitz wrote in a blog post. “Aside from our morning caffeine, sometimes we need a brain teaser or a friendly competition to jump-start relationships, add lightness to our workday, and build a sense of community.”

The team games are designed for multiple players, with Wordament supporting up to 250 players. An enhanced spectator mode allows even those not actively playing to participate and engage with players, such as shouting answers as if they were watching a game show or helping a friend with a puzzle.

Microsoft wants to make Teams the collaboration center for employees. Features have been continually built to make the technology more intuitive and user-friendly. As with other collaboration platforms such as Cisco’s Zoom and Webex, usage surged during the worst of the pandemic, as employees were sent home to work en masse, with Teams usage rising from 20 million users in November 2019 to 44 million in March 2020 and rose to 75 million a month later. Use 270 million users this year.

The trend is now toward hybrid work, and Microsoft is betting that games designed to foster relationships between workers will make them even more appealing to the corporate world.

Games in general have become a key part of Microsoft’s business. Aside from its Windows-related PC games, the company also has its Xbox business and is now looking to buy game maker Activision Blizzard — creators of the popular Call of Duty game, among other things — for nearly $69 billion.

While Solitaire, Minesweeper, IceBreakers, and Wordament are available in the Games for Work app, Herskowitz wrote that these games will continue to evolve and that more games will be added based on user recommendations. ® Microsoft is making a team building game with benefits • The Register

Rick Schindler

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