Go out for a walk soon and notice everyone walking quickly along as they stare intently into their mobile phones. Are they looking for directions, or reading urgent emails? Probably not. Chances are they’re playing Pokémon Go. Notice an unusual collection of cars at a local landmark containing adults gazing into their phones? Chances are it’s the site of a Pokémon gym.
What’s the draw?
Pokémon Go is a high tech treasure hunt, a reincarnation of the 1990s Nintendo trading cards for children and teenagers that’s quickly taken the adult world by storm. It’s a virtual reality game where players roam a map using their mobile phone’s GPS location and “catch” as many Pokémon as possible along the way in the real world. The player uses the phone’s mobile camera to navigate around the real-life surroundings tracking down the virtual creatures.
Points are earned and rankings increase as the player continues catching more and more characters.
It can be addictive
Hordes of players have been spotted roaming through parks and local landmarks, and even through research centres like CERN on the French-Swiss border. Players are walking for miles in pursuit of rare characters – so they’re getting a lot more exercise than usual.
The problem is that they can get so caught up in looking at the world through their screens that they don’t notice obstacles that lie just outside their phones’ field of view. Two men had to be rescued after falling off a cliff in San Diego while playing the game. Quite conceivably, distracted employees might wander in front of forklifts, tumble down staircases or ignore important safety rules in their quest for more Pokémon prey.
The adrenalin rush, the thrill of the chase, the competition, the building skill levels - in some jobs, how can work compete? Tom Currie, a barrista from New Zealand, quit his job to search for rare monsters. “I was desperate for a break”, he said, “and Pokémon gave me the chance to live that dream.”
Are your employees adding to their Pokédex instead of carrying out their job roles? Many employers – and employees – are already reporting their productivity has taken a serious dive. With all the excitement surrounding the release of the new game last month and the possibility of being able to catch an Eevie in the canteen or a Squirtle on a colleague’s desk, it’s easy to see how it could become a distraction and affect productivity.
Should employers ban Pokémon Go?
Plenty of workplaces such as aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing have already banned play during working hours. Boeing discovered that the app had been installed on more than 100 work phones since its release, and one person there was almost injured while playing it at work.
The company took the Pokémon craze as an opportunity to talk with their employees and remind them of Boeing’s strong focus on workplace safety. A Boeing spokesman explained to GeekWire: “As we strive for zero injuries, we prohibit employees from walking and using mobile devices at the same time on Boeing property. This has been a safety standard since 2014. Doing so has contributed to improvements in eliminating distractions and reducing the risk for slips, trips and falls.” Another reason for banning the app was that Boeing has rules for taking photos on company property and for downloading any third-party apps on company mobile devices.
If you’ve noticed a new preoccupation with Pokémon Go and suspect it’s already affecting business productivity, it may be time to address the situation. It doesn’t have to be a Pokémoan (no one wants to be seen as a killjoy), and you can’t take employees’ smartphones away but, if you’re worried about performance, look for ways to retune their focus.
Employers can try to stem the tide or figure out how to swim along with it. Many have imposed an outright ban but there are also reports of companies organizing mass Pokémon Go outings during meal breaks, after work or during office parties. An effective answer to adapting to this newest challenge may be the biggest treasure of them all.