Niantic's release of Pokémon GO this summer has everyone playing, from your eight year old niece to your middle-aged boss. The free-to-play, augmented reality-based game has everyone obsessed, as you have undoubtedly seen by now on every blog, Twitter account, and along your Facebook newsfeed sidebar. It even surpassed Twitter's daily users.

We were interested in looking what we can learn from Pokemon GO to amp up employee engagement in organization. How does that work? And stemming from this idea, what role does the concept of play have in internal communications?

The best way to figure this out was to try it for ourselves in our Bananatag Vancouver office. It's GO time.

What we did

Whether employees had the app or not, we set a date to play for those interested in the game. We went out for a walk at lunch on a beautiful sunny day in downtown Vancouver. It was a welcomed break from the usual walk to lunch, then back to the office to return to our tasks.

The thought was to take a break from the typical routine; no matter how engaged employees might be, routine can sometimes be exhausting. Stepping out of the usual habits and procedures of everyday life at work is a refreshing change of pace.

What we needed: Smartphones, a good data plan, an open mind, comfortable walking shoes.

Optional equipment: Soylent, for the true Pokémon GO folks who don't want to waste any time with that chewable stuff we call food. See photo below.


We're basically an ad for @soylent and Pokemon GO ???? #pokemongolunch #bananatag #soylentpioneer

A photo posted by Bananatag (@bananatag) on

We walked around relatively close to our office and explored, searching for Pokémon to catch. Not only did we catch some rare Pokémon, but this experience became an opportunity for employees to interact with each other, teach each other the game and have some fun on the job.

Of course, not everyone will be interested in the same trendy new smartphone game from the 90s making it's resurgence in 2016. So our advice is try to find your own Pokémon GO; every office has one.

What we learned

  1. Pokémon GO lunch is FUN. Even the naysayers -- like myself, I'll admit it -- had a good time.
  2. A motivational force and shared goal outside of work tasks is a unique way to help involve employees and bring out happiness on the job. We suddenly became a big, silly team running around catching virtual Pokémon outside!

  3. Giving employees the go-ahead to play a game at work shows you trust them to not take advantage of the freedom. The assumption in an adult workplace should also be that employees are to be trusted and relied upon.

What is it about Pokémon GO and games?

What's especially powerful about a straightforward, quick game like Pokémon GO in the workplace is that it gives employees an opportunity to socialize and connect. It fuels and sparks involvement in company culture by, in fact, practicing company culture. Employees who are already interested in Pokémon GO or a similar game have a chance to play together -- we can't ignore the obvious social aspect of the game and it's something to take advantage of to bring employees together.

If you're still not buying it, think of the importance of play, particularly for children: recess, time with friends on the playground -- it's what's being a kid is all about. But play is just as important to kids as it is to adults. In Dr. Stuart Brown's TED Talk "Play is more than just fun", he discusses how play can improve our social well-being as adults and make us smarter, even improving memory function.

If you're looking for some more talks to listen to in the background while at work, TED has an entire playlist of talks on why you should take time to play.

We can't help but make the connection between happy employees playing games and high employee engagement.

If we recognize the importance of play and bring games into the workplace but make it accepted and available, it's a chance for employees to experience the behavioural outcomes of games (the motivational effects of completing a game, getting to another level or catching that rare Pokemon) and the social benefits of play as adults. So what are we waiting for? Let's start playing more.

Here's probably our favorite bit of feedback from one of our team members:

"Pokemon GO really separates the people who have data plans and the people who don't." - Justin Lim, UI/UX Designer and data plan fanatic.