Effectively Manage a Remote Team via Gamification

Struggling to manage your remote team? Introduce gamification -- and a smiley face or two -- and watch your team flourish.

learn more about Kuty Shalev

By Kuty Shalev

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One of the biggest challenges in managing a remote environment is discerning the best way to get everyone onto the same page. When people are on their own, they can easily get lost in separate worlds with different goals, and different ideas on what it takes to achieve those goals.

Related: How Gamification Is Engaging Customers and Employees Alike

In this brave, new, remote world, the old ways of managing project teams don't always work. New approaches are required to tackle the problems of managing teams that aren't in the same physical space.

One such new approach that's taking the corporate world by storm is gamification. This technique -- which taps into psychological triggers to encourage changes in behavior -- is perfect for an environment that lacks the visual cues and nonverbal communication of a typical workspace.

When we decided to implement gamification into our business' own remote teams, we didn't simply dive in. Instead, we studied the fundamentals of psychology and business to figure out what would and wouldn't work.

This meant reading books such as Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, Charlie Munger's Poor Charlie's Almanack and Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. Then, we tested different methods, to see what was effective.

The result was a gamification framework that's proven successful in managing our remote teams and improving employee behavior as a whole. It has also proven surprisingly easy to implement.

Using gamification to manage a remote team

Here are three simple gamification tactics that work wonders when it comes to managing remote teams:

1. Take full advantage of the power of Slack. While hardly the first corporate chat tool on the market, Slack has managed to infiltrate almost every corner of the startup world, thanks in large part to one seemingly minor difference: It's fun.

Born out of a failed computer game, Slack's strength comes from its successful incorporation of work and play, offering such features as custom emojis and Giphy integration that allow employees to go beyond text by conveying a message -- and the emotion -- behind it.

At Clevertech, the simple act of using emoticons as reactions to the posts and comments of others has proven an effective way to incentivize better communication, improve transparency and personalize each team's communications.

As the director of Slack's customer service said at the "Above All Human" tech conference this past January, Slack is the "perfect medium for infinite play." What better way to get employees to communicate more effectively than introducing it as "play"?

2. Take a page from Foursquare by creating a badge system. Badges are an excellent way of creating an incentive system to help a team reach its goals and improve employee behavior.

Everybody in our company has the ability to give badges to anybody else, but each employee is limited by how many he or she can give out. Each badge rewards a different kind of behavior the company wants to encourage, and when an employee receives one from a fellow worker, the presentation includes a description of "why."

Also, although we log badge handouts, it's not a competition: There is no leader board, and there are no points attached. Despite its name, gamification isn't actually about turning everything into a game -- it's about incentivizing better behavior. The objective is to focus on why a badge was earned, not who's acquired the most.

For companies like ours that already live on Slack, badges can be incorporated into an ecosystem with ease, but the chat tool is not a requirement for this system to work. Companies such as Docebo offer a framework for business leaders to create their own systems and keep track of who is awarded which badges, making it easy for any business to incorporate the system into use by its remote teams.

Related: How gamification can save the disengaged workforce

3. Don't underestimate the smiley face. Sometimes the beauty of gamification is in its simplicity. For us, encouraging employees to choose one of three smiley faces -- a happy face, a frown or a neutral expression -- when clocking in and out has allowed us to better gauge how our remote employees are doing on a daily basis, as we can't observe their facial expressions from afar.

Just recently, for example, we had a situation where one of our employees picked a negative smiley as he ended his day. I checked in with him, and he shared that an interaction between one of our clients and a senior staff member had been negative, unprofessional and abusive, and that it could result in either the client or employee leaving.

Thanks to the simple act of his choosing a frowny face when clocking out, we were able to address the situation in a timely manner. Otherwise, we might not have heard about it until after we had lost a client.

Gamification isn't about turning boring work into a grand quest, or simply providing fun distractions throughout the day; it's something much more powerful. Gamification is a vehicle of trust that can improve communication and even help employees learn new skill sets: Badges and achievements can be turned into certifications, creating lifelong learners whose improvements bolster individuals (and the company for which they work).

Related: How Three Businesses Scored Big with Gamification

Gamification is a modern solution to the modern problem of managing remote teams. As remote work environments become more common, so will gamification as a management technique. For entrepreneurs looking for innovative ways to manage their teams, the "game is on."

Kuty Shalev

Founder of Clevertech

Kuty Shalev is the founder of Clevertech, a New York City-based firm that designs, develops and deploys strategic software for businesses that want to transform themselves using the power of the web. 

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