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When Pokemon invade the office

A survey released earlier this summer examines how smart phone use affects office productivity — but the solution is far from clear

By Brian Martucci

People seem even more wrapped up than usual in their phones this summer, no? Blame Pokemon Go, the mobile insta-craze behind the distracted walking epidemic.

It’s great to see a smartphone game getting people off their couches and out in the sunshine, but the great outdoors unfortunately isn’t the only Pokemon-rich setting. From the corner office to the plant floor, the irascible monsters are popping up everywhere in workplaces across Minnesota. And the state’s under-stimulated workforce — at least, a sizable chunk of it — is working feverishly to “catch ‘em all.”

Pokemon Go is merely the year’s most visible mobile gaming craze. (It could be forgotten by this time next year, for all we know.) It’s joined by a host of lesser known games with equal or greater distractive power. Collectively, they offer one giant excuse for employees to slack off on the clock.

According to a CareerBuilder survey released this June, roughly one in four employees admits to gaming at work. They have their bosses’ attention: Three in four employers said employees lose at least two hours per day to their smartphones, and one in five said employees are productive less than five hours per day.

Pokemon Go and its ilk don’t deserve all the blame, of course. Other technological productivity sinks include old-fashioned texting, browsing weather and news, and social media. Low-tech culprits, like meetings and water cooler gossip, hurt too.

However they happen, workplace distractions are bad for business. According to the survey, employers are particularly concerned about distractions’ impact on employee morale (because more productive employees have to pick up the slack for their idle coworkers), poor quality of work, deterioration in superior-subordinate relationships, and missed deadlines.

If the scope of the problem is clear, the solutions are all over the map. Some survey respondents advocated open office floor plans, presumably to make it easier for bosses to keep visual tabs on their teams. Others advocated higher cubicle walls. Some supported flexible telework policies. Others advocated Internet and email monitoring.

That’s to be expected — what works in one workplace doesn’t necessarily translate to others. But it’s naïve to believe that the Pokemon Go craze is a one-off event that won’t repeat anytime soon. It isn’t, it will, and your company needs to be prepared when it does.