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Pokémon Go: What Is It, Why Should Employers Care, and What Should They Do About It?

Pokémon Go, the smartphone app, made its debut mere weeks ago but already has exploded across the nation (and world). Some estimates say that downloads for Pokémon Go have already surpassed the total number of daily active Twitter users. With that number of users, one inevitable question is how employee use of this game could impact workplaces. Here are some issues for employers to consider.

What is Pokémon Go?

Simply put, Pokémon Go is a smartphone app based on a popular video game franchise. The app is an “augmented reality” program that uses a cell phone’s camera and GPS to play via real life interactions. Pokémon Go players visit real locations to collect items, train their characters, and battle others. The game also places PokéStops (where players can obtain supplies and collectables) at various locations - even inside businesses. Some companies selected as PokéStops are already advertising in order to draw in patrons. Unsurprisingly, the creators of Pokémon Go have announced that sponsored PokéStops soon will be available.

Why should employers care?

Some of the perils of a game that relies largely on real world interactions are fairly obvious. For example, the augmented reality game has led to reports of players trespassing on private property, being robbed at PokéStops, and in one unfortunate incident – falling off a cliff. But what about employees who are trying to “Catch ‘em all?” during work hours?

A primary concern, naturally, is workforce productivity. The more time an employee spends on the app, the less time spent on work. The issues are numerous, from employees playing the app during work time to employees showing up late to work because they detoured from their commute to swing by PokéStops.

Other concerns may be less apparent but more alarming. For example, security concerns were initially raised regarding players who created Pokémon Go accounts using Google email.  Reportedly, users who logged in via Google allowed Pokémon Go full access to their account information, including emails, contact lists and personal information. While it appears this security concern is being addressed, the fact remains that for employers that use Google email accounts to conduct their business, employees who used such accounts may be placing sensitive company information at risk.

What should employers do about it?

Although Pokémon Go may be the current craze causing distractions at work, certain basic principles may help keep workplace concerns to a minimum for this and other apps. Employers should consider:

-  Reviewing and updating acceptable use policies to include mobile devices used in the workplace.

-  Consistently disciplining employees who violate the acceptable use policy or any other policy (such as the attendance policy).

-  Communicating to managers and supervisors that they also should refrain from engaging in workplace activities that are distractions to themselves or others.

-  Permitting employees to engage in this and other recreational activities during lunch or other breaks as long as it does not interfere with workplace safety or productivity.

Until the current Pokémon Go frenzy dies down, employers should be alert to the issues caused by this mobile app. While Pokémon Go may be a phenomenon both in its popularity and its ability to synchronize mobile game technology and real life, – other applications almost certainly will follow suit. Policies and practices put in place now will help employers deal with this burgeoning technology and its impact on their workforce in the future.

Image credit: flickr.com

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