Gamification & motivation in a hybrid world

After a forced global experiment of working from home, we are faced with a massive redesign of how we work. We are now part of two intertwined worlds, physical and digital. Our future looks hybrid.

But what do we actually know about what this hybrid model entails in the long run? Change is not always a smooth process and it may come with frustration, work overload, and fatigue. Curating the tech tools to help us navigate this new era and finding the right fit for our company in terms of processes and models definitely take time and require a lot of teamwork and deliberate effort.

If you want your team to try out something new, be it a tool or process that could help you better navigate through the hybrid work environment, chances are high adoption will be a challenge for you. Adopting a new behaviour or adhering to a new way of working requires time, as well as mental and emotional bandwidth. Therefore, your team might see this as yet another task on the list, something they have to make room for, while their old ways are far more trained and thus can appear as deceivingly more effective.

One important factor to consider here is motivation. Motivation explains why people engage with a task, why they persevere in doing it, and why they bring it to completion. Yu-kai Chou, Gamification, and Behavioural Design expert is the author of ‘Actionable Gamification’. He created a framework (The Octalysis Framework) that helps us understand in more depth how motivation works and what techniques we can use in order to trigger a certain behaviour.

According to the author, ‘Gamification is the craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to real-world or productive activities.’ Yu-kai Chou calls this process ‘Human-Focused Design’, as opposed to ‘Function-Focused Design’. Human-Focused Design works with feelings, motivations, and engagement as the basic foundation of the system and optimizes both the user’s feelings and the functions of the system. ‘Function-Focused Design’ refers to systems that are designed to get the job done quickly.

The tension between these two approaches might be relevant to how we navigate the hybrid work environment. Expecting to perform at a high level while undergoing change and transformation might not be realistic. Adjustment should take the place of pressure so that achieving KPIs doesn’t end up sabotaging the process. Once a right fit is reestablished in the new hybrid era, performance can redeem its place among the top priorities if that is the case.

This past year has shown us more than ever that what people feel is important. If you merely offer them financial bonuses, they will leave as soon as they are given a better opportunity. Keeping people motivated and engaged can prove far more effective when it comes to retention.

Dan Ariely published an article in the New York Times, called ‘What’s the value of a big bonus.’ where he talks about the results of his experiments with task performance depending on the bonus received. ‘We found that as long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance. But when we included a task that required even rudimentary cognitive skill, [..] the offer of a higher bonus led to poorer performance.’

Our adjusting to the hybrid work world definitely requires cognitive skills, as well as a lot of creativity and problem-solving. So what kind of motivation can serve us in our journey?

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation

According to Yu-kai Chou, extrinsic motivation ‘is derived from a goal, purpose or reward’. When you look at the task that needs to be done, though, it is not necessarily interesting or appealing. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is deeply connected with the nature of the task and comes from ‘inherently enjoying the task itself.’

The author highlights that when we are doing something for extrinsic reasons, ‘our eyes are set on the goal and we try to use the quickest and most effortless path possible to reach it.’ If we want our talent to commit to redesigning the way we work, we should most probably avoid the quickest and most effortless path. Such a complex process is more of a marathon than a sprint and requires resilience and perseverance. When what we do is uninteresting or unappealing, it is highly unlikely that we’ll be able to bring these virtues to the table.

Extrinsic motivation does play a crucial role, though, when it comes to the beginning of a process. It can be used to attract people, to draw their attention. It can be stronger than the feeling of having yet another task on the list. Extrinsic motivation is not effective in the long run, though. Therefore, to achieve long-term engagement, it’s better to gradually transition towards Intrinsic rewards and motivators.

Below are a few aspects you can keep in mind while going through the process of building a hybrid team in order to stimulate intrinsic motivation. We’ve kept it simple, you don’t need to be a Gamification expert to implement any of the suggestions.

1. Keep it social

Remember lunch break? During a regular day at the office, it was easier for people to find moments to connect and get to know each other better. Human beings have an innate desire to connect with others and both remote and hybrid workspaces deeply challenge that. Creating intentional socializing moments for your team can help them nurture a feeling of belonging.

It might often be easy to postpone socializing moments in order to make room for more urgent tasks, that is why the word ‘intentional’ is really important. These things need to be planned and scheduled in order to happen. Some of your talent might never meet face to face and still have to collaborate effectively. In the new hybrid world, only socializing in team buildings might not be enough. Deliberate, constant effort to create space for connecting with each other could work better instead.

In order to keep the social aspect as an intrinsic motivator, it’s important not to have it transformed into social pressure. Dan Ariely’s experiments revealed that social pressure has a similar effect to financial bonuses. It does motivate people but only works when the tasks require only effort and no skill.

2. Practice recognition

We’ve already discussed the importance of enjoying the task when being driven by intrinsic motivation. Maybe some of your talent will work from home, while some will be at the office or in a co-working space. Either way, recognizing their work is crucial, especially when your talent is working on complex or creative tasks. Keep the recognition loop going, you don’t want it to get lost through processes and procedures, otherwise, your talent might experience a huge drop in motivation.

People are not together in the same space anymore, where they can easily ask questions when needed and receive an instant answer. Your talent’s work needs to be seen and acknowledged in order to act as fuel and keep them close to the company’s mission, especially when some of the people only connect with each other on a screen.

And just like with the socializing moments, this process needs intentionality. Make sure that when your talent contributes with ideas, they don’t get lost in an everlasting approval process. The initiative is a great sign of intrinsic motivation and a great indicator for long-term retention. People who contribute and come up with ideas are those who can push things further.

3. Nurture a feedback culture

You know you’ve built a feedback culture when everyone feels safe to give feedback to other people in your organization, regardless of their role or the project they’re working on. Feedback is the most affordable growth tool you have at hand – it helps your talent get better at their craft and at the same time it improves your products/services and organization at large. In a hybrid world, feedback might be the glue that encompasses the best ideas in your talent pool and puts them in service of the greater good.

Despite feedback being a simple tool, it requires a safe culture built beforehand in order to be easily implemented. If your culture lacks transparency on various levels of management or if people fear experiencing a bad outcome when giving constructive feedback, the apparent simplicity might actually be deceiving.

Furthermore, it’s really important to make feedback a habit, especially in a hybrid world, where feedback channels may vary and have to work for both those who are physically together and for the talent working remotely. If feedback is practiced only from time to time, it doesn’t become a part of the culture and thus can’t unlock all the benefits and progress it can.

Not all cultural threads are under our control, but what we can all definitely do is role model the behaviour we wish to see. As leaders in our organizations, we can practice giving and receiving feedback first and thus plant the seeds that shall grow with time. How we give and receive feedback is also crucial, but fortunately, there are plenty of resources we can access – from books to tools or courses. On that note, ‘Radical candor’ by Kim Scott is an interesting read that shows how leaders can be successful while retaining their humanity and offers a framework that tackles creating a feedback culture as a key management responsibility.

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4. Adding Gamification to the mix

There is no straight answer or preset recipe here. If you want to gamify your hybrid work environment, it’s probably best to have an expert create and help you implement the design. Or find a gamified tool that helps you achieve your goals.

What to keep in mind, though, is finding the right mix that can benefit your company culture. For example, if your team is going through a creative process, adding competition to their endeavour would most likely be disastrous. If that’s the case, you don’t want people engaged in an effort to prove they are better than their peers, but rather working together on a common goal.

Exclusively competitive designs implemented at the workplace usually engage a minority of people who’re trying to prove their worth, while the majority experience a severe drop in motivation. According to Yu-kai Chou, ‘Adding competition-driven stress to the daily challenges that employees face can often increase the probability of burnout and skewed performance.’. Competition can be effective in the corporate environment, but it needs a careful design and the right amount.

Learning or creative-focused environments don’t benefit as much from competitive designs. Adapting to a hybrid work environment might require both learning and creativity from your talent, therefore, fostering a collaborative culture might better serve the purpose.

5. What about you, as a leader?

According to Yu-kai Chou, the team members of a group are usually motivated by ‘Social Influence & Relatedness’, while the leader is the one connected to an ‘Epic Meaning & Calling’. As a leader, the author suggests never losing sight of the greater meaning and long-term vision, in order to be able to motivate your team to feel driven by that meaning.

A leader that loses sight of their meaning and is only driven by social motivators might be challenged with guiding the team to achieving their common goal. As the author says, ‘If making them feel good becomes the priority you think about day in and day out, then you may end up with a happy group that goes nowhere and fails in the end. The opposite is true too: neglect your team’s well-being and you’ll have a sad group that’s burnt out and struggling to fulfill the mission.’

In other words, you need to be their compass. In a hybrid work environment, reminding your team of the greater goal that brings you all together might be even more crucial than before. Being scattered across homes, countries and offices might bring extra challenges in terms of motivation and drive and leaders should be prepared to address this.

Therefore, always keep your Meaning in sight: Why do you do what you do? What is the greater good you’re striving for?

A gamified tool for L&D: Chambr

With all of the above in mind, we created Chambr, a platform that can facilitate both learning and social experiences, all in a gamified environment. The content is completely customizable and can be turned into a game in a matter of seconds. Players take turns in solving custom-made challenges and receive feedback from their peers. Every player is given the same amount of time to contribute, thus all the voices are equally heard.

Since we don’t quite know for sure how our future is going to look like, Chambr is easily adaptable to a remote, physical and hybrid environment. It can run with hundreds of participants simultaneously. The game is playable via both browser and mobile phone, with no app download required.

Through Chambr, we hope to contribute to how we reinvent learning and interaction in this new world that we’re all still figuring out.

To conclude, we are being called to a new world, a hybrid future that will bring both progress and challenges. To keep it in a gameful vocabulary, you will need to find some allies. With our own superpowers and with the help of our allies, we can have a fair chance at defeating the villains – burnout, work overload, fatigue. Those allies might be tools, processes, models, peers that can help you and your talent learn and grow together. Games are engaging precisely because the level of challenge they entail is slightly above your skill level, meaning you have to grow your skills in order to move further. So fear not, this hybrid future is here to help us unlock the next level that is yet to be discovered.


Ariely, D. (2008, November 19). What’s the Value of a Big Bonus? The New York Times.

Chou, Y.-K. (2015). Actionable Gamification. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

Gabriela was formally trained in Psychology, but her most fulfilling educational experience was in the Alternative University, a place where she was able to design her own learning journey. She is one of the 2 co-founders of Playlearn and identifies with the learning half of the company. She can't imagine her life without entrepreneurship, it's the perfect playground for her to experience the freedom and the autonomy she needs.

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