The practicality of most video chat features is debatable—this is Rich Stanton, joining the meeting from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise—but I still didn't expect the latest Microsoft Teams feature: videogames.
The Games for Work app (opens in new tab) will allow bosses worldwide to add a game to a Teams meeting. The current games are Microsoft IceBreakers, Wordament, Minesweeper, and Solitaire—all of which are ad-free and playable in multiplayer with support from two to 250 players.
It's fair to say that playing videogames has not traditionally been associated with productivity, but that was the old world. Microsoft reckons playing games with your colleagues has "a powerful ability to foster relationships and collaboration" before going on to cite a study by Brigham Young University that it really shouldn't have cited.
Per this study, "teams who played short video games together were 20 percent more productive than those who participated in more traditional team-building activities." That is true, but there's an absolutely whopping caveat here. The study was done with teams of individuals who didn't know each other: "Researchers admit if team members are already familiar with each other, then competitive video gaming may possibly reinforce biases and negative relationships developed from previous experiences."
OK, so games are probably good, possibly bad. You do wonder exactly what competitive Solitaire's effect is going to be on intra-departmental rivalries, but then we're about to see all this play out in realtime.
Microsoft's wider rationale is better. It says one of the big issues with remote and hybrid working is building those personal relationships, and getting employees to connect and trust one another. The sense of community, in other words, that comes from people being in the same place working towards the same goals. It reckons this side of working is somewhere games can help.
"Over 3 billion people around the world play games, serving a crucial role in bringing people together—especially during these last few years,” said Microsoft's Jill Braff, going on to add they're looking forward to seeing how the addition "inspires productivity and helps foster connections in the workplace."
You'll almost certainly have played some version of these games, which is obviously why they've been chosen. IceBreakers is a quiz game that apparently inspires "passionate conversation", while Minesweeper is here played cooperatively. Wordament's a word challenge game, while the real dark horse is Solitaire.
Solitaire "provides a head-to-head competition encouraging group participation". This means some players play while others watch and assist. This one sounds like it could get nasty. (No you're a cynic.)
Microsoft's been slyly adding game-like elements to Teams for a while, though this is the first time it's been so upfront about it. The Polly app lets teams take live polls, while Kahoot! basically lets you run a quiz on it. Microsoft says more stuff along these lines is coming in the next year. Maybe it won't be too long till we can play Hunt: Showdown in our weekly meetings, eh? The Games for Work app is available now (opens in new tab), and more games will be added over time.