The ‘Pokémon Go’ revolution: What employers should know

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you would have noticed that a new game has swept the world by storm. Pokémon Go, which has already amassed over 100 million downloads, and has overtaken Facebook, Tinder and Twitter in terms of average daily usage, is a mobile game that uses “augmented reality” to allow users to virtually “catch” Pokémon in the real world using their GPS systems.

There have been hundreds of stories surrounding the app, from the positive (reports of how the game improves user’s physical and mental health), to the tragic (a girl in Wyoming stumbled across a dead body while playing the game). However, one of the less-discussed impacts of the game is the effect on the workplace, and how employers should respond. Beyond creating a simple distraction, the rise of Pokémon Go has led to a number of risks that employers need to be aware of, including data protection concerns, productivity and employee safety.

What are the risks?

Data privacy concerns

The great swathe of information available through Pokémon Go’s user base has given rise to a number of security and data protection concerns raised. It was initially reported that users who logged onto the app via Google granted Niantic (the app developers) full access to all their account information, including emails and personal information. Although this issue has since been partially resolved, this still represents a concern for employers who use Google email accounts where employees download apps on their corporate mobile devices.  By downloading the app on their work phones, employees could potentially expose their employer’s systems to identify theft and mass data breaches.  Employers may wish to review their IT policies to ensure that staff are prohibited from downloading or installing software or apps on corporate mobile phones and other corporate devices without authorisation from the employer.

Employee safety

Pokémon Go requires players to explore the real world in order to “catch ‘em all”. There are also certain key landmarks that ‘lure’ players to a certain location, in order to gain certain added benefits. The exploratory nature of the app, coupled with the requirement to constantly look at the phone screen, may be particularly concerning for employees who work outside, operate vehicles, or travel as part of their job. Any incidents at the workplace may lead to an employer being found vicariously liable for an employee’s actions.

Employee productivity

The addictive and time-consuming nature of the game is a natural cause for employer’s concern. For those employees brave enough to play Pokémon Go during working hours, this is likely to lead to a decrease in productivity for the individual, which will in turn affect the organisation’s performance. A recent Forbes poll found that almost 70% of respondents played the game whilst at work, and almost one third admitted to playing for over an hour each day. This creates a significant problem for employers.

Employers may want to remind their staff of any social media and device policy they have, whilst also monitoring atypical work performance and lowered work productivity. For those organisations without a social media policy, now seems like a perfect time to consider this.

Whilst employees are entitled to act as they please during non-working time, such as lunch breaks, employers may find it difficult to accommodate numerous staff wandering around a building searching for a Pikachu. Employers may also want to remind their employees not to cause disruption to their colleagues. It may also be reasonable to only allow use of the app outside of buildings.

Conclusion

Whilst the Pokémon Go trend may eventually dwindle, the era of augmented reality gaming has only just begun. It will only be a matter of time before the next technology craze hits the UK and employers will need be to ready to act accordingly. Having thorough workplace policies in place will be paramount, as will considered and consistent responses to employees who violate these policies. Steps taken now will help employers deal with this burgeoning technology, and limit its impact on their workforce in the future.

For any further information on the above, please contact your usual member of Devonshires’ Employment Team.

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