After putting his kids to bed in the evenings or while waiting in the Delta airport lounge, Eric Rea, co-founder and CEO of the software startup Podium, can often be found on his iPad. Playing Fortnite. With his employees.
It’s a de-stressing activity, Rea says, and in the process, he adds, it has helped the team develop stronger communication and collaboration, both on and off screen.
Podium is in hyper-growth mode, expanding from 50 employees to 480 in the past few years and raising nearly $100 million to date from investors like GV (formerly known as Google Ventures) and Accel. More than 30,000 local businesses use its tools to get more personalized insight into customer feedback and online reviews. There’s a lot of pressure for a fast-moving startup to succeed.
The nature of gaming enables workers to escape for a bit and bond with colleagues, without even having to leave the office. Not being tied down to a console (the game is compatible with iPads and newer phone models) allows coworkers to play anywhere and anytime—during their lunch breaks, when a meeting ends early, or to unwind after a long day.
“It’s a way more natural way to build a team,” says Rea.
The idea of making Fortnite a work activity started last year, after another of Podium’s executives played it for the first time with his two teenage sons one weekend. Rea learned about it, downloaded it onto his phone, and got hooked. He created a Slack channel at work dedicated to Fortnite, and soon learned that a lot of his employees (about 25% of them, he estimates) were also Fortnite players.
Now the game is helping to break down the natural barriers that tend to build up as a company’s org chart expands, putting people on more even footing regardless of title or age. At Podium, which is based in Utah, roughly 80% of the employees are millennials, while most of the leadership is older, according to Rea. Playing Fortnite with people at every level of the company “just makes me and the rest of the executive team much more approachable,” Rea says, noting, “Everyone is equal when playing the game.”
Studies also show that collaborative video games can in fact increase office productivity. A recent study from Brigham Young University found that newly formed teams were 20% more productive after playing video games together for just 45 minutes.
Bringing non-work activities into the workplace can help set a healthy work culture, but it’s important to also consider the inclusiveness of the activities. Startups that boast ping pong tables and beer carts, for example, have received backlash for leaving people out. While Rea says Fortnite has helped bring the executive team closer to employees, it’s worth noting that Podium’s entire eight-person executive team is white and male, which may skew the culture a certain direction.
Still, playing video games as a way to better connect with colleagues is a promising strategy. Fortnite was designed with inclusivity in mind—and is meant to emphasize collaboration over conformity.