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CHG Healthcare
Employees play pinball in the game room in CHG Healthcare's headquarters in Salt Lake City.

PROVO — Employees across the country now have an excuse to play "Halo" and "Rock Band" at work.

New research from a team of BYU business professors found that playing video games in a team-building environment at work could help increase productivity by 20 percent.

"Video gaming, when done collaboratively in groups with newly formed teams, has clear benefits," said Mark Keith, lead researcher. "There was not a single case where the teams actually performed worse."

Researchers randomly divided 352 participants into 80 teams, who were then divided again into one of three condition groups for the experiment.

All groups first participated in a geocaching competition called “Findamine.” Groups then either played video games together, completed a goal setting activity together or did homework alone. All three activities took 45 minutes, and once it was over the teams played “Findamine” again.

The “Findamine” results from the group's first and second attempts were analyzed and compared.

In between their geocaching tasks, the video game group played "Halo 4" and "Rock Band," games chosen because they are well-known and require a group effort to play, according to the study. When they took on their second “Findamine” task, the productivity of the video game group increased by 20 percent, the researchers found.

Meanwhile, the homework group's productivity went down, and the productivity levels for the goal-setting group stayed almost the same.

James Gaskin, Douglas Dean and Greg Anderson, all BYU professors, also co-authored the study.

Follow-up studies are in the works, and one such study found that the 20 percent increase in productivity held firm when participants completed a variety of tasks — not just the "Findamine" game, Keith said.

"If I've got a new team that's formed that has a task that's going to take 10 hours, well I can save a net hour off of my time to complete that task even if I spend one hour playing video games first," he said. "If it reduces 20 percent of the time needed to complete the task, it's worth it to start out by having a little video game session."

One limitation to the data is it only studied this effect on people who didn't previously know each other and in small teams of roughly four, according to the research. The results could differ for groups who already know each other and have existing opinions and biases, Keith said.

But Keith said he felt confident recommending the technique when new small groups are formed. Creating and dissolving teams for special projects is an increasingly popular business practice and is one reason researchers chose to use these conditions, he noted.

CHG Healthcare
A CHG Healthcare employee plays pool in the company's headquarters in Salt Lake City.

One Utah company, known for its innovative business practices, might try the video games technique out.

"We do so much team building, it's weaved through everything we do," said Christine VanCampen, senior director of culture at CHG Healthcare.

She said it's a possibility the company could add video games to its team-building activities.

"We're always exploring new ways to connect our people," VanCampen said.

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CHG Healthcare already has a game room at its Utah headquarters in Salt Lake City for employees to unwind in.

"We make sure that our work environment is a space that people can be comfortable," VanCampen said.

Keith said companies can save money and time by investing in video game equipment rather than spending a weekend at a ropes course.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated researchers found the same results when participants completed other tasks besides playing video games. It was other tasks besides the "Findamine" game, not all video games.