Integrating Data Into Fun

George Livingston, tech leader for The Escape Game, enjoys handling the tech needs of the events company as much as the company’s customers do experiencing its offerings.

The Escape Game offers an innovative and fun product: a live 60-minute “adventure” that people participate in, either within stores at malls and other locations in many of the country’s large metropolitan areas, or online. Families, friends, couples and corporate groups choose from various game themes such as a 1950s prison, deep space or even a classic art heist, then team up to follow clues, solve puzzles and complete their “mission” in under 60 minutes.

George Livingston, senior director of product and software development at the fast-growing entertainment company based in Nashville, says leading the tech needs of The Escape Game is just as cool as experiencing the product. He spoke with StrategicCIO360 about measuring joy, the importance of knowing when to remove tech and how to build asynchronous collaboration among employees.

Can you tell us how you integrate data into product/experience development for The Escape Game?

Our mission is to design and deliver epic interactive experiences for every single guest. Since Covid, we’ve developed and diversified our product lines to include digital hosted team-building experiences as well as on/off site hosted team-building experiences, which presents interesting and fun product data challenges.

How do you measure fun? How do you measure the engagement of an in-person or online group? What are the ingredients that make team building experiences special? Answering these questions demands our product teams gather and synthesize data in creative new ways.

We observe dozens of games each week and debrief with guests to probe deeper into specific aspects of their experience. We care deeply about engagement and camaraderie and look at things like, how often is each player interacting with others throughout the experience? We’re looking for moments that create laughter and joy, or moments that are too challenging.

All of this data informs our game and technology development processes, as well as how our world-class operations teams execute our experiences. At the end of the day, the insights and lessons our teams extract from data is what matters. If you have a mountain of data but no one can make use of it, what’s the point?

What types of technologies are CIOs implementing in their companies?

Many CIOs seem to be grappling with the opposite question, actually: what technology can I remove from my organization? Workers are overloaded with SaaS. Leaders understand that setting down one tool to pick up another costs focus and time, and that switching context is a productivity killer. 

Since Covid, Zoom has become a critical tool in our stack alongside Slack, Basecamp, Google Suite, Loom and Calendly. My goal as a leader is to create a simple ecosystem of tools that allow teams to collaborate and communicate effectively. I believe teams are most effective when they are empowered to work asynchronously. Creating this environment means having the right tools in place, but also re-enforcing a culture of writing so when people interface the information and work shared is thoughtful and complete.

For my teams, the core tools are Basecamp for project management, Slack for communication and Google Suite (Docs, Sheets, Drive, Mail, etc.) for just about everything else. Beyond that, I empower people to select their own additional tools that complement this core stack without cluttering their individual toolset. 

Long term, I think leaders will get back to basics. Word processing and spreadsheet technologies are extremely versatile and stable. In my younger years I searched for the next great SaaS tool, but these days I ask myself, would a tool I already own solve this problem?

What types of solutions would help distributed teams maintain a more engaging company culture?

Team building engagements are a wonderful way to engage employees. These experiences bring people together and inspire communication, friendly competition and joy.

I’m excited to witness change in how companies think about office space and travel. Bringing humans together is important, and possible if companies repurpose rent toward culture building. Automattic, distributed since inception, is a great example of this: they bring everyone in the company together once per year, and each functional team together once per year instead of spending money on office space. 

Each person is an individual and requires unique support to thrive. Providing an office space for those who flourish there is useful, but supporting hybrid or distributed works with co-working stipends, team travel, etc., is an interesting area that I believe companies will utilize to attract great talent in the coming years.

How will technology impact the hybrid work model in the next few years?

This is a challenging question because it’s still not clear to anyone what “hybrid work” actually means. From the employees’ perspective, it can mean sometimes working from an office or co-working space, and sometimes working from home. For employers it means different things, including some teams being entirely in-office and others entirely distributed. 

What most leaders do agree on is that the future of work is forever changed. Covid proved distributed work is possible; leaders changed their minds about this because they had to, and a new generation of managers and leaders have been exposed to building teams and organizations in ways that have never been tried before.

Video conferencing tools like Zoom are obviously here to stay. Asynchronous collaboration is the name of the game. Enabling individuals to collaborate and share ideas effectively across state lines, time zones, etc., has become table stakes for great teams.

I believe technology to support team development, wellness and work/life balance will create significant impact in the coming years. We’ve figured out how to work in new ways, but we’re still figuring out how to manage, coach and lead in new ways. For many of us, we’re figuring out how to live in new ways. The questions we need technology to help us answer are: how do we keep workers engaged when they are working in new ways? How do we build culture when our teams are spread around the world? How do we celebrate together?

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