Protocol | Workplace

Animal Crossing for work: Is Shopify Party the future of the office?

Shopify built an Animal Crossing-esque internal tool where employees can explore fantastical virtual worlds.

A cluster of avatars on a virtual beach in Shopify Party.

Shopify built an Animal Crossing-esque video game for the office.

Image: Shopify Party

Shopify's solution for video fatigue? Building a free-play, internal game where employees have avatars and can race cars, hop on lily pads and run into caves. The game is called Shopify Party, and it's become the commerce platform's go-to way to make meetings, one-on-ones and other work events more fun.

The idea started with Daniel Beauchamp, a principal engineer, and Byron Delgado, a user experience lead, on the augmented reality/virtual reality team at Shopify. They were growing tired of back-to-back-to-back video calls, and brainstormed ways they could maintain employee interaction but also give people a break from their cameras.

"We built a quick prototype of something we would want to use," Beauchamp said. "And after using it for a little bit, we said, 'Wait a minute, this is actually really fun and provides a good break from the never-ending video call.'"

At first, the pair cast around for existing virtual-reality tools that combated video fatigue. They came up with nothing, except for office-recreation tools that relied heavily on video chat.

So instead, they drew inspiration from video games that exploded in popularity during the pandemic. Animal Crossing, with its cute animals and island paradise, was a helpful foundation. Some Shopify employees were already playing games together, but they had to have the proper devices and installations.

Over three months, they built out the tool, launching companywide in the middle of August. It's still in a beta phase, but Beauchamp wanted to test it out among Shopify at large. "It's too early to talk exactly about how much impact it's had on our employees, but anecdotally the feedback has been really great," Beauchamp said.

Employees don't need to install anything to access Shopify Party. It's as easy as sharing a link over email or Slack, allowing for casual, impromptu Shopify Party sessions. The company uses it for all kinds of work activities, from onboarding to catch-up meetings. Beauchamp hopes to further "encode Shopify's DNA" into the games, mimicking in-office rituals and processes.

Some people have told Beauchamp that Shopify Party eases anxiety and helps break the ice when participating in a large group discussion. Adam Mosher, a senior project specialist at Shopify, said several team members "have been much more engaged, open and talkative in Shopify Party compared to more traditional remote meetings."

When the game first launched, there was some initial distraction from work activities. "If you invite someone to Shopify Party for a meeting, you need to allocate 15 to 30 minutes for them to customize their avatar," Beauchamp said. Some workers opted to make their avatar their realistic self; some opted to be entirely purple with bat wings.

"There was definitely a period of just discovery," Beauchamp said. "People wanted to see what this world was about."

Rather than being like Mario Kart, with strict rules and a hard start and stop to the game, Shopify Party is a "sandbox encouraging free play," Beauchamp said. You can race cars on a track, or push some tires around. If all you want to do is dance around or hop, you can do that. "Once you've explored the world, you can find your favorite activity or spot in the world to hang out," Beauchamp said.

The goal, Beauchamp said, is to lean more into playfulness than productivity. There are plenty of tools for recreating whiteboards, presentations or meetings. Shopify Party is meant to embody the casual, social aspects of Shopify's work experience — like chatting about your weekend while playing ping pong.

"We had amazing areas in the office to explore and walk around that now are missing from that remote-first life," Beauchamp said. "So Shopify Party is a reimagination of what that can be."

Beauchamp encouraged other engineers out there to build their own interpretations of Shopify Party. "It's benefiting us internally, so there's no reason why it wouldn't benefit others as well," he said. Perhaps the future of remote work is less about Zoom meetings and Slack chats, and more about chatting with co-workers in a fantastical, metaverse version of the office.

Protocol | Workplace

The whiteboard wars: Miro and Figma want to make meetings better

Miro and Figma separately launched features on Tuesday aimed at improving collaboration on their platforms.

Whiteboard rivals Miro and Figma each released collaboration improvements.

Logos: Figma and Miro

We expect a lot from our productivity tools these days. You can't just stroll over to your team members' desks and show them what you're working on anymore. Most of those interactions need to happen online, and it's even better if the work and the communication can happen in one place. Miro and Figma — competitors in the collaborative whiteboard space — understand how critical remote collaboration is, and are both working to up their meeting game.

This week, both platforms announced features aimed at improving the collaboration experience, each vying to be the home base for teams to work and hang out together. Figma announced updates to its multiplayer whiteboard FigJam, and Miro announced a new set of tools that it's calling Miro Smart Meetings. Figma's goal is to make FigJam more customizable and accessible for everyone; Miro wants to be the best place for content-centered, professional meetings. They both want to be the go-to hub for teams looking to get stuff done.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

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Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Workplace

Hybrid work is here to stay. Here’s how to do it better.

We've recovered from the COVID-19 digital collaboration whiplash. Now we must build a more intentional model for hybrid work.

This is a call to managers to understand the mundane or unwanted projects their employees face, and what work excites them.

Photo: Adobe

Ashley Still is Adobe's Senior Vice President of Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships.

When COVID-19 hit, we were forced into a fully digital mode of business operation. Overnight, we adopted available remote work tools — even if imperfect, they were the best tools for the job.

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Ashley Still
As Senior Vice President, Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships, Ashley Still leads product marketing and business development for Adobe's flagship Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings. This includes iconic software brands such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. Her expanded remit now includes Adobe's strategic partnership work with technology companies globally, including Apple, Microsoft and Google; and driving Adobe's fast-growing mobile app business. Her team is also responsible for the demand generation marketing campaigns that makes Adobe the market-leader, across creative and document productivity segments. Previously she was Vice President and General Manager, Adobe Creative Cloud for Enterprise. Here her team delivered an integrated content creation, collaboration and publishing solution that securely enables brands to create exceptional design and content. Prior to this, Ashley was Senior Director of Product & Marketing for Adobe Primetime, an Internet television platform used by Comcast, Turner, NBC Sports and other global media companies to deliver TV content and dynamic advertising to any Internet device. Under Ashley's leadership, Adobe Primetime won an Emmy Award for the Adobe Pass TV-Everywhere service. Ashley joined Adobe in 2004 following her internship with the company and held several product management positions for Adobe Photoshop. Still earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and her Masters degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Protocol | Workplace

Meet the productivity app influencers

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there is a somewhat surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app.

People are making content and building courses based off of their favorite productivity apps.

Photos: Courtesy

This is the creators' internet. The rest of us are just living in it. We're accustomed to the scores of comedy TikTokers, beauty YouTubers and lifestyle Instagram influencers gracing our feeds. A significant portion of these creators are productivity gurus, advising their followers on how they organize their lives.

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there's a surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app. They're a powerful part of these apps' ecosystems, drawing users to the platform and offering helpful tips and tricks. Notion in particular has a huge influencer family, with #notion gaining millions of views on TikTok.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Payments Infrastructure

Fintech: Payments Infrastructure

A data-driven ranking of the most powerful players in tech — and the challengers best positioned to disrupt them.

Welcome back to the Protocol Power Index, a ranking of the most powerful companies by tech industry subsector, as well as the companies best positioned to challenge them. This time: payments infrastructure.

The payments stack has been evolving dramatically in the last decade with the rise of ecommerce and new forms of money transfers, and though it's a sector that's been touched by Midas through each of its iterations, there's somehow still space for newcomers to be minted. Payments giants have ceded coveted territory to new market entrants during the process, but they are hardly down for the count.

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Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
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