Pokémon Go gets green light at Triangle companies

Playing Pokémon Go – it’s not a game, it’s a cultural phenomenon! – has become a bonding experience for co-workers at companies across the Triangle.

Especially tech companies.

The augmented reality game, played on a smartphone, is so popular among employees at RTI International that the company has put the kibosh on employees using its WiFi to play. But it’s OK if they use their personal data plan.

Spokeswoman Lisa Bistreich-Wolfe said the Pokemon-inspired WiFi congestion was affecting the performance of RTI’s business applications.

Guess that’s to be expected at an organization headquartered in Research Triangle Park that has its own virtual reality/augmented reality lab.

Some companies see benefits from the game.

“It appears to be contributing to cross-functional team building – employees that don’t normally work together are interacting more because of it, and it’s helping our employees get out and explore their community more in their downtime,” said Julie Geer, spokeswoman for Citrix Systems. “We haven’t heard of any instances of it causing too much distraction” because employees are generally playing during their breaks at the software company’s office in downtown Raleigh.

Matthew Gardiner, 26, a corporate sales manager at Citrix, said playing the game has introduced him to co-workers he didn’t know.

Gardiner typically joins a group of Citrix employees who walk together to nearby Nash Square after work, where they inevitably also meet other co-workers.

“I think there’s five or six (PokéStops) down there,” he said. “And there’s some people who always will put down a Lure ... which attracts a lot of Pokémon but it also attracts a lot of people too.”

(If you’re not up to speed on the world of Pokémon Go, suffice it to say that a PokéStop is where players can get the tools they need to catch the animated characters. A Lure, as the name applies, is a magnet for the creatures.)

A group of employees at Red Hat’s headquarters in downtown Raleigh – at least 25 on some days – were walking the streets as a group during their lunch hour in search of the critters, said Tom Callaway, a senior software engineer. The recent heat wave put an end to that.

“There aren’t a lot of people excited about running around in 100-plus heat index,” said Callaway, 35.

Callaway, who is big on collecting things in general, did venture out and take a Pokémon-inspired walk on Wednesday. But he did so all by his lonesome.

“I’m not afraid of the heat as long as I’m smart about it,” he said.

Lenovo – the world’s No. 1 PC maker and, more relevantly, a major producer of smartphones – and its employees have definitely embraced the game, reports spokeswoman Milanka Muecke.

“There are several PokéStops on Lenovo’s campus in Morrisville and our fitness center doubles as a Pokémon Gym,” Muecke said. (A Pokémon Gym is a training site and battle site for teams of players.)

Lenovo has even purchased Pokémon Lures to attract more creatures for employees who venture out to buy lunch from the food trucks that come every Thursday during the summer.

Lenovo’s internal communications team produced a two-minute video, which it posted on YouTube, showing employees engaged in a Pokémon hunt during a recent food truck day.

“Lenovo has the best PokéStops in town,” one employee boasts in the video.

At digital advertising technology company Netsertive in Morrisville, Pokémon Go-fueled enthusiasm can erupt in a flash.

“We’ll be sitting at our computers. We’ll be doing our work. It will be a little bit quiet and then suddenly – boom! – there’s a huge explosion of activity,” said Jenny Bramble, 32, a quality assurance engineer. “Someone has spotted a really cool Pokémon and we all have to go get it. We’ll round up four or five people and just book it out the door.”

“One of the fun things for me,” she continued, “is our receptionist. She doesn’t play, but she is excited for us because we get so excited. She’ll tell us as we’re going out, ‘Hey! Good job. Go get ’em.’ 

That spontaneity fits into the Netsertive culture.

“One of the great things about working at Netsertive,” Bramble said, “is that we’re not tied to our desks 100 percent of the day. We do have the freedom to step away from our desk, to go for a walk, to run across the street and find a Pokémon. We definitely do a lot of our playing during lunch, when we can drive somewhere, but we also play during the day.”

Bramble and Sarah Palmer, 28, an inside sales representative, are among a group of Netsertive employees in the process of organizing a “Netsertive Pokémon Pub Crawl” at downtown Raleigh bars.

“Downtown Raleigh has a lot of PokéStops,” Bramble said. “So the idea is that we will see what bars are closest to PokéStops and we will organize our Pub Crawl” accordingly.

Just as businesses such as downtown Raleigh bars and the Carolina Mudcats have latched onto Pokémon-themed events to gin up business, tech company employees have sought out ways to tie their companies into the Zeitgeist.

At SAS – where spokeswoman Shannon Heath says employees have formed an internal network for exchanging Pokémon Go playing tips and to help each other capture specific characters they covet – Robert Allison has written several Pokémon-related blogs that are posted on a company site that offers technical tips to customers.

One of the blogs posted by Allison, a principal development tester, explains “how to use some of SAS’ geospatial analytics capabilities to capture a Pikachu.”

“It’s all about making analytics relatable,” Heath said.

Allison, 51, admits that, out of necessity, most of what he knows about Pokémon Go he picked up talking to friends who are enthusiasts of the game.

“Me myself, I have a flip phone,” he deadpanned. “I just can’t get Pokémon Go to work on it. The irony of it, right?”

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii