Isolation Nation: best practices and insights about remote videogame creation
The Isolation Nation report was created by Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan with the Game Arts International Network. The report emerged out of interviews and surveys with 70 game studios across Canada with the goal of sharing challenges, tips, and best practices for making games when working from home. In this excerpt, we learn about what your manager secretly wants to tell you about #WFH.
You can access the full report here. To hear more from Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan and Jim Munroe from GAIN about putting together the Isolation Nation report, you can listen to our Now & Next podcast episode here.
What your manager secretly wants to tell you about WFH
In our interviews with game studios across the country, we heard the same issues
over and over again from the people tasked with managing remote teams. Would
you like to peek inside the mind of your manager? Managing up, or finding ways to
manage your manager, can be a useful career skill. Understanding their point of view
will come in handy!
“I can’t read your mind”
Despite advances in surveillance capitalism, I can’t read your mind. When you are working from home, I can’t see you and I have no idea how you are doing or what you are doing. All I see are the results. When you don’t meet a deadline, I don’t know if you missed it because the workload was unrealistic, or because you are having a major life crisis, or if it’s because you are binge-watching conspiracy videos. If you are overwhelmed with work while caretaking your toddler, I need you to tell me. If you are stuck, let me know!
“Please don’t go silent on me”
In the office, if you are unresponsive to a message I can glance over and see you deeply focusing on something else. But when you are unresponsive and working from
home, I don’t have any clues as to what is happening. Be upfront with your communication style. If you can, keep your calendar up to date with blocks for your deep-focus work. I never want to break your focus with my non-urgent chat message.
“I can’t set goals without you” Team management is so much harder with work-from-home. It doesn’t matter how much research I do. Without your help, I’ll underestimate or overestimate how long tasks take. Help me set reasonable milestones. Consistently communicate your progress so I can set all the moving parts of the game launch in place without a thousand renegotiations or moved deadlines.
“Cheer loudly for yourself”
I have a lot of other things going on, and it’s easy for me to forget how much you are doing. Most work is invisible and this presents a huge challenge for a remote worker. It helps if you can be your own advocate and keep a written list of what you are working on and what you have achieved. Please share your contributions with me. I want to celebrate your achievements with you.
“Ask for help”
When you work from home, you have the additional job of managing yourself. I know, it’s not ideal. But the bright side is that micro-management is nearly impossible through a monitor. People who thrive at work-from-home are usually self-motivated and self-directed. But they also know when to run up a white flag and ask for help.
“We need to get better at communicating with each other”
When hiring someone for remote work, my first question after “can they do this job?” is “can they communicate well?” Poor communication is expensive. It increases the need for frequent meetings and endless back-and-forths. Communication difficulties sap morale, create conflict, and make unnecessary work for everyone. Communication is something that happens between people and we’re all collectively responsible for it.
“Set boundaries with me”
I don’t know what works for you. It’s part of my job to help you stretch and grow, and so I’ll probably keep asking for more until you give me some kind of signal that you have reached the perfect challenge level. I need you to set boundaries that are healthy for you. I know that uneven power dynamics, lack of a safety net, and toxic work histories make boundary-setting difficult and sometimes even impossible. But if you don’t assert your boundaries I won’t have a chance to respect them. Give me a chance?
“I’m actively looking for ways to build team health — help?” Game development is creative and collaborative. It’s impossible to be creative and collaborative without trust and rapport. But rapport is much harder to maintain or build online. Sure, we’ve experimented with playing games together over a video call, we’ve organized informal morning coffee sessions, and we do the occasional online escape room. I know you need more, so I’d welcome your help finding activities that
work for you and make you feel excited about being part of the team.