With the COVID-19 virus spreading rapidly across the globe, many towns, cities, and even entire countries are going into lockdown. As a result, a lot of businesses are asking their employees to work from home. For many, this is a completely new experience, but for others, this is just a normal day at the office.
As a virtual studio, we, at Forgotten Empires, have had the past 8 years to perfect the art of working from home. So how do we do it? How do we manage a franchise as massive as Age of Empires from the comfort of our own homes?
Below, we’ve put together a list of hints and tips to help you navigate the world of working remotely.
You need to create a dedicated workspace; something to separate your work life from your home life. Perhaps you already have an office space at home, or you have a spare room that you can convert into an office. Even if you don’t, that’s okay. You’ll find you can set aside a workspace for yourself almost anywhere, whether by clearing off a section of the kitchen table, or dragging a desk next to the window (office with a view!) It’s very important that you have a dedicated workspace, as this will get you into a ‘working’ frame of mind. Sitting on the couch with your laptop on your knee may work for a while, but it will ultimately eat away at your concentration and your productivity.
me and me dad are sharing the dining room table working from home today. He’s an aerospace engineer on a conference call ordering fuselage prototypes and I’m drawing a duck— lydia 🍃 (@lydiakahill) March 19, 2020
Most jobs follow a strict timetable, and you should stick to that when working from home. If you’re used to working 9-5, keep your schedule. You don’t want to snooze away your mornings. You’ll find the commute to the office much quicker while working from home, so you’ll still get a little extra shuteye every morning. Bonus points!
Additionally, if you are able to, go outside at least once a day. Go for a little stroll around the block, take the dog for a walk, or at the very least open the window and take a breather. You’re allowed breaks at the office, and you should take breaks at home too.
Not going out means … not getting dressed, right?! Not quite. While it’s tempting to work in your pyjamas, it’s not a very good idea. Get dressed, fix your hair; act as though you’re still heading to the office. It’s all an important part of keeping your routine. As someone who’s been working from home for the past 8 years, I can tell you that pyjama-parties don’t make for a very efficient work day.
You’re probably not the only one working from home. The rest of your team will be as well. Many people find communication to be the trickiest part of working remotely. All of a sudden you can’t just lean over to the cubicle next to you and ask your co-worker a question. Now you’re messaging and emailing and texting like you’ve never texted before!
This is probably where the FE team has grown the most over the years. Communication isn’t easy. Communication over the web isn’t easy. And communication between different timezones and cultures certainly isn’t easy.
Communicate a lot. Communicate too much! At Forgotten Empires we often say things once, twice, even thrice! Often we’ll include people in messages that they may not necessarily need, just to keep them in the loop. It’s better to know too much than too little, especially if you’re working as a team on a single project. You’ll quickly learn to distinguish emails that require your attention, from emails that are just there to keep you in the loop.
If you’re using IM software such as Slack, Discord, Skype, etc. get to know the notification settings. Working from home means you have to get used to receiving a lot more messages, but it must not become a distraction. You’ll quickly find what notification settings work best for you and your job.
It’s easy to misread text. There’s no intonation, no body language, no facial expressions; and things can easily be misunderstood. Emojis and emoticons have helped a bit, but nothing truly replaces a proper video call. If you need to discuss something quickly with a co-worker, just hop on a call. Don’t waste your time explaining yourself through text.
This goes for team calls as well. Don’t hesitate to get those going; just make sure to have a conversation leader and an agenda to follow. And don’t worry about awkward silences, you’ll get used to them. Just think of them as “thoughtful pauses”.
This also brings me back to my earlier advice, ‘get dressed!’ You don’t want to catch your co-workers without their pants on, and I’m sorry to break it to you, but the feeling is probably mutual.
You probably chat to your co-workers at the office, and that shouldn’t change when working from home (no, I don’t mean the dog). Work is already serious enough. Put aside a space to chat with your co-workers. This will help to lighten the mood, and develop a ‘team’ mindset. An off-topic room in Slack or an extra 5 minutes of chit-chat after a serious call goes a loooooooong way.
Even though Forgotten Empires has been a virtual company for many years now, we don’t always work from home. Each year we try to organize meet-ups with the team. During these meet-ups we hang out, explore the city we’re meeting at, and play the games we work on. We find a lot of our game-balance decisions get made at these LAN parties. 😀
While, for now, we’re all confined to our homes, there will come a time when we can finally go out again. Perhaps an escape from the monotony is exactly what you and your team will need once this is all over and done with.
Maybe these FE LAN parties would be a great topic for a future blog post, but for now, I’ve included a few pictures of the team during our previous FE LAN/Meet-ups.