Peter Causley, CEO and co-founder of Lightning Box Games, discusses maintaining creativity remotely.
When the COVID-19 outbreak suddenly forced everyone to shut down offices and swiftly implement work from home strategies, businesses across multiple industries faced major operational disruption. Adapting to the new environment has been easier for some than others, as normal working processes are no longer available and communication can at times be fragmented. While working remotely can lead to greater efficiency due to the elimination of office distractions and interruptions, what is gained in productivity is often missed in benefits like team collaboration and innovative thinking (often borne out of those very office disruptions mentioned above), which in games content development is critical to allowing creativity to flourish.
So, when working from home without the day-to-day office distractions, we see people tend to get more of their own personal work done. However, the challenge for creative studios is how to encourage and maintain the team’s collaborative effort in design. In our industry, there is no real rhyme or reason to finding sources of inspiration; but it helps to be able to bounce ideas off colleagues and brainstorm new concepts. Research has shown that working together in the same room is more conducive to problem solving than working remotely and that team cohesion finds its natural home in the office environment. Introducing online conferencing applications has, in part, helped to keep up communication but these virtual interactions do not fully compensate for the ad hoc game meetings, or random discussions over a coffee, that light the fuse on the next million-dollar idea.
Although some personality types might be well-suited to the anonymity of working more on their own at home, you cannot completely do away with team input. Content creation requires cross collaboration throughout the business: from the artists and sound engineers to the animators and mathematicians, it is the effective coordination of each team’s output that delivers a successful, holistic end product. Even our contractors that have typically worked remotely participate throughout the interactive process with regular meetings. We’ve found what is missed from not being in the office is the quick review, or the flash of something on a screen as you walk by that prompts an idea on how to improve a concept.
Our company has tried to recreate this level of interaction in the home environment with Zoom prototyping sessions, where each week the whole team collectively views a few key games that are coming along in the design stage. This can encourage spontaneous calls between the maths and graphics team members, working on specific products to help keep the creative design process flowing as normally as possible. After settling in at home, a key goal was to not only maintain business as usual but to go above and beyond to ensure our output continues to uphold high-quality standards, while also continuing to move the dial. We have been blown away by the efforts of our team and how quickly they have transitioned to work together effectively and efficiently under these difficult circumstances. More than that, we’ve also been brought closer together by the distance, sharing a Friday night beer on screen or turning a debate on our favourite films into a competition that engaged every member of the company and gave us greater insight into our colleagues.
Since creativity is about looking at things differently, there is also an argument that the remarkable new world in which we find ourselves could prove to be an untapped source of inspiration. Changes to the normal routine and being outside the office opens up more stimulation from outside the industry; while the space and distance forced upon us under these novel circumstances might allow room for clarity and fresher output. Providing the connectivity critical to business operations is maintained, ideas continue to be shared and technology is leveraged to provide a structure for communication, creativity can, despite the odds, improve.
After the initial teething troubles which business around the world faced, our remote working strategy at Lightning Box has run so smoothly we are considering keeping one day a week free as a work from home day – even once we have returned to business as usual. In Sydney, the end is almost in sight and we may be returning to the office by the end of this month. But it is important that, when the dust eventually settles, however long that may be, we emerge out of this testing period with valuable lessons learned in communication. We look forward to regrouping as a stronger business and influencing the creation of our own new normal.