HOW WE KEEP OUR OPEN COMMUNICATION ON COURSE WHILE WORKING FROM HOME
Let me start off by introducing myself. My name is Dan, and I’m a co-founder of a game studio called Fall Damage. We are located in Stockholm, Sweden. I’ve been in the game industry for almost a decade and running this studio together with my co-founders for the past four years.
In this blog post, I want to share how we at Fall Damage have tackled the challenge of maintaining frictionless and open communication while working from home. Ultimately, this is directed to anyone who wants to get a glimpse of our current working situation or is interested in how to create a virtual office using Discord.
THE CHALLENGE OF WORKING FROM HOME
At the beginning of 2020 Covid started to spread across the globe and by early March we decided that everyone in the office was taking their computer home. Work from home was now a thing we needed to figure out properly. We went to a fully remote working organization almost overnight as we were already working mostly with cloud-based software.
At Fall Damage we use the common things other companies use, Google Workspace for emails and documents, Jira for task tracking, Slack for text chat and Google Meets for video conversations. However, not being able to casually talk with your colleagues is something that we feared would hurt our company culture and the organic connections the team had made from working together in the same office space.
You see, from the moment we founded Fall Damage we have valued attitude and personality as much as skill when it comes to recruitment. Our process when interviewing candidates has multiple steps, from meeting the founders to meeting a group of team members - all to determine if the person in question is a good fit. It is not always about who is the most skilled, but also how a person can add new insights and diversity to the team. We believe that this is one of the main causes why during our recurring retrospectives, where we evaluate the past few months from product to organizational perspectives, the team always scores the best.
With that said - going full remote just eliminates the possibility to do physical high fives after play tests or overhearing and joining discussions which organically grow into fantastic ideas. Friction, again, is a problem when it comes to working remotely. I use the word friction as often as a bad habit.
FRICTIONLESS SOCIAL INTERACTIONS
Before joining the gaming industry I worked at a Swedish startup named Klarna, which is primarily a payment provider within e-commerce. During my time there the never-ending topics of conversion (online browsing customer to paying customer) and friction (how easy can we make the conversion) echoed in the halls.
Just as businesses in e-commerce try to make frictionless payments I believe we need to have the same goals when it comes to social interactions. Perhaps just by doing something a little bit differently, you and your team can get closer to that point.
We sat down in March and discussed the kind of remote working culture that we wanted to adapt to. We ultimately decided that we wanted to maintain as much of the frictionless social interactions as possible from home, and could best do that by setting up a virtual office. Our focus was to create a base of open communication. We wanted everyone to be on group voice chat by default, in virtual rooms, rather than building our remote working culture around excessive meetings and 1:1 communication.
This led us to explore different software solutions that could meet our demands. We even looked at some outliers and newly released solutions. Ultimately we decided on what is almost every pc gamer’s favorite communications solution; Discord. Discord is quite similar to Slack in many ways but has historically profiled itself towards gamers and the software has many features that encapsulate gaming. But! You don’t need to be into gaming to use Discord at all, far from it. The software can be used as an extremely powerful tool to stay in touch with your friends and colleagues, disregarding the gaming aspect.
OUR VIRTUAL OFFICE
So, what does Discord look like and why is it so good? I won’t go into the details of setting up a discord server, there are plenty easy-to-follow guides for that. What I do want to do is to give you an overview on what it looks like. At least, what our Discord server looks like on a typical work day at Fall Damage.
Once you join the server you will have multiple channels on the left side. These are split into two categories, Text Channels and Voice Channels. We don’t use the former very much, something I’ll explain soon, but the Voice Channels is where the impact of Discord really shines.
It suited us best to create a separate channel for each of the disciplines we have at Fall Damage. If I would have scrolled down further in the list below, I would have found more channels and more people in each channel. During working hours, I can always find my colleagues somewhere, they are in rooms just like our physical office. I can jump around freely and talk to them.
Discord enables us to communicate effortlessly. I’m comparing the experience with using other software, where it is almost a prerequisite to have a specific topic to talk about before making a directed call. We have discussions about random things while working, someone can come over easily with a spontaneous idea without scheduling a meeting, you can easily share your screen and get input on your work, we’ve had “Swedish Fikas” with people turning on their cameras and just hanging out for a bit. Does it sound familiar? Not exactly like a real office but pretty close to it. Or as I would say, quite frictionless. The benefit of using Discord is that it makes it a lot easier for people to socially interact with each other. Sure, you can use Zoom, Google Meets or Slack for scheduled meetings, text and voice chat but it is not the same thing in my opinion, far from it.
This far, our decision to use Discord for virtual offices has been a success. Which is also the reason why I wrote this post. We have seen that the team spirit and cohesion is still strong in the team, even though we haven’t actually met in over a year. We have also managed to keep our productivity and creativity high, while still managing to maintain a boundary between the virtual office and private life.
During 2020 our studio grew from 15 people to almost 40, and I believe that our virtual office has been essential for us being able to onboard, integrate and welcome our new team members. Of course, it is not up to me to determine if we have succeeded with this or not. But based on the conversations that I have had with our new joiners and the results of our milestone retrospectives, I believe that we have.
However, we find that Discord has its own flaws and for text chat, we use Slack. I imagine that you already are using Slack and see all the benefits from it. Great historical search, easy to set-up multi user conversations, great plugins etc. Discord has text chat, it is quite capable but it's just not as good as Slack. This is why we use both, one for voice and video and one for text and I must honestly say that it works really well.
OUR FUTURE AND CLOSING THOUGHTS
Even though you might not switch to using Discord after reading this, it might encourage you to evaluate how the team you work with communicate and how you can improve. I believe that it is important to take along our working from home lessons and to let them inspire how we handle in-office as well as remote work after the pandemic.
At Fall Damage, we recently spoke about the scenario when all or some of us start working from the office again. Discord has proven to be a powerful tool for communication outside of gaming with your friends, to the extent that I believe we will have an easier time to go from an open landscape office space to something more closed off. I think that going forward at Fall Damage, regardless if you are at home or at the office, you will login to Discord and join your team members digitally. The combination of easily sharing screens and reaching all of your colleagues with a click is a wonderful thing that works with both working at an office, or from home.
Finally, I just wanted to say that neither I, nor Fall Damage, have any affiliation with Discord other than using their service and going through their convoluted way of paying for Server Boosts.
I hope you stay safe during these trying times and don’t hesitate to reach out @mrVaderdan on twitter or Dan Vaderlind on Linkedin.