- The rise of remote working during COVID-19 has, for some people, caused a creativity slump.
- David Darling, the video games veteran who co-founded Codemasters, hasn’t had that problem. His mobile studio Kwalee has hired 25 new staff and released two games during lockdown.
- Darling tells Business Insider he’s never been a fan of working from home — but now he’s a convert. Kwalee has more than 80 staff, and he’s found various strategies for keeping them all creative.
- He shared his six top tips for fostering creativity when working from home during lockdown. They include cutting down the size of video calls and ensuring staff have office comforts at home.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In his 34 years in the video game industry, David Darling — who cofounded British studio Codemasters with his brother in 1986 and sold his stake for a share of £80 million in 2007 — has always believed staff need to work under one roof, so they can easily bounce ideas off one another. Then COVID-19 forced Darling, who now runs mobile gaming studio Kwalee, to rethink his approach.
Kwalee’s mobile games such as “Draw It,” “Rocket Sky!” and “Go Fish!” have been downloaded more than 400 million times. Its 90 or so staff had to adapt quickly to working remotely: It launched “Bake It” in April and saw downloads reach 10 million in the first month. It followed this by releasing “Line Up: Draw The Criminal” in July, which was downloaded 6 million times in just three weeks. As many companies across industries scaled back, Kwalee expanded. It hired 25 new staff, offering roles to people in Turkey, Poland, Brazil, China, India, and Spain.
Fostering creativity while staff are stuck at home, communicating via video chat, can be difficult — but Kwalee, and Darling, has managed to make it work. He tells Business Insider he’s “been converted into a work-from-home believer.”
Here, the skeptic-turned-convert shares his six tips for maintaining your business’ creativity while working from home.
Experiment with home-working tools: Kwalee uses one with ‘always-on’ microphones to simulate office chatter
It took Kwalee a while to establish which remote-working tech worked best in different contexts. It previously relied on Slack for quick internal communication and Skype to speak to people outside the company. Since going remote, staff have started using Zoom, Discord, and conferencing service BlueJean — and Darling encourages others to try out different tools until they find what works for their team.
Discord, a popular chat app among gamers, has an “always on” voice function that worked well for Kwalee’s design and marketing teams, because it simulated the spontaneity of office conversations, Darling says. “They can jump on their Discord server throughout the day and feel like they’re sitting next to their teammates — bringing back the opportunity for those creative conversations that start with ‘hey, what if we did this?'”
BlueJeans works well for video calls with many participants, which was “essential when hosting a meeting with 80-plus staff,” Darling says.
For external meetings, the team uses Zoom, the video-calling app that rocketed to fame during the pandemic. “You never really run into roadblocks where someone doesn’t have an account or knows how to use it,” says Darling. “We’ve even designed our own branded Zoom backgrounds. Meetings feel more professional and it takes away the pressure of ensuring whatever is behind you at home is clean and pristine.”
Maintain pre-pandemic office events whenever possible, such as ‘creative Wednesdays’
Although staff are working from home, Kwalee retains the events and structures of office life. “A key part has been ‘creative Wednesdays’ — a slot where anyone in the company can pitch an idea for a game and, if it gains approval from their peers, get it made and potentially profit from its success,” he says.
“It’s where many of our games come from, so we couldn’t risk losing this just because we weren’t all together in person.”
The company has also kept all its usual catch-ups, and managers kick off or close the day with quick check-ins. “Early on we discovered there’s no use in holding off until ‘things are back to normal’ because no one knows when that will be.”
Keep meetings simple and concise
Remote working showed Kwalee that hour-long meetings could be trimmed to 30 minutes instead, Darling says. ‘Creative Wednesdays’ used to require multiple slides, but the team now appreciates that a one-page pitch is enough.
Darling has also slimmed down Kwalee’s marketing: The focus before was polished videos with “top-notch lighting, camera and sound.” But now, the company is finding that “the ‘homemade’ feel of a Zoom or phone recording is now an accepted format, and are looking at ways of integrating this into some of our marketing — saving time and budget.”
Invite fewer people to video meetings
Anyone who has been in a video meeting will be familiar with the awkward to-and-fro of deciding who speaks at any one time — and the more people attending, the more you’ll hear “no, you go first.”
“We’ve found it best to get into smaller groups to discuss things to move them along, and then bring in only the people that need to be involved,” Darling says.
“Instead of big meetings, smaller one-on-one chats can be all that’s required to quickly move things forward … Again this can make things more efficient, and frees up people who might otherwise unnecessarily be invited along to focus on their own tasks.”
Ensure your staff have office comforts at home
A home office only works perfectly when you have the right space and equipment. Kwalee supplied desks, chairs, and other equipment to staff who needed them. “Actual offices are set up with work in mind, but you need to think the same way about people’s own spaces for this to work well,” he says.
“Companies such as Uber have given their staff $500 for their home office set up. It is obvious that being mindful of different scenarios is a must.”
Set boundaries for a work-life balance
The lack of an office erodes boundaries, and there’s a danger that work can spill into someone’s leisure time: Research shows that people are working longer hours during COVID-19 than before the pandemic. On Slack, users can set their status to ‘Away,’ and Kwalee has made custom statuses to show when people are on lunch, done for the day, on holiday, caring for the family, or even making coffee.
“We’ve also started communicating with all staff about who is and isn’t on holiday each day, as we’ve found this can also remove any confusion of whether someone is contactable or not. [It’s] a small thing that makes a big difference to the efficiency of your teams as everyone is kept more in the loop with everything that’s going on.”