Freedom of Faceless Community

In this changed world, remote working has become the new norm for many people, and we at Brakesoft are no exception. For the entire duration of Swift: Galaxy Trails, our team has worked remotely from the relative comfort of our own homes. In this Game Dev Coffee Chat, we’ll discuss how working from home has affected us and what we have learned during it.

Faceless community

Most of our team has never met each other. Moreover as we rarely have our cameras turned on, we haven’t really even seen each other. We could be walking down the same streets and none of us would be any wiser. We know each other only by our voices and icons. Yet, we work together, aiming for the same shared goal. This is our own faceless community.

As with every team, our team also consists of different personalities. Some of us thrive by our lonesome selves, while others need the sense of community that co-workers provide. Hence, we’ve our own individual experiences regarding remote working. For some of us, working from our own sofas has been a blast, while others have missed easier communication. Additionally, there are those who haven’t experienced any major changes and might feel a bit indifferent regarding the whole remote working situation.

Building a team spirit and a sense of belonging has been one the more challenging aspects of faceless community. During the first few weeks, we tried to organize virtual coffee breaks or some gaming sessions. However, due to us all having our individual schedules, most of these team building efforts fell through. As the project progressed, each of us became busier and busier with our own tasks and gradually team spirit efforts became less. Having a stronger sense of belonging via more casual team building events became one of those nice-to-have situations, which nobody had much time for.

The good stuff

Working from home has allowed us to choose our own individual working hours. No matter if we’re a night owl or an early bird, we have been able to work during our most productive hours. Slack has proved to be an effective communication platform for us. It has allowed us to maintain steady communication, even when we aren’t physically together. Combined with our weekly meetings over Skype and Discord, we have managed to maintain a level of communication, regardless of all the communication issues we have discussed previously.

For some of us, working from home has even created a space for improved focus and productivity. Without any outside stimulation it has been easy to just pop some music on and get down to the business. Tasks that might have taken several hours to complete before can now be done in only a few hours. Independent workers have thrived under these situations, as the greater freedom and undisrupted work environment create an opportunity for a steel-like focus.

Alas, with no time wasted in commuting, we found out that there’s suddenly more hours to a day. It has been nice to invest this newly freed up time into other areas. Working out and spending some quality personal time doing things that bring us joy has become increasingly more heightened during this past year. Finding a life outside this project has allowed each one of us to improve our skills and provided a chance to pursue some new interests.

And the not so good stuff

However, it hasn’t been all butterflies and jellybeans. Besides the previously mentioned lack of proper team bonding, we have experienced other issues during this past year. For example, logging in to Slack takes effort, and some impromptu comments and questions may for this reason never see the light of a day. After all, if you’re in a shared office space, it’s far easier to grab a coffee and sit down to discuss about any issues that might pop up. In worst cases, the lack of these seemingly tiny questions have eventually avalanched into larger misunderstandings and development roadblocks.

Lack of communication and physical presence also lead into the problems we have faced during the testing process. With the Brakesoft’s team scattered all around Finland, it has been challenging to share our personal testing experiences. While we have a dedicated space for reporting any bugs and issues, there are still times when this hasn’t been enough. We all have different phones, we use to test Swift: Galaxy Trails. Hence, it can be difficult to explain some bugs and issues that occur on different devices. It can also be hard to determine what the original root of these issues are, without having access to the said device.

Waning attention is a natural flip side of the improved focus. It’s easy to get lost in YouTube and see the 100th cat video, while you only intended to take a short break. When there’s no peer pressure to get back to work, it’s easier to justify clicking that next video. And suddenly, before you might even notice, an hour or two has passed. In order to take back the lost time, you might then work longer hours. Before you even notice, your work life and personal life have begun to mix up more.  When this starts to happen, it can become increasingly more difficult to keep them separate. This can lead into increased stress levels, mixed work results and even burning out.

All of this underlying stress can eventually affect motivation.  Asking help isn’t always easy and the computer screen creates an additional barrier for this. In this faceless community when there’s nobody to give that extra push when needed, the weight of everything might slowly continue to become heavier and heavier. Until, one day you wake up beneath a crushing weight of these dismissed issues. During those moments it’s important to pause and take a breather. Create a space between work life and personal life and allow them to co-exist together, but separate. By setting up clear working hours and keeping the weekend free from work, we have managed to regain our work-life balance.

Stay tuned for our next Game Dev Coffee Chat, where we’ll share our tips and tricks for maintaining motivation and mental health, while working remotely.

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