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Remote workers in game development: Boon or burden?

Remote workers in game development: Boon or burden?

September 17, 2013 | By Brandon Sheffield

Devin Reimer, CTO of OwlChemy Labs, thinks remote workers are an excellent choice for indie teams.

"Remote workers are a challenge, but they're incredibly valuable, especially to us," he said during a lecture at GDC China. "The CEO of Yahoo, when she joined, said 'no more remote workers, everyone has to work in the office!' She has no idea what she's talking about. Remote workers are the best thing that could happen to an organization."

"For one thing, it allows you to work with the best," he said. "You can get people from all over the world. It doesn't matter where they live. It allows for happier employees, less time commuting, and it allows people to have better flexibility and family time. Sometimes you just need time that you're not going to be at work."

But not everyone can do this, he says. "It takes a special kind of person to be a remote worker. The question is, if no-one is looking, will you do great work? If the answer is yes, you might be a good remote worker."

If they can't communicate well, it's almost certainly not going to work. "We've had some instances where bad communication led to a very bad working relationship," he added. "When you're not face to face and you're only on email, sometimes people take things as very negative, when it wasn't meant to be. You need someone where it's alright to be about the work, and doesn't affect them personally."

"What we do is leave Skype video on all day," he says. "Alex Schwartz (OwlChemy Labs CEO) and I have a Skype video every day, even if we're not talking to each other. I'll be in the middle of something, and I will have a problem, and I'll just talk to my computer."

"You also need people to be able to subtly change their schedule sometimes, to accommodate other people on the team," he added. "You have to allow for schedule flexibility. Some people work better at night, some in the morning. We do have some core-ish hours, where we let people know we have a bunch of chats today, but otherwise we let people be flexible."

The team has group chats every day, with everyone on the team that needs to be involved, while leaving those people who don't need to be involved alone.

"Lastly, we strongly recommend that people commit and share their work every day," he cautioned. "You're working on something, tell people what you're working on, show other people what you're working on. We've had some problems with people who don't want you to think their work is low quality, so they'll hold off on their commit for a while, but they can go off in the wrong direction, and then it doesn't work at all. So committing every day works for us."

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