Home Remedies

A game designer’s guide to working remotely

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

I struggled with remote work the first few months in the pandemic.

My attention span and motivation suddenly went ka-poof, leaving me to get better acquainted with the twin pitfalls of procrastination and miscommunication. Aside from the whole working from home thing I couldn’t quite figure out why it was so hard for me to adjust. After a fair amount of trial and error, I figured it out: the lack of constants and stabilising habits was what had been holding me back.

Making up new habits and rituals takes time and consistency, and for me it seemed a very daunting task. But I knew that as long as I delayed renewing my routine to keep pace with the “new normal”, problems would keep cropping up. Slowly, I started picking up and nailing down good habits that helped me, and by extension my co-workers, get things done. In my first article for Mighty Bear, I’ll be detailing the different elements of my approach in the hope they’ll offer some guidance!

1. Separate your space

Some of us tend to procrastinate a lot more when working from home. I myself am particularly prone because I’m working from my bedroom, which my mind has long associated with “rest and play” rather than work. Though it sounds easier said than done, the all-important first step toward working optimally during the pandemic is separating out your space.

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Separating your space means designating a “work-only” area and setting out what is and isn’t appropriate to do in that space — for example, not doing things like playing games or watching TV in the space you’re using for work. It’s also important to outright avoid these activities during work hours. It may be tough at first, but you’ll find yourself accustomed to it before too long.

Try to work outside your bedroom if you can. I find it harder to adjust to work in the bedroom than in any other space in the house. Only have your bedroom to work with? Don’t fret! This is where your separated sections will come in handy — a divided room will keep you in the right headspace for work and, later, leisure. This is helped by small extra measures like putting all your work-related things on one side of the room and the rest on the other side, or simply not allowing yourself into the non-work side at all during work hours.

If you’re feeling a little bit extra, dress up in the morning like you’re going to work! Anything to make the “work” half of your space feel like a mini office.

2. Track all your tasks!

Early on, I found myself forgetting my tasks more often when working from home (despite my very, very, very scary pile of Jira cards). One reason for this, I realised, was that I was no longer sharing a space with any of my collaborators. When working in an office, sometimes just seeing or chit-chatting with a co-worker can remind you of a task that involves them. Problems and blockers are also resolved much more easily when you’re all there to hash them out together. When working from home with a team spanning 3 or 4 different timezones, processes aren’t as straightforward and results aren’t always immediate.

If your tasks aren’t captured and diligently tracked, all it takes is one extremely busy week and some tasks might be forgotten altogether! Equally, you might find yourself doing everything you can remember being assigned in one week-long burst of activity, leaving you spent and lethargic. If you sort out your tasks as they come in and plan head, it might help you decide how best to spend your energy!

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You probably see task-tracking guides everywhere — and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have found they don’t always do the job right away. I struggled with the organisational overhead of breaking down tasks until I started making the chunks so minuscule that it was impossible for me not to complete them. Illustrator Ira (@baph0meat on twitter) explains this in more detail through their drawings on the subject.

I break down the tasks in my tracker into the simplest, most manageable sub-stages possible. An example would be tackling the tasks “Redo meta progression for character B” and “Redo XY calc for coins” individually, instead of just as one task labelled “Meta for character B”. I now use this to account for everything I do throughout the day — down to taking my morning tea!

This helps me a lot as I can be forgetful when extra busy (the perfect recipe for game-designer stress). Task trackers also help me manage the full scope of my work since they accounts for things outside the ones listed in your Jira/Clickup /Monday cards, which makes for a much more flexible way to distribute your time and energy.

3. All hail the sacred tomato timer

The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management hack that has you break up your work for the day into fragments. The idea is that you pick a task, set an alarm for 25 minutes (or any amount — 50 minutes works well for me!), and focus for the entire duration. This session is called a ‘Pomodoro’: you’re not allowed to do anything else other than the task during that period of time. When the alarm goes off, you stop working and take a short break (5–10 minutes). Next, you tackle another task for another Pomodoro. After 3 Pomodoro you’re rewarded with a long break — 30 minutes or so.

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The Pomodoro Technique goes hand in hand with my previous step. Once you’ve broken your task down into small enough chunks, you can work on it one Pomodoro at a time. I find myself losing track of time when I work at home when working on one task for a an extended amount of time, so the Pomodoro Technique also helps me prevent work fatigue. For every 50 minutes I work I take 10 minutes of rest: it may sound small, but in the long run it keeps me from burning out.

Being productive is important, but nothing is more important than affording yourself enough rest. It’s good to give your body some time to recalibrate after staring at a spreadsheet for almost an hour straight. Thinking and working in Pomodoros can also help you determine exactly how much time is needed for a given task, so if in the future you do the same task again you can plan accordingly.

4. Use the heck out of emojis

This might sound like a weird one, but I sometimes find it hard to parse other people’s intentions or emotions through text — with the added complication that everyone texts differently! I’ll often worry a co-worker is being super serious all the time or angry at me when they’re actually completely chill — come to find out it’s just how they text.

Aside from their use in memes and jokes, emoji and GIFs can function as important tone indicators. When I feel my own text reads a little ambiguously I’ll slap an emoji at the end — or, uh, spam about three. My personal favorite emoji suffix? Definitely this one: 👀 👀 👀

If, like me, you’re a little awkward, emoji and GIFs can be valuable ice breakers. Some of the funniest (and most productive) conversations I’ve had with colleagues have been kicked off by a cat dance emoji.

Between building relationships and providing extra clarity, there’s no real reason to resist emoji when talking to your colleagues. Slap some 🤠s in there and get to it!

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5. Visibility checks

This is a company-wide practice at Mighty Bear but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t help me out immensely. Some of us work in timezones several hours ahead or behind SGT (Singapore Time), and inevitably this means missing out on meetings. Luckily, for me it’s just an hour’s difference — but for those who are still snoozing in bed, morning standups and other crucial recurring syncs are always recorded so others know what’s going on with the company and ongoing projects. As a backup, there are always comprehensive meeting notes.

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While work conversations sometimes naturally extend to direct messages, these are cross-posted to relevant shared Slack channels once they require others’ attention. There are also daily check-ins in place for each discipline so talking points can be raised in front of the team as a whole. Having these processes in place ensure everything goes smoothly and problems are addressed just as soon as they arise.

That’s all from me! I hope this article was enjoyable and helpful — feel free to leave some comments if you have any other tips or questions on managing remote work!

Home Remedies was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.