Around the world every industry has seen significant changes, having to pivot and adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic accordingly. The video games industry is no exception to this, with the whole industry having had to re-evaluate ways of working and come up with solutions to continue game development and keep businesses running.
As part of Raise The Game's first online event - Game On: #RaiseTheGame Remotely Round-Up - we hosted a Zoom panel with many of our pledge partners to discuss what everyone has been doing to adapt to the lockdown and work remotely, while keeping diversity and inclusion front of mind.
One of our pledge partners, Codemasters, spoke to us to share the inclusive work practices and flexibility they had adopted to support their 500+ global employees and we’re delighted to share that discussion here.
In conversation were Codemasters' HR Director Julie Fish, along with Recruitment Manager, Meg Daintith. We hope that this article will inspire games developers to consider and implement some of the elements that Codemasters have put in place for the benefit of their staff and business, working remotely in an inclusive way.
Dominic: Hi Julie and Meg, thanks for sparing some time to speak with me and answer these questions. First question; Can you tell us about the general impact Covid-19 and the lockdown has had on your organisation? More specifically your D&I initiatives?
Julie: During the early stages of lockdown we had many equipment and technical challenges which was a huge undertaking for our IT team, setting everyone up to enable them to work effectively from home at very short notice. For some departments, such as Publishing, it was a relatively simple process but it was a bigger undertaking for studio teams. Another large impact has been the changes in communication, which is a critical feature to our business. We’ve had to swap face to face meetings and scrums with video calls. HR have been at the forefront of company-wide communications and we quickly set up regular updates to the whole business, including company news as well as well-being advice. We’ve encouraged all line managers to communicate regularly with their teams which they’ve done really well.
More specific to diversity and inclusion, we understand that safeguarding the impact on employee’s mental health is of paramount importance. We have implemented lots of initiatives to ensure that mental health is supported as much as possible, and that everyone feels part of the team despite being remote.
Dominic: Have you found mental health to be the biggest challenge your organisation have faced during this period?
Julie: Definitely. Some staff initially reported feelings of isolation, and we are actively supporting as much as possible. While not the same as physical contact, team leaders hold regular Teams meetings to get everyone together. We have set-up games groups so staff can get together online and arranged virtual socials, such as one for the BAFTA Games Awards.
In particular there has been a mental health impact of some staff who live alone or rent a room, and so they have limited space and contact with the “outside world”. We have also been made aware of people struggling who have family who live abroad and we have made sure to reach out and support them too.
Dominic: That's great to hear your are making personable connections with staff members who feel isolated and have family concerns. Following from that, one of the pledge pillars is the commitment to create diverse workforces and a key part of this is recruiting diversely. Has remote working resulted in new challenges for recruiting and onboarding and what are the ways we can overcome these?
Meg: I don’t believe that remote recruitment in itself has had an impact on hiring a diverse workforce - those challenges remain the same and are a key driver in our approach. There has been a period of adjustment while everybody made almost overnight changes from studio-based employment to remote working. There was short-term pressure on capacity in the transition while we all set ourselves up, and all business change requires energy, momentum and direct attention which is difficult when BAU is interrupted. However, within just a few working days we were fully operational and the challenges on diversity remain as they were. In some ways, without meeting there are potentially less opportunities for the unconscious-biases that all humans hold to manifest when qualifying capability to do the job.
Dominic: With that in mind, what changes to recruitment have been made?
Meg: The area where we can make the fastest impact to diversity is by hiring internationally. As a class A sponsor, we are used to bringing people from all cultures, locations and ethnicities from around the world into the Codemasters studios. The travel restrictions have meant that new people could not join us physically, and in response to this we now bring candidates through a remote hiring process using video calls, making job offers and starting new people remotely. The biggest implication of this is that starting remotely is not appropriate at all levels, and through experience particularly at Slightly Mad Studios (a Codemasters company) we have learned that more experienced people find it more comfortable to remote-work than entry level, graduate or interns. This has meant we are having to focus most of our attention on the established games professionals until we can bring in developing talent with the right level of support.
Dominic: Thinking deeper into that, how have you managed remote onboarding?
Meg: At Codemasters we have heavily invested in a remotely accessible onboarding platform – ironically this was slightly delayed when we began working remotely due to the impact of the virus. We are about to go live on this and it will provide a significant level of support around information flow, at what is a critical time between offer and start date. In the meantime, the Recruitment Team are very busy prior to start date with ongoing communications between new joiners and their managers.
We ensure that managers and team members are fully able to support a remote starter. This has even become part of the hiring approval process and this has led to a greater amount of preparation in several areas. This includes equipment such as shipping kit and access to the right software/hardware, but also ensuring an itinerary contains virtual coffee breaks and introductory group calls so that people can get to know their new team. In addition, we have found that clear deliverables are important for both managers and new starters to set out what’s expected. We also encourage chats and calls throughout the day alongside work to ensure the working environment is both productive and has a socially active element which is so important for connection and mental health.
Dominic: From what you both have discussed so far, that does bring to question - is communicating values of the company hard to do without a workplace to demonstrate them?
Meg: We have introduced a slightly amended version of our 'Codemasters Values Induction' presentation, which has been very well received. Presented on PowerPoint via Microsoft Teams, we have actually noticed a higher level of engagement through the chat facility with even more questions and comments coming through than when presented in person. Perhaps people feel less inhibited, but certainly the world is very used to creating and interacting with an online community these days.
Julie: Once the information is imparted, values only really come alive when they are implemented through people’s work and manager’s feedback and that circular relationship is hugely important to us. A keystone value, 'One Codemasters', is based on our firm belief that as a team we will unlock our full potential. The collaboration we have achieved remotely in such a short time has been fantastic. Alongside this, another of our core values is to empower people and be more effective from greater autonomy. To us these values have become not just possible with remote working, but in in some ways with our proactive efforts, enhanced.
Dominic: I would say that answer leads great into another question I have - while working remotely, what steps can we take to create inclusive work cultures as well as keeping our teams connected?
Julie: Creating a specific Microsoft Teams channel for staff wellbeing – providing information on wellbeing resources e.g. anxiety measures, physical health (yoga for uncertain times), hints and tips on managing homeworking, children’s activity links for staff managing childcare and work, positive news, company updates such as temporary desk set up guidance etc.
Also, provision of weekly updates from the HR Director or anyone equivalent ensuring regular comms (including senior team messages and wellbeing advice). We have 'PULSE surveys' too – aimed at all staff in all locations, monitoring how people are coping and asking what the Company can do to help. We have encouraged people to reach out if they are struggling and have put people that feel isolated in touch with each other.
Managers are making sure that those identified as struggling are being spoken to daily by Manager/colleagues. Colleagues looking out for each other (i.e. dropping off food shopping for colleagues who live alone and are self-isolating).
Dominic: Expanding on the matter more, how have you found your teams are staying connected and has there been any social activities that teams have introduced and make a regular activity at Codemasters?
Julie: Microsoft Wellbeing Teams are engaging staff in conversation. Each internal team is using their own Microsoft Teams channel to regularly communicate work issues and keep connected. Facebook at Work is also utilised for more social gatherings and gaming news. A specific Microsoft Team has been set up to bring together staff who want to game together in their social time, along with online movie nights and games nights (e.g. to play Dungeons and Dragons).
Dominic: Another question for either of you - have you noticed any specific ways that the lockdown has impacted minority or underrepresented groups in the games industry? Are there any challenges that may not be obvious to those outside these groups? Wider impact on BAME, LGBTQIA+, socio-economic groups and women in general?
Julie: The question of whether we have noticed the impact on minority or underrepresented groups in the games industry – the honest answer is no, we haven’t seen evidence of that. We have parents who have openly shared they are struggling with balancing childcare and work responsibilities, but these individuals are from all demographics, male and female alike. In their cases, we have reassured individuals that they are not expected to work in the same way (hours of work etc.) as if they were office based and we are keen for people to set up good home working structures that work for them (i.e. to make sure they take a lunch break/regular breaks and to make sure that they know they aren’t expected to work long hours etc.).
Dominic: Have you seen Covid-19 impact D&I initiatives? For example, has the importance of highlighting commitments to diversity via social media and websites increased since people can’t visit your office, or physical events aren’t taking place which means a lack of sponsorship opportunities. What impact is that having?
Julie: Flexibility has been key across our company, whether it’s flexible hours to suit employees with caring responsibilities and supporting all our staff.
Central to any good diversity and inclusion initiative is the ability to foster strong human connections. As a business, we’ve had to adjust and thanks to digital platforms such as Teams, employees have been able to connect over shared interests and build engagement.
Dominic: A more personal question for you both, why is diversity and inclusion so important to you?
Meg: There is a tangible impact of diversity on any company and many ways diversity positively influences us such as:
• A diverse company drives economic growth.
• Recruiting from a diverse pool of candidates means the workforce is more representative of society and our players.
• A diverse and inclusive workforce helps increase tenure and reduce attrition costs.
• Diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workforce and ultimately, better games.
Julie: For me I feel inclusion in our company is important for several reasons:
• Employees who feel their voices are heard at work are empowered to perform their best.
• Employees who know that we provide equal opportunities are proud to work for us.
• Increase employee engagement.
Dominic: Amazing, thank you for sharing what I feel is great insight informed by passion! My last question - What do you think are the most important steps or actions we can take during lockdown? Can we take anything forward into working practices once everything has settled down?
Julie: On-going and regular communication is critical. Reminding the whole Codemasters team they are not alone and making sure they are always supported. While in terms of what we can we take forward into working practices outside of lockdown I would say we have seen that we can operate remotely and this may lead to us adopting different working practices (if appropriate) once we are out of lockdown like great flexible working hours and continuous efforts towards hiring remote working individuals.
Dominic: Once again I want to thank you both Julie and Meg for joining me and answering the questions I had.
Julie: It was our pleasure to share our practices and being true to the pledge.
Meg: Indeed, thanks for the opportunity to help if we can through sharing our experiences.
Keep an eye out for more activities and content from the #RaiseTheGame diversity pledge!