March 17th was our first full day working from home as a studio. During the logistical phase of getting people out of the office, we were not thinking about fostering a robust remote culture. That quickly changed.
When approaching any issues, we always reflect on our core Iron Galaxy Values. We use the Values to guide our process.
We think about:
- People: Recognizing that the health and safety of our staff is paramount
- Partners: We are in this together. Communication is key to maintaining good relationships. We want to make sure our partners are included in our process and that we continue to treat them as we always have, as part of our team
- Capability: Use our strengths to think beyond our normal scenarios and really push ourselves to support 170+ mini-offices
- Continuous Improvement: We know we won’t get it all right immediately. What is most important is continuing to evolve how we respond to the new needs our staff or partners might have
- Stability: We know we can only maintain stability by thinking of each person as an individual and our partners as ourselves.We also listen. We want a company people not only CAN retire from, but WANT to retire from
We knew we couldn’t completely replicate the cultural experience you get in-person when in the office, but we wanted to emulate it as much of it as possible. We already had two office locations, so we were used to some level of remote communication.
We already had company meetings, town halls, remote feedback sessions, and project meetings across studios to tie the teams together and share information. We knew this was not enough. We knew we would need to improve on our inter & intra team communications and really foster that remotely. We also knew one of the best ways to learn and improve was by listening.
We already had some mechanisms in place like an instant messaging system for teams and for individual communication and a “pulse” tracker. Each week, we run a weekly report on how our employees say they are feeling. We can dig into peoples’ specific challenges and have team leads or HR follow-up when appropriate. If we see an overall dip in “pulse,” we can look for trends to correct.
One challenge we’ve encountered while working remotely is the inability to have any casual in person interaction. You can no longer join hallway interactions and lunchroom chats to understand staff’s state of mind. Because of the size of our team, having a reporting tool to assist with performance management and pulse tracking effectively closes that gap.
Previously, we had treated game teams to project launch celebration lunches. Generally, we grabbed burgers and beers with twenty or more people on a project. I really only had an opportunity to talk to the person next to me. We got rid of those lunches and started celebrating the projects with the full office so everyone could enjoy a team’s success. But something was still missing. I decided to instate “Fun Lunches” where I would invite small groups of employees out to lunch to get to know one another. I got to know employees on a personal level and they got to know me, which made for stronger working relationships.
Having in person/in-studio cultural initiatives such as “Fun Lunches” was important. I decided to transition these lunches into remote gatherings by having pizza delivered to staff’s homes.This has the added benefit of providing leftovers and/or the ability to be shared with family.
Hosting lunches remotely has allowed me to include people from all three offices (Chicago, Orlando, or Austin). We have people from a mix of disciplines and our support staff and I keep the lunches to five or six people in total so we can really connect.
These lunches are a perfect example of giving the team time to connect and have the water cooler conversations we’ve missed during Shelter-in-Place. Nothing is taboo. We talk COVID struggles, field questions about Iron Galaxy or have silly chats about pop culture. Modeling vulnerability as a leader, especially during these difficult times, is really important. I share my own challenging experiences with the team. That’s what makes each one of these lunches special.
This led to long-term conversations about what else we could be doing. What other support do people need? Since March, we’ve also started or migrated over a myriad of other virtual cultural initiatives such as (sample list):
- Iron Galaxy Questions of the Day – includes fun topics like: what’s your signature drink recipe, who’s your favorite VO performer, and what song do you know all the words to and will sing without hesitation?
- Open Office Hours with the Executive Team
- Happy Hours
- Get Fit Challenges – led by two staff members, who are very into fitness: in person from their respective studio kitchens in the mornings, transferred to encouragement to get fit from home. I have definitely done some dolphin push-ups both in the office and at home!
- Dinner & movie kits delivered to employees’ doorsteps
- Diversity Rally – celebration of PRIDE with flags and trivia on LGBTQ+
- Spirit Rally – celebration of 12th anniversary complete with staff toasts, Iron Galaxy pom poms, beach balls, and candy
- Throwback Fancy Friday Meet-ups – encouraging employees to dress their best and show off a little
- Parent and Caregiver Support Groups – parents share tips and frustrations of balancing childcare, e-learning and work
- Multiple care packages sent to staff
- Hosting information on COVID, where to get groceries, activities, etc
- Encouraging PTO
- Mental Health Day Holiday
- #MEETIRONGALAXY Employee Profile Pieces
- Donating $100,000 to causes that supported social justice and criminal justice reform both nationally and locally
- Educating staff on COVID’s effects on their 401k’s
- Work From Home Bonus
- And more…
Through all of this, our people are safe. Work output remains high, pulses remain steady overall and relationships with partners remain strong due to our flexibility and constant communication.
Working remotely during COVID has made it more important than ever to see and embrace employees as whole people with struggles and personal challenges. This is an extraordinary time. People are living through more stress than we have ever collectively experienced. Our homes are now our offices. Our professional lives are more enmeshed with our personal lives than ever. We see that.
We’ve hosted listening sessions, grief counseling meetings, and D&I workshops. Having the trust of employees to speak openly about their challenges: anxiety, depression, experiences with racism, fears, and insecurities is a gift I cherish. I do not take it lightly. Employees freely share with each other, HR, and their bosses. Employees know we care about them.
I feel immensely honored every time an employee shares. Listening is key. At Iron Galaxy we foster a culture that listens.