A few months back, our own Katie Conigliaro wrote a piece about the top 5 digital collaboration tools for remote teams. The internet has revolutionized how we communicate and has allowed collaborations between teams that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. This is great! However, there is one constant that we still need to work around: people themselves. While having communication tools is great, knowing how to get messages across is still an art form that can escape some teams. Here are some tips to making sure that your team is talking to each other . . . and listening. Given our podcast with Martin Tranter and Robert Merritt, founders of Hollow Robot, the developers of Office Freakout, it seemed appropriate to tackle some helpful tips to avoid office freakouts.


1. Outline Roles Clearly

Wearing a lot of hats is a common practice nowadays, but make sure everyone knows what hats the others—and they themselves—are wearing. It’s fine if your programmer also provides art assets, but make sure that everyone knows that they’re the ones to go to if something comes up. Similarly, your team might have someone (it might even be you!) who likes to go out of their zone of expertise and provide backup elsewhere. Just make sure nobody else is trying to do the same thing, or that you each know what the other’s planning. Crossed wires can cause deadly problems for a team.

2. Pick Your Weapon—And Stick To It

Katie outlined some great options for collaborating; there’s something out there that fits every team and every person. But just like there can be too many cooks in the kitchen, it’s very possible to have too many tools in hand.

Don't be this guy.

Don’t be this guy. (from Sengoku Basara)

Have your team collectively choose a tool, and make that the official tool of the project. Make sure everyone knows how to use it. It’s totally fine if your writer likes to use their e-mail messages to keep their own workflow organized, but make sure that your form of organization is consistently updated, constantly checked, and that everyone has access to it.

3. Make Meetings, Meet Often

Maybe your project is slow-going. That’s perfectly fine, but calling a Skype (or Slack) meeting every Thursday at 3 can have benefits that may not show up until later. Even if all you do at your meeting is say that things are going fine or haven’t moved forward and then discuss weekend plans, it gets the team into a healthy state of mind. They’ll have a moment each week where they pause and think about the project. It makes it easier to really fire up the ole’ noodle when you’re ready to begin grinding out the work.

4. Foster Understanding

We’re used to specialization in society, with every worker approaching something a little differently. There’s a little more than just mythos to the idea of an “artist’s brain” versus a “programmer’s brain.” But because there’s specialization, it’s impossible to apply just one set of standards to everyone. Try to make your team mindful of these differences. Just because you may have an idea of how to do your programmer’s job, they may know their own techniques better. Instead of making assumptions, make sure your team is asking questions and drawing conclusions about the workflow of others. This becomes critical when you’re planning your production schedule, and the solution is all about asking the right questions. If your modeler can’t finish all the backgrounds within a week, the response isn’t, “Why?”—it’s, “What’s the soonest you can make it, then?” Sure, there’s a bit of “haggling” involved over workflow and deadlines, but in the end, it’s about finding the middle ground that leads to a successful game.

(courtesy Peter Hess)

Don’t be this guy, either.

Effective communication begins with an open conversation. A team isn’t a group of individuals isolated in cubes, each working on a separate part. Handling a team is about figuring out how your pieces fit together to make a whole image. Talk to your team and they will talk to you. And check out our podcast interview with Hollow Robot for more thoughts on team communication!