I was going to save this topic for later on down the road, but it seems apropos in our current situation.
I bounce between loving working from home versus going into an office all the time, as well as my preference for my team location. I have worked a lot from home in my career. I was the West Coast Editor for the defunct Computer Games Magazine. Their offices were located in Burlington, VT and they hired me to attend and cover events that happen mainly in Washington and California as well as do developer/publisher visits for interviews and stories. I had never worked from home at that point and realized quickly that I needed to discipline myself to not fuck around and to structure my day (e.g. making sure I showered and dressed in the morning and not wait until after 7 pm). At one point I freelanced and then started a Marketing/PR Firm, Plan of Attack, and did all that sans office. I find a lot of benefits from working from home, which is why if I do go into an office, I try to negotiate at least one day a week I get to work from home. I also appreciate being in the office and the benefits of having your team physically nearby.
For my partners, Tobias and Niklas, it’s either been a while or they have never worked from home in this capacity. Tobias is a very social person and did not really like working from home by himself. It’s interesting because I’ve worked with him multiple days in an office and no one really talks! But I think the sense of having people physically near you and how issues can be easily discussed and fixed in real-time is super valuable. Tobias ended up getting an office in Stockholm in the same building with Goodbye Kansas Studios, where Karl and Tobias worked up until Covid19 Times (CV19T).
For Niklas and I, we dedicated a room in our house as the office. Niklas is actually enjoying the focused attention to his work with this situation. We also hardly ever talk to each other during the workday unless there is an issue that needs to be resolved or an idea that needs to be walked through. Sometimes I work downstairs in the dining area or go to a coffee shop just to get a change of scenery and out of the house. We both miss being with Tobias and Karl, I have to say. We do weekly standups with each other, but it’s just not the same. I still go back and forth on whether I prefer WFH to an office. I also go back and forth on whether we should just move back to Sweden so we can work in the same spot as Tobias and Karl.
Welcome to CV19T. We are all pretty much working from home. In Sweden, school is still in session. But here in the Seattle Area, schools are closed until the Fall. Because we are not essential workers, we had to pull our toddler out of preschool. Our 11-year-old is trying to do online schooling, while Niklas and I are taking turns taking care of our tot. I can’t tell you how hard it is to get work done, help with school all day, and entertain a 2-year-old all at the same time. Not to mention the regular everyday stuff that needs to get done. I am on a Moms in Tech group and 98% of the women on there are going through the same. Now I am yearning to be in an office!
I also see on Twitter, people that are super upset that they previously applied to jobs at big tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc and couldn’t take the position because they couldn’t relocate and the company didn’t offer a WFH solution. But now in CV19T, those campuses are shut down with the majority of the people WFH. It is a testament that they could have accommodated WFH requests. This really made me think about what we should do about Our Machinery.
In the original plan, I was going to move to Sweden and we were going to start an office in Stockholm. But life happened and Niklas ended up coming to Seattle and we’ve been contemplating where the US office should be based. Seattle? Portland? San Francisco? Oakland? Santa Cruz? Los Angeles? There’s a lot to think about if you have ever had the privilege of figuring out where to locate an office/team. I think the most selfish is “Where do I want to live?” But after that, I go into a flurry of other questions. Let’s just spitball now with my train of thoughts:
- Where can I hire talent?
Are engineers in Santa Cruz or Portland interested in working with us? Can we relocate people to these smaller cities? I have had people tell me that they would love to live in Portland, but are afraid to move because the job pool in the games industry is very small. Or they want to move out of San Francisco to a smaller town like Santa Cruz, but if they lose a job there, they don’t want to suffer a commute back to Silicon Valley or move back.
- What are the operating costs in the area?
Can we afford an office in Seattle? LA? San Francisco? Oakland? What’s it like to rent in areas that would be good for people to work at, get lunch, easy commuter access, and parking? Any city incentives that can help us offload some costs?
- What’s the cost of living for my employees?
I think a lot about opening an office in Portland, as cost of living is way lower than Seattle or San Francisco. Is that attractive enough to get people to relocate? The food is good there, y’all!
- What’s the quality of life going to be for my employees?
If we establish in a bigger city, will employees that want to live in the suburbs or rural areas going to be ok with the commute? Will employees with families have decent schools and daycares for their children? Can people afford housing? Will employees enjoy the nightlife, culture, food, and nature of the area? What’s the state/city taxes like? How well is the local government doing? Will our BIPOC talent feel safe here? Will our LGBTQIA talent feel safe here? Will commuting in LA/Seattle/SF be a big annoyance?
- Can we afford to hire talent in that city?
Salary ranges are crazy! When Amazon wanted to hire me, they said if I stayed in San Francisco my salary would be 20% higher than in Seattle. Now I am seeing that Seattle salary ranges are competing strongly with San Francisco. What can we afford to pay people with our budget in each of these cities? What health insurance plans can we get for our employees? What other benefits can we afford to offer?
I don’t know about you, but I hate commuting longer than 30 mins to the office whether in public transportation or by car. I hate sitting in traffic and the only way I can do a long commute is if I am biking or walking to work, then I feel it’s worth it. I once had to commute from Oakland to Los Gatos (50 miles each way) to Cryptic Studios. That commute took a toll on me. Niklas and Tobias are fortunate they ride bikes or take the SL in Stockholm. I think about commuting for employees…. what’s the traffic like, is the PT system ok, can people walk or ride their bikes easily to work?
If I sit here long enough to just think about this more, I can list probably 10 more questions we need to consider. I know it’s a battle to try and appease everyone’s wish list of a perfect place to work. And we have to prioritize what’s most important to figure out what to do.
At this point due to CV19T, we aren’t going anywhere in the US any time soon. The most important thing is safety. We are very close to getting our seed funding (fingers and toes crossed) and we would like to hire as soon as that comes through. We are fortunate that Tobias and Karl will have an office again once CV19T is more manageable. Niklas and I are leaning more and more into establishing a virtual office instead of a physical one.
In the next WaSabi, I’ll go through more of our thought process, pros/cons, and how we are thinking about structuring it. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts and insights on this topic feel free to tweet, [email protected], or DM us.
Hope you are all safe.