E S Toose

3D and UX Design for Games, VR and Animation

Creative (and Financial) Benefits of a Roaming Office

October 17, 2012 Uncategorized 11

 

The world is your office! Well, at least the part of the world with electrical outlets and WiFi.

Having a Roaming Office means you can set up shop and get work done wherever you are – whether you’re staying with a friend in Sonoma County before heading off to Texas for a month, or taking a road trip down to LA for IndieCade (true story bro).

[You’re reading an article in The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Self Publishing Your Games Online series]

So long as you’ve got a laptop (and the necessary electrical accouterments) then you’re free to work wherever you happen to be.

Which can be a blessing when Life is regularly punctuated by Inconvenient Circumstances you Didn’t Plan For.

 

Why Roaming? Why not a Traditional Brick’n’Mortar Office?

 

Well, for one, if you’re going indie or recently you’ve gone indie (which if you’re reading this article that probably describes you) then you’re operating on a traditional indie budget of zero/nada/zip – which roughly translates as “I’m living on savings and only taking contract work when I absolutely need to!”

Whether you’re a solo player or you’re working with a full group – actually renting an office and dealing with all the overhead of insurance, electricity, internet, toilet paper, plumbing and all that crazy stuff is a HUGE cost to take on when you don’t have a steady stream of positive cash-flow coming in.

Besides, actually being IN that office is NOT going to make you more productive – as most independent developers quickly realise after the “omg-we-have-an-office!” energy wears off (I think See Through Studios did an article about this kind of thing recently).

I know I know, you want to believe that if you create the setting of a Really Productive Office environment then you should be able to just step into the part and BECOME the Really Productive Indie Developer.

Sadly, humans don’t work that way.

I mean, if that WERE the case then everyone who ever said “I’m going to lose weight!” and bought a bunch of health food, brand new workout clothes and signed up for a 24 Hour Gym Membership would be lean and happy a year later. How many times have you seen that work out?

Yeah, not many.

Anyway, what does working out of a Roaming Office actually look like?

 

Roaming Office Example: Working Around the City (or “Why Local Cafes Love Me”)

 

Morning Worky Times: After waking up and doing my “I’m waking up now” routine I’ll grab my backpack (kitted out like an Adventurer’s Pack complete with Laptop, Notebooks and Iron Rations) and head to a cafe about 30 minutes walk from where I’m staying.

Why the hell would I walk 30 MINUTES to a cafe?

Because I’m a short curvy girl and I’ve got a body type that is TOTALLY prepared to survive famine (ie: I smell calories and put on weight).

This walk both a) makes sure my body is moving and active early in the day and b) gives me some Serious Thinking Time before sitting down to my first work session of the day.

When I get to my Morning Cafe I’ll order an Americano (Long Black for my Aussie peeps) and start work. Whether that work is nutting out a design problem, sketching ideas or writing.

I’ll work until I start feeling antsy to move again (about 1.5 to 2 hours) then walk back home for a cuppa (tea for my stateside peeps).

(That’s like…a whole hour of walking before lunch! Back you encroaching flabby fatness, BACK I SAY!)

Afternoon Worky Times: I head out to my next cafe after a short tea break and some Reading Times (a non-fiction book of some description that comes highly recommended on Amazon and is related to whatever I’m working on: At the time of this writing that book is Creating Minds by Howard E. Gardiner).

I have a few spots I’ll head to in the afternoon depending on what transport is available. If there’s a car I’ll drive up to Flying Goat Coffee in Santa Rosa (BEST Coffee in Sonoma County!). If no car is to be had I’ll walk to Starbucks (last resort, ugh!).

Second verse, same as the first – I’ll order a coffee and work for another couple of hours until I reach my “oh my god I can’t sit still any longer!” threshold. After which I’ll either stretch and walk around before sitting down for another session or head back home AGAIN for another tea and break (you have no idea, I REALLY like tea).

Evening Worky Times: Depending on how much work I need to get done that week I’ll throw in a third session at yet ANOTHER cafe. This time I’ll shake things up with a Chai, being the wild and untameable girl that I am.

Same deal as before – 2 hours solid work time on whatever project needs solid working time.

 

Sometimes my day will look fairly structured: I’ll sketch out ideas in the morning, create a rough draft in the afternoon and then do a final edit in the evening.

Other days it’s all over the shop – final edit in the morning, Really Important Emails in the afternoon and concepting illustrations in the Evening.

Regardless of whatever needs getting done that week, these three dedicated work sessions and their associated transit and rest times have become crucial to maintaining creative productivity wherever I am!

 

Yeah, But…

 

You’re Only REALLY Working Like 4-6 Hours! Wouldn’t You Get More Done at Home?

 

No actually.

That transit time between cafes is when I do most of my work – puzzling out design issues, visualising sketches and mentally “writing” an article.

By the time I sit down at a cafe it’s just a matter of capturing and codifying whatever it was I was nutting out on the way over!

And those tea breaks are actually pretty strategic – after nearly a decade of doing art and development stuff on computers I’m very aware of my productivity peaks (and plummets!)

I have about 1.5 – 2 hours of REALLY awesome work in me…followed by a slump when I’ve run out of creative mana and brain juice.

And no amount of PUSHING THROUGH IT makes the work any better! In fact, if I try to work when I’m totally OOM (out-of-mana) then I’ll end up making stupid mistakes or taking twice as long to do twice as little.

So that tea break plus reading time is like sitting out of combat for a little while till I’m at 100% again and can start root-rotting and quad-kiting with the best of them.

…err…you know what I mean.

 

Working at Cafes Kind of Defeats the Purpose of Saving Money, Doesn’t it?

 

I don‘t spend money “relaxing”: Seriously, when your passion is your profession you don’t really need to “unwind” from work by going out for drinks with the mates or going out to see a movie. And anything that’s NOT work is distracting me from what I Really Want to be Doing – so my lifestyle is pretty inexpensive.

I don’t spend money “eating out”: Every weekend I’ll bulk cook all my meals for that week (I can eat for like, 7 days on less than 50 dollars). That way I just have to reheat breaky, lunch or dinner and I don’t have to worry about a) finding something healthy to eat or b) spending time cooking.

Dudes, my most extravagant expenses involve books and dark chocolate!

So two cups of coffee a day and SOMETIMES a chai in the evening when I’ve got a full-on schedule will still come in under $50 a week.

Find me an office for $50 a week that has SUPER AWESOME COFFEE, WiFi and generally pleasant (and sometimes really cute) staff to chat with.

Oh, and it has to be the kind of place that guarantees that you get at least an hour of exercise in every day and is setup in such a way that you’ll definitely do your best work at peak times and will actually rest when you need to recharge mental mana (instead of working yourself into a stupor).

Go on. I’ll wait here (for about 1.5 to 2 hours).

(Seriously though, if you find that office then myself and readers here at IndieBits.com would love to hear about it! Drop a comment with a link below!).

 

Scoping Out Your Roaming Office

 

Like everything we do as creatives, this is going to take some experimentation and playtesting!

The whole “walk to a cafe and work for 2 hours” thing works REALLY well for my creative/mental rhythms and energy levels.

By breaking my day up into Morning, Afternoon, Evening and Night (yoga and more reading time before sleeps!) I have a very flexible work ritual and can shift around meetings, emergencies and weird sleeping patterns (article ideas wake me up constantly – it’s really weird).

I don’t stress out if I can’t get to my Afternoon Cafe by 2pm. Sometimes I’ll get there at 1pm, sometimes at 3pm. What matters is that I’m doing SOMETHING productive with my Afternoon work session (wherever and whenever that happens to be).

And you don’t have to just work at cafes! Other great spots I’ve worked at include Libraries, Creative Hubs, even house-sitting for a friend.

 

So, that’s my Roaming Office! Where/When do you do YOUR best work?

 

[Hey man, you just read an article in The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Self Publishing Your Games Online series. Thanks! Give us your angle in the comments!]

11 Responses

  1. Dan Toose says:

    For me it’s about phases of work, and there are times where I feel I get WAY more done in a co-located situation, and then other times where I feel that being able to get on my own is infinitely more useful.

    I personally found your example above held massively true for getting onto my blogging for example. I also prefer to do my production tasks in game dev the hell away from others, even my team mates. In fact I used to get a lot of mine done very late at night, because when I’m surrounded by co-workers, I have a natural tendency to do ‘team’ things, like reach decisions about stuff (meetings, planning, etc)

    But at the formative points of anything – Those are the days I love an office with a team.

    Would love to see a related piece to this on how to work with others remotely – Unless you’re a sole developer, that’s a serious thing to get your head around. Especially things like having a build server somewhere you can all log into, with source control, etc.

    • Epona says:

      I’ve sent an email to a few dudes that I think would be even better at writing an article on remote collaboration than me!

      What I can write confidently about is managing remote contractors and freelancers, which I’ve done quite a bit of over the last couple years – I’ll add that to the queue of things to write about 🙂

      • Dan Toose says:

        Cool! If you want another contact re: remote collaboration, the guys at Barrel of Donkeys were a client of ours at Surprise Attack that did exactly this. They were childhood friends, so the challenges were pretty much just there in terms of time zone, etc, as their communication had been good for many, many years already.
        They’re super nice guys too – They love to talk, heh 🙂

        • Epona says:

          I’ve sent interview questions to the super cool guys working on Card Hunter. Totally check them out! I played the game at PAX for WAY TOO long (you don’t understand, that dragon HAD TO DIE!) and their team page reads like a Who’s Who of games industry royalty: http://www.cardhunter.com/team/

          They’re in the midst of finishing an awesome game, so it may take a bit for them to get back to us with their thoughts on remote project management, but I’ll post them here once I get them!

          In the meantime, and for anyone else following this conversation, there’s a nifty article on Gamasutra.com this week about exactly this topic: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/179712/

  2. I just start goin into something similar to this, most of my meetings is at my leads offices, so the need to pay for an actual office was a little silly.

    But I contract some hours in a co-work space, I have learn that coffe places are not the mos realiable places in terms of connectivity and noise, and I also need something that resemble a classic working space.

    I totally agre that is almost imposible for me to work as efective in home that what I do outside.

    • Epona says:

      Co-working spaces and Creative Hubs are becoming really common!

      And not just in the Really Big Cities, most cities around the world will have SOME kind of co-working creative space.

      Googling your city + co-working space (or Creative Hub) will probably turn up heaps!

      And yeah, what you discovered about about meeting with your leads is the same thing I discovered with managing my games incubator in Sydney – I only really needed to meet with producers of all my teams once a week for playtesting, feedback and to plan what needs to happen the following week.

      Having an actual physical office felt like a waste – most people got their best work done OUTSIDE the office!

      If I did another incubator program I would probably partner with a creative hub (or start a creative hub of my own and lease out the hotdesks to other creatives).

  3. There’s one thing about this “roaming office” stuff that I just can’t understand. How do you people manage to WORK on laptops? Crappy and small keyboard, small and uncomfortable mouse, tiny screen and generally poor performance – that’s all laptops. Even a VERY pricey laptop still has worse keyboard and only one pretty small screen; and probably costs three times as much as a good desktop.

    I just can’t imagine being really productive when one is forced to work with crappy tools – and a laptop is just that, a crappy tool. At least, for serious game development work.

    • Ivan Beram says:

      Not necessarily.

      They’ve started producing “gaming” notebooks and ultrabooks; and I don’t mean Alienware, as though there notebooks are impressive spec-wise, they aren’t exactly portable or affordable.

      The trick is find one with the right specs, as maddeningly, the manufacturers don’t seem to quite understand what consumers would want out of a gaming notebook. I’m still looking for one that doesn’t have a gloss screen, is 15.6 with HD rez, uses the more powerful versions of the Nvidia Kepler based GPUs, uses an SSD drive, and, weighs less than 3kgs.

      It isn’t that much to ask for really and I’d pay to have all those features in the one package as it would mean deving on the go and a notebook that I can demo stuff on if need be.

      And yes, even if it does have all that it won’t come close to a high-end desktop, but, that really depends upon whether your development work really needs one in the first place. Plus there is a trade off when using a high-end desktop: it isn’t portable, makes a lot of noise and generates a lot of heat. That means an air-con if you want to use it in the summer, that then adds to the energy used and your expenses.

      • Epona says:

        Ivan has answered this question beautifully, thank you man!

        Nevermind (if that is really you’re real name *ominous music*),

        My laptop is specifically for 3D sculpting and 2D speed painting, with lots and lots of writing and web development for indieBits and my other projects (will have launch announcements soon!).

        As Ivan says, some of the ultrabooks getting released are freaking AWESOME – and they’re light enough for a small human like me to carry around in a backpack all day 😛

        Finally, and the reason why I like working on laptops so much, your players are probably NOT going to have as good a computer as you.

        In fact, the community of players that has really awesome computers is actually very niche, tend to congregate in small numbers and they already have VERY BIG games companies producing HUGE EXPENSIVE GAMES for them.

        So…if you want to try and satisfy that particular type of player, you’re already setting yourself up with a massive challenge (can you produce a title BETTER than what those VERY BIG games companies are producing? Because that’s what you have to do for these players to notice you).

        But if you’re working on an older desktop, or a good (but not necessarily l33t) laptop, you’re at least working with the kind of hardware that MOST people have available to them.

        Which means the games your producing are at least going to be PLAYABLE by most people 😛

  4. A well written, well reasoned, and well structured article as always. As somebody with back and neck issues, I’m really curious about the ergonics of this strategy.

    Does the time spent walking to & from workhubs balance out being hunched over a laptop on a couch or a monitor-less coffee shop desk?

    “Find me an office for $50 a week that has SUPER AWESOME COFFEE, WiFi and generally pleasant (and sometimes really cute) staff to chat with.” Thanks for providing these numbers. It seems like a dedicated co-working space has all of the above for slightly more money.

    Or is the point that having one single dedicated workspace makes you less likely to take the breaks which are vital to your success?

    I’m currently making the decision of where to work RIGHT NOW so I really appreciate this timely article and discussion!

    • Epona says:

      Ah thank you for the kind words Sam!

      “Does the time spent walking to & from workhubs balance out being hunched over a laptop on a couch or a monitor-less coffee shop desk?”

      For me, yes. The fact that I get really antsy after an hour and a half means that I get up and start moving around before my shoulder and neck starts to bother me.

      Plus some cafes have nice high counters – so sometimes I’ll stand at a counter to work on my laptop!

      When I was working 9-5 at AIE in Sydney I had that whole “ergonomically correct” office setup going on – but I found it completely pointless because so long as I was in that office I had this constant pressure to be DOING MORE all the time! Even if I was in an energy slump and wasn’t going to produce anything spectacular anyways 😛

      Plus you get that weird office culture of: “Really productive people come in early and stay back late…and you want to be seen to be a Really Productive Person, don’t you?” which has all kinds of physical and psychological ill effects!

      So for me, the “discomfort” of a laptop and a hard cafe chair actually forces me to get up and move around more often – which is healthier for my body/brain.

      All the walking tends to give me the stretching and activity I need to a) stave off the ill-effects of sitting all the time and b) hold the inevitable encroaching fatness at bay 😛

      Finally, I’ve worked about 20-30 minutes of yoga into my night-time routine. That works out all the stiffness I would have accumulated during the day and has the happy side-effect of making my brain all chill and zeny…which means I can actually sleep after a whole day of thinking about ALL THE THINGS 😛

      Hah, as always, this was a very long answer to a very short question.

      Experiment with lots of things – you’ll find your own rhythm that works for you!

      ((Also, Ben Serviss found this nifty, and kind of scary, study about how people who move around and don’t sit down as much actually live a lot longer than people who sit down all the time: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/17/get-up-get-out-dont-sit/))

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