Remote Work in Engineering #2 - Dilemma

2022十一月11 - Bungie

Welcome back!  In part one of this series, you read about Bungie’s history of in-office and remote collaboration.  In this post we’ll lay out the core remote work dilemma that we faced in our planning for a new normal.

Disclaimer: This series presents a story from the perspective of a single discipline, Engineering. In fact, many groups at Bungie were simultaneously grappling with these challenges, with lots of independent experimentation and cross-pollination of thinking. In particular, “we” here generally refers to Bungie as a whole, unless explicitly discussing engineering.

Leading up to COVID, we were already straining at the seams of our existing facilities and were looking for solutions.  We took advantage of our COVID-abandoned offices to make more ambitious changes, building a reimagined and expanded headquarters in Bellevue, WA (which can hold over a thousand people), and setting up a satellite office in downtown Seattle near the waterfront. This strategy was intended to keep our options wide open. We supported interim office options for individuals who needed them, but we planned a grand re-opening of all our offices and a shift to the “new normal” in Q1 2023. 

Through 2020 and 2021, our plan was for the “new normal” to be fundamentally hybrid, with most teams in the office together two to three days a week. We planned to support flex desks rather than fixed desks for many people, and we funded investments in work-anywhere workflows and digital-first approaches to collaboration. In this model, in-office collaboration would be a special spice regularly available to many people, but it wouldn’t be the every-day baseline assumption that it was before the pandemic.

This plan was right in the mainstream of the tech and game industries, but it didn’t quite sit right.  Internal debates simmered. After all, continuing to be fully remote (vs hybrid) can offer some really nice things to individuals, even if they still live in the Seattle area:
  • No commute time, stress, or cost
  • More family time and flexibility
  • Can move to live with family who aren’t in Seattle (aging parents, etc.)
  • Can move to an area with more reasonable housing prices
  • More environmentally friendly
  • Can always work in a custom and private personal workspace—this can be a meaningful mental health upgrade for many, enabling better self-care
  • Personal food and nutrition control—my personal favorite, because I love to cook!
  • Potential to combine travel and work—becoming a digital nomad, perhaps even working from an RV, although tax and employment laws can currently make this frustratingly complicated

In light of these benefits, and in consultation with our HR partners, in early 2021 we started approving a few existing engineers (and others) to become fully remote, specifically when they wanted to move away from Seattle.

On top of the benefits for existing employees, fully remote is pretty nifty for hiring too!
  • We can pull from wider talent pools, increasing recruiting speed and diversity
  • There’s less friction to join Bungie, as candidates don’t have to uproot their family or face Seattle housing prices during 2021, we leaned into that benefit and hired a few fully-remote engineers (and others).

Between approving existing employees and hiring remote engineers, by the end of 2021 we climbed to about 2% fully remote, but we were still in a cautious stance. Why? Well, there are some major drawbacks and risks:
  • Hiring someone fully remote was a significant commitment—it’s very hard to ask them to move later. Bungie was effectively saying “we believe we can make this work and we’re going to try hard.” Given our deep history of in-person collaborative culture, that was a big check to write before our offices fully re-opened!
  • Until our offices would fully reopen, offering a fully-remote commitment was “free” because virtually everyone was still working remotely, so authorizing someone to be fully remote was imperceptible. However, we knew that when hybrid work began, we’d have to pay the piper as people started working regularly in the office again. 
  • How would we mitigate the frustration or friction added to in-person collaboration if most teams had at least one fully-remote member? How would we prevent the culture from adapting to avoid those challenges by effectively excluding fully-remote folks, making them feel “outside the four walls” of Bungie? 

We just didn’t know how these risks would play out, and we felt a strong commitment to do right by our fully-remote folks, so that inspired some caution!

Some folks were very worried about the challenges of remote work, worried that we would lose something essential about Bungie if we weren’t mostly-together-every-day again in the future. They worried we might make the fully-remote folks feel like they’re no longer a part of their teams. Or perhaps worse, they fear that the need for all collaboration to be digital would mean that it’s no longer worth coming into the office, causing us to evolve into a loose consortium of talent-for-hire, with shorter tenures, low trust, and weak bonds. The folks that worried most about this wanted Bungie to accumulate as few fully-remote commitments as possible, perhaps only the absolutely critical cases—say, retention of key talent, and only for roles that are low collaboration (e.g., no managers).

Other folks focused more on the opportunities than the challenges—particularly the opportunity to hire more diverse talent and offer a better quality of life. Those folks were more willing to make a bet that we would find good solutions to the challenges. They were willing to bet that some folks will love office collaboration while others love fully-remote work, and our digital-first workflows and culture can link everyone into a sturdy network. We may not re-form the Bungie of old, but we’ll make something brave and new. We’ll transform from a buzzing building into a thriving digitally-intermediated intersubjective reality—a virtual community made real by our shared belief.

All these folks wanted the best for Bungie, they’re all incredibly smart, and they were thinking deeply. There was no easy answer here. We found ourselves faced with a decision to make: for 2022, before we start accruing real experience with full-scale hybrid, how hard should we lean into fully remote? In part three of this series, we’ll talk about how we analyzed that decision in the Engineering discipline!

-David Aldridge, Head of Engineering

Would you like to work at Bungie?

We’d love to talk with you. Here are a couple of the most exciting tech roles we’re hiring for, with many more on our careers page!
  • Senior Mobile Graphics Engineer
    • We're looking for someone to help us port our in-house AAA engine to mobile, to give us a chance to inspire friendships among a few billion people who are mostly priced out of our current platforms.
    • No games experience required!  If you've been doing graphics engineering on iOS or Android for a while in any context, we'd love to hear from you.
  • Senior Mobile Platforms Engineer
    • Same deal, but we're looking for a slice of the low level mobile expertise that isn't graphics. This team is led by Eric Will, who has over a decade of experience in adapting our Tiger engine to platforms. He wants to learn mobile from you and I promise you'll learn a lot from him.
    • No games experience required!
  • Incubation Gameplay Engineering Lead
    • For more info on this particular incubation project, check out this two minute video
    • Did you watch it?  Go watch it!
    • Ok, so do you want to work for & with that guy?  I promise you do; I was lucky enough to get to for 12 years!
    • This one does require games experience - we're looking for that purple squirrel who can lead a gameplay team and wants to make a smaller game within a larger studio. We know you could work anywhere. Please reach out, let us share more, and see if you want to work here.