For the past several weeks, we've been busy working to prepare Bungie for the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Now that we are well into our efforts, we thought it would be a good time to share some of what we've learned and some of the plans we've put in place in case they could be helpful to other game studios, tech companies, or indeed any organization that is facing the immediate challenges of this coronavirus pandemic.
First of all, we aren't experts in COVID-19. We make games. However, because we are located in the greater Seattle area, we were hit with the outbreak earlier than most game companies in North America and, as a result, have had to move quickly.
The overarching challenge of managing the impact of COVID-19 is that some employees might think that the virus won't impact them very much, personally, when they read about mortality rates for their demographic group. But, even among younger demographics, there will be people in at-risk categories (such as those with diabetes, and those who are immune compromised or pregnant) or who are caring for family members in at-risk categories.
It is critical for all of us, as leaders in the industry, to promote social distancing among our employees. It is a complex message: we need to reduce the rapid spread of the virus to prevent a "big spike" in serious cases that can overwhelm a regional health care system. This is a civic responsibility.
Here are some of the recommendations we have for organizations that are still building their own plan to respond to COVID-19.
If you haven't done so already (and your team is still coming into the office), put signage up across your facility communicating:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Sneeze/cough into your elbow (or a tissue, and dispose of it immediately).
- If you are ill, or if you have a family member who is ill, stay home! As COVID-19 has multiple symptoms, better to take the extra precaution even if it looks like a mild cold.
Planning & Communication
A thoughtful plan and a regular cadence of communication are two of the biggest steps you can take to successfully prepare your employees and your organization to take on the challenges posed by COVID-19. Here is what we recommend:
- Set priorities for how you are going to manage through COVID-19 for your business, and communicate those priorities to EVERYONE. Because it is impossible to solve every problem in a single day, these priorities should guide what you focus on first in your efforts. Bungie’s stated priorities are:
- Keep our employees safe. Put policies and procedures in place to support this.
- Ensure core studio functions stay operational.
- Ensure our live game services remain online and functional.
- Ensure we are able to deliver on our 2020 goals.
- Support our partners, colleagues, neighbors, and community to manage successfully through the outbreak.
- Build a plan that addresses the multiple phases of the COVID-19 outbreak in your area. Keep it simple (at the high level) and communicate it to the organization so that you can start to manage through the change that is coming. Here is Bungie’s five-phased plan (we are in Phase 3 because of state guidelines):
- Phase 1: No COVID-19 present in King County
- COVID-19 Remote Work Policy offered.
- 14-day self-quarantine required from employees returning from travel to CDC L2+ countries.
- Phase 2: Active COVID-19 transmission in King County (no Bungie employees)
- Phased preparations for remote work/work from home + introduction of “COVID-19 Time” PTO options.
- Self-quarantine required for ill employees or those exposed to those tested or showing symptoms of COVID-19.
- Phase 3: COVID-19 cases among Bungie employees (no workplace exposure), or state or federal remote work request, or state or federal recommendation for all employees to work from home
- All employees who are able to work from home are required to do so.
- Phase 4: COVID-19 cases among Bungie employees (workplace exposure), or state or federal closure order
- Studio closed; required work from home only.
- Core business continuity plan activated + studio decontamination.
- Phase 5: COVID-19 receding, and state or federal closure order lifted
- Studio comprehensive cleaning and decontamination.
- Phased plan for employees’ return to the studio for work.
- Create a cross-functional COVID-19 strike team for your organization and meet daily to identify and address the biggest questions you need to resolve. The team should include representation from groups such as:
- Representatives from your game teams: Production, Test, and Engineering, in particular
- Have a single, senior point person on your COVID-19 strike team who is in charge of setting the agenda, who can make decisions quickly, and who can authorize budget to apply to problems (or who can get budget approved quickly).
- Have that point person (or someone with whom they are working closely) send a daily update to your organization with the latest updates and the company’s status relative to your multi-phase plan (as well as encouraging words wherever possible!)
- Create a central Wiki for all of your documents regarding COVID-19 and point to it in every communication you send.
- Link to all of the policy documents you create (see below).
- Create an FAQ space for people to pose questions and answer them for each other – especially as they problem-solve to work remotely.
- Set up for 1-to-many communications (using technology such as livestreaming) so that you can have your leadership team continue to talk with you employees in an "all hands" fashion. We use our internal chat channels to take questions from employees dynamically during these sessions.
Setting Up to Work Remotely & Making Your Workspace Safe
One thing that is clear in all of the COVID-19 workplace-related literature: It’s imperative to make it as easy as possible for people to stay home from work if they are ill at all or have been exposed to someone who is ill. Here are some things to consider:
- Post your remote work policy, and make it clear that you will NOT require more than notification of someone's manager to enable them to work from home.
- Cancel all business travel immediately.
- As soon as you can (the sooner the better) move to a posture of "Anyone who can work from home should work from home." Remind people that this is about protecting the people whose jobs require them to be at work.
- Consider offering additional COVID-19-related PTO to your employees. We are offering 15 days of "COVID-19 Time" (on top of regular PTO) for our employees to be used if employees or family members develop COVID-19 symptoms or if they have to care for family members who are home (e.g. school closure).
- Be sure to solve for your contingent staff, too. Work with you vendors so you can align on a policy that:
- Ensures they can work remotely.
- Ensures they can get COVID-19 Time, too.
- If you haven't, get your IT team to quickly roll out a video conferencing solution to everyone. There are many available options, including Zoom, LifeSize, and Microsoft Teams, among others.
- Limit all non-employees in the studio to only those who are required to operate the business.
- Set up for play testing remotely. Consider how you currently perform your play tests in the office and what new infrastructure you may need. We've been fortunate to be supported by Google Stadia to scale up our remote playtesting capabilities quickly.
Troubleshoot for Individuals
The game industry is made up of so many different disciplines that it is likely that one remote work solution will not solve things for all of your employees. Use your priority list to guide who you need to solve for first, but keep a master list of everyone who is having a challenge, and steadily keep making progress on their remote work setups.
- Survey your employees to determine who is working effectively, who is not, and what they need. We are doing this weekly right now. We ask people to identify themselves and exactly what they need.
- Because your IT team will likely be overwhelmed, have a point person outside of IT who is triaging the list of people who are having remote work problems and is prioritizing addressing those problems guided by your overall COVID-19 priorities.
- Empower your employees to buy and expense small technology items they need to support their work (a mouse, keyboard, monitor, docking station, etc.). This could make a huge difference in their well-being and productivity and is totally worth the cost.
- As you ramp up remote work, make sure you have a person who monitors and reports on your corporate network infrastructure as part of your COVID-19 strike team.
Prepare for the Long Haul
As of this writing, there is no current timeline of when the COVID-19 outbreak will subside and Bungie employees will return to the studio to resume our regular in-office rituals. The fact is, that day might be a weeks or months away, so it’s best to prepare for that possibility now.
- People may be working from home for a long time and may not have a home office set up for such an arrangement. Consider providing your employees a reimbursable sum of money to support them setting up their home office as a healthy workspace.
- Be sure you have people in your HR team immediately focused on the mental and physical health of employees.
- Share information and documents about how to work home effectively.
- Provide links to resources for your employees, including direction to benefits they might not have previously used.
- If you have the coverage, promote use of remote/tele-medicine. We offer Teladoc to our employees, which means they can meet with a doctor through video chat without having to potentially expose themselves to COVID-19 if they need to get a prescription for something minor.
Plan for Business Continuity
Once you have started getting your people working remotely, you need to begin planning for business continuity in case you have an outbreak in your studio and need to close the doors (or dramatically reduce staff onsite) or in case the government needs to close all non-essential businesses in your area (like has happened in France and Italy).
Determine what essential functions you must keep running. For us, the core business continuity staff list includes:
- Business continuity leadership and communications group
- Physical security at your facility (which could be remote monitoring if the building has to be locked)
- Facilities support for core systems
- On-site hardware support (e.g. internal and external servers)
- Network hardware
- General IT support
- Live game/data center support
- Game deployment support
Be sure you have three people who can cover each core business continuity role in case 1 or 2 people get sick in each function.
Create an "A" and "B" team for each function to ensure that all of the people in each of your core business continuity functions are separated (social distancing) at all times. Ideally, at least one person in each function should work remotely.
Create a master list of contact information (name, work and personal e-mail address, phone number, distance from facility) for everyone in your core business continuity group, and post it somewhere visible to all. Encourage people to keep a printed copy of this document.
Consider critical systems (technology, facilities) that might need maintenance in the coming months.
- Make sure you have lists of contact information for all of your partners and vendors posted with your business continuity plan in case your normal contact becomes ill.
- Order spare parts for anything that you believe could fail and be a problem for your business operations.
Prepare for an Incident
As COVID-19 continues to spread, make sure you've written up the steps you will take if you discover you have a case in your facility. This should include:
- A designated person who will declare your facilities closed.
- Notification plan and contact information for local public health officials.
- Contact tracing process for the person or people who have become ill.
- Notification plan and contact information for a company to clean your facility.
- Determining how many days after a cleaning you will re-open (if you are allowed to).
While you have the time now, be sure you have identified and made contact with a company familiar with cleaning facilities that may have been contaminated with a virus (likely a company that has hospital cleaning experience).
There are several great resources that we've relied on to build our plans.
As COVID-19 spread, we have relied increasingly on resources from the Washington State and King County Public Health, which have been at the forefront of the national outbreak management:
To understand how state/regional government may react in stages to the virus as it expands in each area, this presentation
explains the 5-Level approach for interventions that mirrors similar patterns that we've seen in other countries. This can help you prepare for what might be coming.
These are uncertain and unpredictable times, but what we’re focusing on is doing what’s best for our employees and our broader community, one day at a time. We’ll keep you updated with how things are going for us. Be well, and take care of yourself.