For those of you that have been the boss of someone in the past (or you currently are) at your indie studio (or perhaps in a different industry altogether), then you’ve probably ran into this dilemma before: you forgot to include a critical piece of information in a previous email or document you sent to your team earlier in the day, and now you want to shoot an email out to everyone before you call it a night. It makes sense; after all, you want to ensure that everyone is on the right foot before they begin working in the morning.
I’m guilty of this, you’re probably guilty of this, and yet we’ve been doing it wrong the whole time – that is, according to Harvard Business Review (which brings us to one of the most important indie developer tips for managing your team). HBR states that sending late-night emails hurts teams. Maura Thomas – the author of the piece – states that the reasoning behind this is actually pretty simple:
“As a productivity trainer specializing in attention management, I’ve seen over the past decade how after-hours emails speed up corporate cultures,” says Thomas. “That, in turn, chips away at creativity, innovation, and true productivity. You’re missing the opportunity to get some distance from work — distance that’s critical to the fresh perspective you need as the leader. And, when the boss is working, the team feels like they should be working.”
This is one of those indie developer tips that I’ve honestly never thought about, but Thomas is right: those late-night messages to your team could indirectly force them to start believing that they need to be thinking about work all the time: in the morning and the afternoon when they work, when they go home, and right before they go to bed. It’s as if they can’t escape work, and eventually they get fed up with it all and start phoning in their work.
When that happens – especially in such a creative field like indie development – you’re in a heap of trouble. Whatever role your workers have with you – actual employees, contractors, it doesn’t matter – they need downtime for their brains to relax. The moment they are finished working for the day, they need to think about work as little as possible until they start working again the next day.
Now that I think about it, I can actually tell you first-hand what this type of activity can do to your workers. You see, I used to have a client quite a few years ago that started off pretty normal – but as work ramped up, this guy began to gradually lose his mind. Bombarding me with emails every night – and late at night at that – if I didn’t answer his emails he would start sending me messages on Skype. I can’t count how many times I was awoken to an instant message at 3am because this guy thought that because he was awake, I probably was too (he even lived in the same time zone as I do, so there wasn’t an excuse for this). After telling the guy to lay off multiple times, I finally had enough and quit after he told me I had to work for him on Thanksgiving Day, all day.
Now, that’s a story about a client from hell, but it’s also a moral on what not to do in your indie studio. See, believe it or not, but the late-night emails and instant messages you send to your workers have a big impact on them. It takes them away from their relaxing state and makes them start thinking about work, worrying about work, etc. As stated above, your workers need to relax away from work, so keep work away from them after-hours!
If you only want to send an email because you just thought about something that needs to be addressed and you don’t want to forget about it, then either write the email and save it in drafts for the morning or schedule the email to be sent as soon as the work day begins. And if you think the email needs to be sent, ask yourself this question:
“Is the email so important that it would warrant a telephone call this late at night to my workers?”
If the answer is no, it can wait until the morning.