How getting out of the office can improve productivity

The lazy days of summer

[Stephen Caruana is managing director of Pixie Software, an independent game studio based in Malta, focusing on casual games for mobiles and the web.]

We’re well into summer, and temperatures are soaring. The UK and most of Western Europe is experiencing some lovely weather at the moment. (Warning: shameless plug imminent!)

Naturally, here in Malta we’re enjoying our typical Mediterranean climate. It’s such a pity to be wasting all those daylight hours indoors knowing that a few minutes’ drive is all that stands between you and a sandy beach (you were warned!)

All joking aside, being cooped up indoors all the time could be having a negative effect on the morale and drive of a person. By contrast, taking a few minutes to leave your workspace (be it the company premises or the computer in your bedroom) and going outdoors will definitely help boost your performance.

This has been the focus of various studies, which are beyond the scope of what I intend to discuss today. I would just like to share a few thoughts on a light, non?technical concept which can have a significant effect on our daily output.

Most of us work in this industry because we are passionate about games, which appeal to each and every one of us in different ways. This passion drives us to work harder and push further, and is one of the reasons why the number of indie developers is constantly on the increase. As indies we tend to completely immerse ourselves into what we’re doing, since we’ve got a personal investment in our projects.

I’m not talking about financial or other material commitments, although these certainly do factor in. I’m referring to this “want” or “need” which impels us to develop games and to go the extra mile. And we really don’t mind working hard to accomplish what we set out to achieve. Otherwise I guess we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

Still, just like with everything else, we all have to balance our game development work with our life’s other commitments. And we do. For some this could mean holding another job, or raising a family, or a number of many other major responsibilities attributed to adult life. So we find time for everything.

However, I find it very interesting that in the hours we dedicate to our game development endeavours, many of us (including myself) lock ourselves indoors to work. Well, OK, sure, where else can you seriously concentrate on your work if not indoors? Still, at the same time, who is to dictate that this should be the case all day, every day?

I am by no means suggesting that we forego the practicalities of a roof and four walls in exchange for the scorching sun or pouring rain, but every once in a while getting out of the office can be a welcome change of pace.

Allow me to use Pixie Software as an example. Being a very small team of people, we are unburdened by the formalities and complex structures of large, corporate entities. This rings even more true when considering the nature of the gaming industry.

So say I’m working on a new game feature and would like to pick the brain of one of the team’s digital artists. Depending on the situation, why can’t we discuss things over a cup of coffee at a nearby café? This sounds much better than leaning against the wall by the water cooler, or even worse, sitting around a table. Why not go for a walk in a green area nearby and have a chat? Sounds corny I know, but still…

Be it just for a quick lunch or even for a lengthy discussion about something or other, getting away from the office every once in a while is a simple yet effective concept. It could help you get through the day when dealing with a particularly nasty problem, or even clear your mind when you’ve been stuck on the same dead end train of thought all morning. I’m sure your eyes could do with a rest from squinting at lines of code under the glare of fluorescent lights. At the very least you get to stretch your legs, and it also makes for a nice change of scenery.

Of course, this has nothing to do with sunlight or enjoying the weather, although I certainly am glad to be living and working in a lovely Mediterranean climate which makes this an added bonus. It’s all about not being stuck inside the same four walls all the time, day in day out. It could be pouring outside and the principle still applies: instead of eating lunch on a park bench, go have a snack at a nearby coffee shop or eatery.

We have the benefit of being involved in an industry where all of the above is an option. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that hard work and concentration be substituted for leisurely afternoons at the beach or for a few pints at the pub. Sure, that’s all we need, another excuse to procrastinate! Yet, every once in a while, let’s make an effort to break out of the daily grind and make sure our colleagues do the same. Our work will be better for it.

“So as I finish typing all of this from the shade of an umbrella at the beach”…is what I would have said had I taken my own advice.

Instead I’m at my desk, squinting, half?way through the day. Still, I shouldn’t complain really. After all it is Friday, and I know full well that by this time tomorrow I will be at that beach under that umbrella, sitting in the shade and enjoying the sunshine!

[Interested in contributing your own article for Develop’s readers? We’re always on the lookout for industry-authored pieces on development-related topics. Email for more details.]

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