This article is part of an editorial series of Expert Talks by Virtuos, aimed at sharing the learnings and best practices in global game development and art production. In this installment, art producers Qin, Xu, and Chen at Virtuos Xi’an shared how our studio took pre-emptive measures to implement efficient remote work in anticipation of a COVID-19 lockdown.
Two days before Christmas last year, 13 million people in Xi’an, China, were placed into lockdown within 12 hours after a new wave of COVID-19 infections was detected in the city. With the country’s zero-COVID strategy, the burgeoning number of cases in Xi’an posed a serious concern for public safety and triggered a strict month-long lockdown, which businesses and individuals had to quickly adapt to.
To find out more about how our studio in Xi’an coped with the last-minute lockdown announcement and maintained productivity levels throughout the remote working period, we spoke to Qin, Xu, Chen, our art producers at Virtuos Xi’an, who shared their experience and learning points with us.
“We were aware that the situation in Xi’an was gradually getting serious at the time and had already started taking incremental precautions two weeks before the lockdown,” our art producers at Virtuos Xi’an shared. “The official notice from the government gave us less than 12 hours to react and shift the entire team of nearly 400 employees to a work-from-home (WFH) basis.”
Interviewing Qin (left), Chen (middle), Xu (right), Art Producers at Virtuos Xi’an
Despite the sudden changes and unforeseen challenges, our team in Xi’an pulled together its resources and successfully maintained productivity levels during this period while delivering projects to clients timely and efficiently.
In late December 2021, a new wave of COVID-19 infections was detected in Xi’an after the second round of mass testing in the city. As the initial chain of transmission was unclear, authorities announced the lockdown to prevent the risk of large-scale outbreaks in Xi’an. During the month-long lockdown, emergency laws mandated that no residents in the city could leave their homes unless they were rostered to purchase necessities during fixed timings or scheduled for compulsory COVID-19 testing.
Anticipating the Lockdown
As local infections first started flaring up on 9 December, our studio management team in Xi’an had already been gradually taking precautionary measures two weeks prior to the announcement by local authorities:
- Hardware: During the initial planning stages, our production team pre-emptively prepared the WFH environment setup for all artists – ensuring they had the necessary hardware and network connection required to complete their tasks remotely. After confirming the list of employees who may be affected, the producers accurately evaluated the potential impact on project deliveries and updated clients on the evolving situation.
- Security and IP protection: Virtuos Xi’an’s IT team ensured that all employees could remotely connect to the company’s secure server, which is crucial in protecting clients’ IP materials. The team also made sure that every employee could obtain the necessary IT assets ahead of any potential lockdown.
- Employee wellbeing: The studio’s HR and admin team reached out to employees to better understand their current living and working conditions, ensuring that they will be well supported in case of emergencies.
Day-to-day Challenges and Solutions During Xi’an Lockdown
1. Maintaining High Production Efficiencies
With the sudden switch to remote work, our producers needed to quickly adapt to manage and coordinate project timelines and track team efficiency accurately. The emergency laws resulted in conflicts with working schedules at times. Thus, producers set up a communication plan, which included regular check-ins with art teams to ensure that projects were on track for delivery.
The frequency of internal project updates was ramped up to help align individual and team goals for art and production teams. Art team leaders and directors also facilitated this process by checking in with their direct reports on their progress at the end of each day. With regular check-ins, leaders could pick up on possible quality issues early on and have them corrected as soon as possible. With an efficient communication plan set up, our production teams in Xi’an managed to keep efficiency levels high throughout the month-long lockdown.
2. IT and Inter-studio Technical Support
With everyone working from home, frequent technical issues posed a risk of slowing down production. During the entire remote working period, some commonly faced cases were network and peripheral driver problems, sudden PC shutdowns, and difficulty in producing clear textures due to hardware limitations. To help production teammates quickly resolve IT issues during this critical period, our IT support team adopted a shift work system to promptly respond to tickets sent in between 9am to 10pm.
Our Xi’an team also received technical support from Virtuos Chengdu, whose teams provided extra hardware for artists in Xi’an to connect remotely and complete their projects. Our IT team in Xi’an also prepared another remote system as an additional backup plan, which fortunately was not rolled out as the original plans went smoothly. As a result, the robust support from our IT team and Virtuos Chengdu was instrumental in helping Virtuos Xi’an maintain efficiency levels during this period.
3. Boosting Team Morale
With the unstable COVID-19 situation at the time, it was unsurprising that everyone felt somewhat stressed and anxious about the sudden changes. To keep the team connected and morale high, our Xi’an team prepared several virtual activities to help everyone lead a healthy and positive WFH life.
As the lockdown kicked in two days before Christmas, our studio’s HR and admin team quickly prepared a festive virtual contest, inviting all Xi’an Virtuosi to share festive photos and videos of themselves while working from home. The event helped lift everyone’s spirits during the early days of the lockdown.
Festive photos sent in by Virtuos Xi’an teammates
Besides festive activities, Xi’an team members were also encouraged to stay mentally and physically healthy while staying indoors. Our admin team organized a series of online interactive activities, including short exercise routines, and gave out prizes to employees who actively participated during the lockdown.
To boost team morale, Kyle, our General Manager in Virtuos Xi’an, also held an online celebration event on New Year’s Day, giving out lucky envelopes to everyone.
Kyle Ji, General Manager at Virtuos Xi’an, celebrating New Year’s Day with studio members virtually
Our HR and admin team also pulled together resources and actively communicated with all team members to send out care packages, including pantry staples such as bread, milk, and instant noodle packets to all Virtuosi in Xi’an, ensuring that everyone’s basic needs were taken care of.
Delivering care packages to Xi’an employees
Care package contents
With the unrelenting efforts of our HR and admin team, our Virtuos Xi’an team stayed connected with each other throughout the lockdown until the crisis tided over.
While it was a difficult time for the studio partially due to the shortage of supplies during the lockdown, the unrelenting efforts of all our teams that worked hard together helped tide the studio through this period.
Regular disinfection of our Xi’an studio to ensure the safety of Virtuos employees
“We give the most heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been so understanding and supportive towards us during this critical period, from our clients to other Virtuos studios, and to every team member of our Xi’an studio,” said our producers.
“Whether it is a minor obstacle in daily work or a big challenge like the lockdown, our perseverance and adaptability will ensure that we can overcome difficulties and emerge stronger.”
Besides the vigilant monitoring and thorough planning by our studio management team, the cooperative efforts of all Xi’an employees were crucial to keeping team morale and productivity levels high throughout the lockdown. We commend our colleagues in Virtuos Xi’an for exemplifying our values of trust, excellence, and positivity by delivering high-quality work efficiently despite uncertainties, taking extra steps to keep project IPs secure, and staying positive and supportive of one another!