We spoke to Yodo1 co-founder James LaLonde about how his company brought a 200+ staff team from an office in Beijing to being entirely remote.
In 2020, the world learned how to work remotely. The Coronavirus pandemic forced companies out of the office no matter where they were based.
For many, the forced remote working came as a shock to the system. Home and work became one and the same, and teams that might have occupied entire floors in the office were relocated to Zoom meetings and Slack channels.
Some companies though, particularly in tech-focused industries like video games, came to embrace remote working. No more hours lost in commuting. No office rent costs. The ability to hire talent from anywhere in the world. There are pros as well as cons.
To hear more about adopting—and indeed embracing—a remote model, we spoke to James LaLonde of Yodo1 Games, a mobile games company that overhauled its structure from housing 200+ staff in an office in Beijing to being entirely remote.
“Yodo1 was founded by two people, myself and my co-founder Henry Fong,” James told us. “I handle the outwards-facing part of the company: the sales, the marketing, and all the revenue-generating activities. Whereas my co-founder Henry looks after the product and the technical side, and we split our activities right down the middle that way.”
Founded in 2011, Yodo1 has helped bring some of the biggest mobile titles of the last decade to market including Crossy Road and Rodeo Stampede, and across its portfolio has seen close to two billion users.
Yodo1 wasn’t a small startup when it moved remote; it was and remains to be a high-functioning, successful company.
The process wasn’t without challenges though. When the pandemic hit China, both James and Henry were out of the country. And as borders closed, they couldn’t get back into where the rest of their team was.
“We couldn’t get back into China. Henry’s still not back in; he’s in Australia. I was on vacation in Thailand, and my son was just over one year old at that time, so he didn’t get back home to Beijing for nine months. So Henry and I were gone from the office for a long time, and it was clear early on that China was handling the pandemic very strictly when it came to letting people in and out of the country. We weren’t going to get back to the office for a long time.”
“And because it was around the time of Chinese New Year, a lot of our staff tend to take vacation at that time, so a lot of them got stranded. We had a senior manager stranded in Europe, and some others who had gone back to the US, so our management team was pretty much spread all over the world.”
While the Yodo1 team was apart, their platform business that provides monetization tools to game developers was growing rapidly, with new customers coming in from every corner of the world. It was this that put permanent remote working into the minds of James and Henry. Rather than having the majority of their staff in a single timezone, they could make use of their global team and the increased availability this gave them to cater to customers in different regions.
“By about Summer, we started feeling like maybe we could make a go of this and move the entire company over to remote working. We weren’t sure, but we were thinking about it.”
Now that Yodo1 has been working remotely for a number of months, the next question we had for James was how it’s worked out.
“I would say the biggest benefit to our company is that we can now hire anywhere. Our hiring used to be centered around one country, so that all changed. We started actively hiring in the summer of 2020 anywhere in the world. We used global platforms. We had a very good financial year in 2020, so we ended up hiring an additional 30% of our workforce. Not all of them were located in China, so we had to think about how to onboard and support them remotely.”
“Now we have staff from 35 different countries. A good third of our employee population is based outside of China. Previously, at least 90% of our staff were based within China. So the biggest change has been the ability to hire anywhere in the world.”
But what challenges come with moving hundreds of employees to remote working? The biggest issue that Yodo1 found was communication. “When we moved remote, we found that people wouldn’t prepare well for meetings. They wouldn’t be able to say what they meant to say, or they wouldn’t be able to say it in our chat groups, or even in emails. We found that people needed to change the way they communicated.”
“We created a concept we call ‘Sunshine’, and we call each other out on this now. If you’re doing too much on your own and you’re not revealing your work process or where the product is in its lifecycle, or if you’re not informing the key stakeholders, we’ll say, “Please come into the sunshine,” or we’ll say, “That’s really good, thanks for sharing the sunshine.”
“We had this culture that evolved and a vocabulary that evolved with it, and we found that we needed to over-communicate, which we weren’t doing previously. You tend to get little cliques in the office, where people go to the colleagues they like talking to in order to get stuff done. And while this seems efficient on the surface, it’s more efficient if you can communicate effectively to everyone.”
“It was quite painful in the beginning. We had to spend a lot of time teaching people how to communicate. I made videos on how to do a good meeting, how to take notes, how to prepare an agenda.”
Producing video resources that all employees can access was certainly an effective way to bridge any gaps in communication. In a sense, it standardizes onboarding, ensuring everyone is operating from the same set of instructions.
“We learned how to remotely onboard people efficiently, which is very important. You need to make new hires feel like part of the team, you have to train people, and that was tough. But we’ve learned how to do that better now.”
What also helped Yodo1 transition to their new work situation was an entrepreneurial initiative that James started called Pitch Club. “I feel like a lot of people go up and pitch their company or their idea to people, but no one ever gives them feedback. We started Pitch Club about a year before COVID, and we began really relying on it to teach people how to communicate. We had to be really proactive about it — we had to actually teach each other how to communicate remotely.”
And so, through employees pitching their own ideas to James and other members of the company, Yodo1 instilled those values in its staff that make them strong communicators: taking the time to prepare what you’re going to say, putting it in an easy-to-digest format, and prioritizing the most important details.
Without the social setting of an office, group activities like this are imperative to continue team-building and fostering an environment that people enjoy working in.
Nowadays, Yodo1 only has a small office in Beijing to meet local regulations, with six chairs and one meeting room. And even though the majority of the company has dived into the remote nature of work, there are some that still appreciate the office space.
“I went into the office on the day before Chinese New Year to sign a contract, and I found three people on the management team were in the office when I arrived. So there are some staff members who go to the office if they can.”
“On the whole, I think moving the company remote was successful, but I do think we’ve had some turnover because people just weren’t able to make the transition of working completely remotely. We’ve added a lot of new employees — for a lot of them, their only experience with us is remote, but we’ve also lost some more tenured employees who loved the office and didn’t want to change. So the transition as a whole hasn’t been without its ups and downs, and it’s certainly an ongoing process for us.”
Yodo1 is one of many companies that have changed the way they work as a result of the pandemic, trading the traditional office for a digital space with an emphasis on communication. And with the company growing its headcount by 30% in 2020, it certainly seems to be working for them.
As a fully remote team, jobs at Yodo1 Games are available to anyone in the world. View their active listings here to see if there are any opportunities that match your profile.
Written by Hitmarker as part of a partnership with Yodo1 Games.