In this week’s Meet & Greet interview, myGwork member and Electric Square’s Production Director Chantal Zuurmond provides insights into how the gaming industry can create a more welcoming work environment for all employees. She also shares how she reached the top of her profession in gaming, and provides a glimpse into her social life, explaining why she pledges alliance to the bisexual flag.
myGwork: Can you tell us a bit about your career journey to date?
Chantal: Before I officially worked in the video games industry, I volunteered by organising all sort of game-related events for EVE Online. Then in 2006 when the company was in the position to hire more designers they made me an offer. That was the start, and from there I grew from a game designer into a producer. Production is a mix of project management, team support and delivery management. I like to organize; my parents are a bit more chaotic, so this is how I rebelled as a teenager. Other people recognized I have a knack for it, and I worked as a producer for various game companies, making teams more efficient and less frustrated about work.
Then after working various game studios I wanted to see how generic software companies worked, and particularly how they embraced diversity and inclusion since the games industry is notorious for being bad at it. I joined an agile consultancy, and they are very vocal about how to improve diversity and inclusion, they are in the Stonewall top 100 list of companies to work for. While I was there, I learned so much and I wanted to bring that back into the games industry to help build a great studio. I want to show the games industry that you can have friendly and inclusive places to work, while making serious games.
myGwork: What's the most challenging aspect of managing people right now?
Chantal: We mainly work remote, and I think building real connections with people is harder now. I try to make sure people feel there is a person on the other end of the video screen. Part of that is also showing that I am not perfect, but just another person. You do not have to show a perfect picture of yourself online to do a good job, because your image doesn’t affect your ability to do your job. Just be you. We are actually updating our Working from Home Policy to acknowledge zoom fatigue and that it is ok to turn off your video camera if you are knackered after too many meetings, or if you are feeling particularly anxious.
Being remote also makes it harder to people to maintain a healthy work/life balance. I know I do not always practise what I preach and that can set a bad example, so I try to take my own advice too.
myGwork: What attributes do you look for in new recruits and why?
Chantal: I tend to ask questions about whether it would be a good fit regarding their expectations about the studio and our way of working. You could have the technical skills, but if you expect everyone to work in the office then clearly, we are not the studio for you. We do have some people in the office every day, but it will not be a whole team. Another assumption I check is what autonomy they expect a team to have. None, or some? There are people who genuinely prefer it when teams have no autonomy whatsoever. Finally, do they like the type of games we make? Some people only want to work on very specific games, doing a very specific job. We work on a variety of games. If it isn’t a match for the studio then doesn’t make them a bad person, or bad employee it only means they would enjoy a different studio a whole lot more.
myGwork: How important is LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace for you personally?
Chantal: Personally, it is very important to me. I’m a member of the alphabet mafia as Tiktok calls it. I’m pansexual but will pledge alliance to the bisexual flag, because the colour scheme is nicer. You are at work for most of the day, for most of the week. It is utterly exhausting if you cannot be you, in every way. That also means that your workplace has to accept you, and while our studio is accepting of LGBTQ+ people I know there are many studios who do not.
myGwork: What's your favorite inclusion campaign to date and why?
Chantal: Ikea does it well. Now this might be because I recently moved house, and that I noticed it more, but Ikea commercials always show a broader definition of who makes a family. Surprise, it’s not just heteronormative couples. They have done it for years and not just for Pride. I also liked Starbuck’s commercial where a young man used his preferred name, maybe for the first time after being constantly referred to by a woman’s name earlier. I thought that was a very impactful commercial and maybe it should get shown again, considering some people feel that trans rights are up for debate again.
myGwork: How do you encourage staff to have a worklife balance, especially with the increase in remote/hybrid working?
Chantal: Having a good work-life balance, it sounds so easy, but it is not. I am not someone who has it all figured out either. For me the pressure comes from not wanting to let your co-workers down. It’s much easier to have a very good balance at workplaces if there isn’t much of a team or people that you like that count on you. So, you really need to watch your own boundaries. As a manager I can help with that when it comes to the team. If I see someone volunteer to take on a ton of work, I will look to share it more evenly. If it’s still too much, then we find a way to reduce the work.
I also make it very clear to people that I do not expect any responses out of their work hours, or on their holiday. I mention that I might send them a message, because otherwise I might forget what I wanted to say. But I do not expect a response, at all. They shouldn’t even be looking at it. At the studio we usually tell people off for responding or participating when they are on holiday. We take it seriously. We also share what has worked for us to ensure we do not think about work when we are away from work. I send myself an email of things to do when I’m back at work, that seems to help me to enjoy my time off.
myGwork: What's the biggest highlight of your career to date and why?
Chantal: One of my old co-workers decided she would work with me again. I think that is the biggest compliment as a manager that someone that has worked with you before, would do so again. Thinking back, I can think of two, maybe three managers in games I’d work for again. It’s rare to find someone who will actively help you grow, who will give support when you need it, and takes what you say seriously. I am trying to be the manager I wish I had. I took her joining the studio as a sign that I’m not doing too bad.
myGwork: What was the last book you read? Any interesting take-aways and would you recommend it to fellow leaders?
Chantal: Non-fiction: The good kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World, by Kara Cooney. I’d recommend it if you are interested in power dynamics and how perception of it can change over time. It makes you question some of the romanticised views we have of history. I found it very insightful and it makes you reflect on current events.
Fiction: Weaponized by Neal Asher. It is set in the Polity Universe, but you can read it on its own. It’s about a group of people who move to a new planet and how far they are willing to adapt themselves. I generally read a lot of science fiction, and Neal Asher is an author I’d recommend. Together with Iain M Banks and China Miéville. If that get’s a little too dark then there is Terry Pratchett who will make you smile again.
myGwork: What was your last holiday destination and where do you plan to visit next?
Chantal: My last holiday was to Faro in Portugal. It’s a tiny village, but it has amazing food. You will relax because there isn’t a ton to do. Next time I go to Portugal I’ll go to Costa Caparica & Lisbon again. There is more to do in Lisbon if you cannot surf for a few days. In September I’m going to Malta, and I’m trying to convince my family in the Netherlands so join me.
myGwork: What do you do to relax at the end of a hard-working day?
Chantal: That changes day by day really, but something that takes my mind away from work and ideally something that I enjoy. It could be fussing about my plants, reorganizing the interior of my new flat. Meeting friends after work on occasion. A long time ago, I used to go to the gym 6 days per week. I’m looking to get back into that habit of going to the gym after work, but I will need to work up to going that often again.