One of the truly magical things about starting your own business is that you have a blank slate, and you can manifest into existence all kinds of things — products, teams, and cultures. When we first sat down and had a conversation about the idea of starting a new company, we asked ourselves “what sort of company would we actually want to work at?”
We’ve both worked in places with less than perfect company culture. Some companies are too set in their ways to change and adapt, some companies have toxic leadership, and all too often the relationship between the employees and employer is not a two-way street — in terms of communication, expectations, or respect.
We wanted something different for our fledgling company, and even before we had a bank account, we wrote down and agreed on what our company values were. Since “putting people first” was at the very top of the list, we knew we also needed some guidelines for how we wanted to treat people, and how we expected people we worked with to treat each other.
Community and safety
We think of our team at FarBridge as a community — more so than as a family. This community is opt-in, everyone we work with decides to work with us or not, and as the studio heads, it’s ultimately up to us to decide who we invite to work with us. All the individuals involved are important to us, and we know that we have to earn the trust of the people with whom we work.
While many companies describe their teams as a family, we think this can be a dangerous association. You don’t get to pick your family, you can’t easily quit one family for another who treats you better, and frankly… not everyone has a real-life family dynamic that they want to emulate in a workplace. So we want to avoid association with those potentially unhealthy relationships. To support this endeavor, we created a company-wide code of conduct.
The FarBridge code of conduct outlines acceptable and unacceptable behaviors for our team, covering topics like professionalism, consent, and harassment. This is a big part of how we define how our community works, and what the positive relationships we want to foster between each other look like. We think of it as our rules-of-engagement or straightforward dos-and-don’ts. While some of these things should be common sense, experience has shown it’s best to write them down. This makes them real and gives our entire team a common point of reference to look to for guidance and hold ourselves and each other accountable to.
Besides running FarBridge, we also help organize VR Austin, a community for folks interested in and working in VR/AR. We were very happy with how the VR Austin code of conduct worked to help shape that community, so we decided to use it as a starting point, adapting it to fit the needs of a company and employer, above and beyond community events and spaces. Since then we’ve continued to evolve and improve our company code of conduct, making it meet our growing team’s needs.
Great Expectations / First Line of Defense
Establishing a Code of Conduct is vital to protecting not just our team, but our culture. It allows us to set clear expectations for ourselves, each other, external partners, and our vendors.
The code of conduct serves as the first line of defense for our team. It outlines some of the consequences that transgressions against our team, culture, or greater community can incur — from opportunities for coaching, to being permanently removed from FarBridge circles, to involving appropriate authorities.
It can be challenging to resolve conflict or change behavior, but having an outline of what to expect and a decision tree for how we handle issues when they arise makes the process slightly less arduous. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel again and again — we’ve outlined our boundaries, and can assess whether someone has crossed them in real-time, as opposed to wondering later and combing through precedents, delaying action.
A Living Document
A code of conduct is only as useful as its relevance. It’s not enough to write down a few rules and walk away. Reviewing, assessing use cases, and iteration are vital to the adaptability of our Code of Conduct, and we do this in a couple of key ways:
At least once a year, the whole team reviews the code of conduct in its current state. We make notes and suggestions and requests together as a team, but also welcome offline or anonymous feedback.
New sections are added, older ones are revised, and sometimes we change up working to more accurately reflect current understands of complex situations. During the pandemic, we also created a work-from-home handbook, with guidance on boundaries, work/life balance, protecting the chain of communication, and microaggressions, outlining the definitions and processes for reporting and resolving these types of issues.
We include the Code of Conduct as part of our onboarding process, and folks joining the team agree to follow the guidelines therein. And beyond regular reviews, we include team and community safety topics prominently in our weekly team meetings. In these meetings we ask for feedback, ideas, and suggestions, and also refer back to the code of conduct and other useful resources.
Company culture is important — it can be clean water we swim in, or toxic sludge we endure. It can support our growth as individuals, a team, a community, a business, an industry — or it can hinder and harm us.
We use the guiding principle that no one should have to dread coming in to work. We want folks to know that their needs are centered in this document’s existence and evolution. Our code of conduct lets us evaluate where we are and the relationships we have with ourselves and each other — and it can help us navigate the choices we make as we head towards our goals.
Most importantly of all, it helps us keep our people safe, as well as giving them guidance and agency to set and respect boundaries — which has never been more valuable than in these interesting times.
— Patrick & Melissa
Patrick Curry is the CEO of FarBridge. Patrick is a serial entrepreneur, inventor, and game designer. He’s previously started and sold companies to the likes of Disney, Unity Technologies, and frog design. His pre-FarBridge game credits include Stubbs the Zombie, John Woo’s Stranglehold, Disney’s Guilty Party, and Avengers Initiative. Patrick also serves as an advisor to SXSW and has mentored indie game developers like the creators of Octodad, Organ Trail, Intruder, and Job Simulator. Patrick can be found on LinkedIn.
Melissa Swanepoel is the COO of FarBridge. Melissa runs operations and marketing at FarBridge, bringing years of film production, live broadcast television, and product development experience to bear. Melissa also chairs the VR Austin Jam, an annual event that brings together developers, brands, and enthusiasts to create and collaborate on all new experiences. She is passionate about storytelling, interactive media, and the people behind it all. Melissa can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.