Gameye's Elmer Bulthuis told us how the company works behind the scenes, spoke about the challenges with remote working Gameye meets, and discussed skills which can be useful for remote employees.
Hey there, my name is Elmer Bulthuis. I was born in Rotterdam, Holland (where I’m still based). And I work as the CTO/CPO and chief of culture at Gameye. We’re the only remote-only company that does server hosting for the gaming industry.
I studied interaction design, but school wasn’t really for me. So I started working fairly early. I started up my first company when I was around 11. I realized very early on this is something I enjoy – starting new companies and making them big. It’s taught me a lot – arguably more than if I was just to do education. And it’s what I’m good at doing.
I properly started freelancing when I was 19. Since then, I’ve been working on multiple projects and companies here and there, with Gameye being my most recent one.
Gameye provides servers for multiplayer games to host their sessions (essentially, the match). At the core of Gameye, the concept is pretty simple. A session is a process. We can start it anywhere in the world and start it quickly, usually within a second. And it doesn’t matter how many sessions a developer needs to start. We always make sure there’s enough capacity wherever the players are.
We take away the pain of managing all of that for a developer. It’s essential for developers, especially at launch. Maybe a streamer picked up their game, and suddenly, that drives a bunch of players to their game. They always want to have that capacity for their games.
Teams and Organization at Gameye
We’re agnostic, healthy, and humble. These are our core values, which we follow for both our brand and our internal culture.
For our clients, our platform is completely agnostic, meaning it can work with whatever tools our partners use. We don’t pin them down to just one technology. We can work with anyone, anywhere in the world. Even our contracts are flexible. At the end of the day, we want to build healthy and trustworthy relationships with our clients and make sure everyone is happy.
The same applies to our hiring. We’re agnostic, so we’ll work with anyone. We only ask for mutual respect. The same rule applies internally to our teams, too. We leave our egos at the door and focus on supporting each other. If there’s no respect, it can cause issues and conflict.
We started the company with four people. One for finance, product, technology, and sales. Now we have development, sales, marketing, and support teams. Each team works differently. But we all work in similar patterns and in the same way. We’re all remote and don’t have set times to work (it’s not the classic 9 to 5 approach). People work when they feel comfortable, and around their own lives – not the other way around.
Sure we have meetings at set times. So people need to be online at certain times to make those work. But we usually keep the meetings between three or four of us to keep them focused and productive. We try to avoid any larger meetings. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose track. Unless it’s for a social event, of course.
A lot of companies are against remote. But we saw this concept years ago and immediately knew that it was right for us. It was a bit tricky at the start, but then covid came and reshaped the whole idea of working remotely. It made it a lot easier for us, in a way. Some of our staff weren’t too keen on the idea, but I think covid changed that for a lot of people. It proved that remote working could work.
We realized quickly that we need a very specific type of person to join our company. The roles we were looking for were very focused – specific engineers, developers, etc. Our office was originally in Rotterdam, so it would have been fortunate to find these people (with the right skills or interests) on our doorstep. When we did find someone, it would usually mean asking them to relocate, which most of the time wasn’t a fair thing to ask.
By going remote, we could suddenly hire anybody from around the world. We wouldn’t miss out on any brilliant opportunities, and vice versa. This also helped out our support team. Having different people worldwide in our support team means we could be more reactive to our client's questions. Regular working hours, but still have 24-hour support.
Challenges of Working Remotely
It’s very easy to feel disconnected when working remotely. All you see are lines of text in Slack or emails. It can get lonely. It’s easy to not feel like a part of the company, which can damage your relationship with your colleagues.
We set up a Discord server to overcome this. (Discord is how gamers usually speak with each other while playing – think of it like Slack for games. We realized that Discord did everything we needed and was something our employees would be familiar with.) We are entirely remote and work in different time zones, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have an office. It’s just that our office is virtual. We’ve set up a few different channels, and every channel has a purpose. You can go to a channel to just have a catch-up with people, a separate one for meetings, or you can head to a channel for "focus time". But when you’re online and working, you have to be in one of these.
We also made a rule that you need to have your camera on all of the time. We believe that being able to look at each other is important. It helps you get to know each other. When working from home, you could go a couple of days without seeing another person. And we don’t want that.
We hired someone to be head of the remote
Just because we don’t have a physical office doesn’t mean we don’t need an office manager. So we hired someone as head of the remote. Someone who would make sure to remember the essential day-to-day things, like people’s birthdays, social events, and key holidays. It’s so easy to be wrapped up in your work and own little world, and this was something we didn’t want to overlook.
All of the things which you get for free in the office, you have to go out of your way to recreate if you’re remote. A challenge for us sometimes is encouraging our team to go to the virtual office and socialize. It’s important. So we don’t make it optional. It’s a mandatory requirement for us. A big mistake people make is they go remote and expect the same things you get from an office from the bat, but that’s not the case.
You need trust to trust each other
We’ve seen this a few times with other companies. But there’s this odd thing around trust and remote work. Companies believe that their team won’t do any work unless they’re being watched. Which just isn’t true.
Every relationship works on trust. If you can’t trust your people to do the agreed work, then it’s not a healthy relationship. You shouldn’t have to chase someone to do the work all the time. Otherwise, they’re not happy. And that’s a different issue altogether.
But you need to keep yourself motivated
Working remotely can be a tricky situation sometimes especially if you’re completely new to the concept. You have to be quite disciplined and a self-starter. Some people need that extra level of motivation to keep going. And if you’re just sitting at home by yourself 24/7, staring at a screen with nothing else to stimulate you, it’s fair to say you can lose motivation.
We always look for self-starters. We don’t like micro-managing and chasing people. That’s not to say we’re not supportive. We’re always chatting and sharing ideas daily. But if you want to truly work remotely, you’ll need self-discipline and motivation.
Hiring New Specialists
Our team is changing. We’re growing in all areas. For example, I used to be in charge of many management tasks. But we recently hired someone, and they showed a lot of interest in management. So, he put together a presentation, blew us away, and took on a management role.
That’s one of the fun things about start-ups. There are so many roles to fill in. At Gameye, you can start small and grow very quickly, depending on your passion and motivation. Skill plays into this. But we don't just hire on skill alone. Skills can be learned. It’s all about your attitude and your willingness to grow and learn, but it’s also about fitting in the company.
In terms of who we’re looking for, developers, of course. But also architects. We’re looking for developers who can write the code but can also design the solution. So it’s possible to start as a developer, but quickly move to become an architect, depending on what you want to do.
We don’t believe in hierarchy
Of course, if push comes to shove, and we need someone to fix or address something, we will. But we don’t believe in the traditional hierarchy structure in other companies. We want to trust and respect each other, no matter the status.
We think people should do the work they’re most comfortable with and what they want to do. The only thing that everyone has to have is to love what they’re doing. (Of course, they’ll always be small tasks you have to do, we don’t want to downplay that.)
But we’re strong believers that you get what you strive for. And you should never be locked into doing something just because that’s what it says on your job description.
Skills Necessary for Remote Workers
The most important but most difficult is taking care of yourself. Remote working can be unhealthy. You’re sitting there all day by yourself.
Take care of yourself in every sense. Eating right, exercising, sleeping well, and being happy. You need a social life – hobbies and interests – to keep you active and outgoing. Going into an office physically gives you much more social interaction than remote. So it’s essential to prioritize these things if you want to work remotely. Build healthy habits and listen to your body.
We encourage healthy living. We try to create a safe environment so the team can be who they are. Just be careful how you bring it. We try to make it easier for social interactions where people can say what they want but obviously still feel respected.
For other stuff, say you want to exercise, we’ll cover the cost of a gym. Or if you want a better office chair, we’ll happily get it.
Communication is the key
This is such an important soft skill to have. But is even more important when working remotely. You need to have good communication skills if you want to work from home – both for social reasons, but for professional purposes too. If not, projects can get delayed, mistakes can happen, and worse of all, you don’t get the help you need.
We try to lead by example
It’s easy to say things like “go exercise, take time off, go for a walk”. But when the leaders in the company aren’t doing these things themselves, there suddenly comes this peer pressure, or even guilt if someone does put themselves before the company. And this is something we just don’t want to happen.
So we’re always chatting about the activities that we do outside of work. What hikes we’re going on, nice food we’re eating, new places we’re visiting. It’s important to encourage that among the team, so we have to lead that.
Gameye's Approach to Education
Well, education comes down to time and budget. We help with training in any way that we can. This could be mentorship, sending a member of the crew off on a course, or anything.
The only thing that we expect is a plan. We’re not going to hold their hand and push them into a course they may or may not want to do. So much has happened over the last couple of years, and some people might not want to actively go out and learn something new at the moment. Maybe with the roles they’re doing, they are learning something new every day in their jobs. It really comes down to the individual.
But we always encourage our team to learn new things. We want to motivate people to better themselves every day. We’re just not going to tell them what to do. They need to come to us with something they want to learn and do. And we’ll do our best to make it happen.
Advice for Beginners
Well, first things first, cover the basics. Get a good microphone. If your internet is rubbish, fix that. If you have a terrible sound set up, sort that out.
Even down to your mouse and keyboard. Every person has their preferences. But those are the basics. Get some good gear and sort out your setup. You’d be surprised how distracting and frustrating it is to have a bad setup.
Don’t work where you sleep
If you have your computer where you’re supposed to relax, then it’s difficult to completely zone off from work. Maybe you’re not at your computer, but you’re still working in your mind. You need a separate room to work in, to help you switch off. It can help your mental state. It’s a more practical thing as well – if you have kids, you can tell them not to go into the office when the door is closed.
It’s a good place to change your mindset. There are so many distractions at home and so many things to do. This is great because you can choose how you spend your work day. But it’s easy to get distracted.
Keep your home tidy
This is our last top tip for working remotely. Suddenly your home and space are somewhere you’ll spend 80% of your time. So take pride in your surroundings. I find that a quick 10-minute tidy in the morning can help focus the mind, and just get you ready for a productive day.