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Working Culture and the Recruiting Process at CD PROJEKT RED

CD PROJEKT RED talked about dealing with burnout, described the educational system in the company, and explained what it looks for in new specialists.

80.lv: Please introduce yourself and your team. Where did you study? How did you join the team?

Agnieszka Szamałek-Michalska, Culture, Diversity & Inclusion Director: My career path was far from obvious. I studied International Law, and my original plan was to become a diplomat – right after graduation, I worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It didn’t take long for me to realize it wasn’t the right fit for me, so I ended up changing my entire career trajectory. I joined a freshly founded events company and convinced the owner to let me develop their HR. Soon, I was a one-person HR team, simultaneously carrying out recruitment and working on employee engagement and motivation. I took two years off for personal reasons – I had two children – and upon reentering the workforce, I decided to switch over to something new, in this case, CD PROJEKT RED. This year, 2022, marks my 10th anniversary at the company. I can’t believe how much time has passed! It’s been a crazy ride, and I’m constantly learning new things, so I’ve never been bored here. Over my time with the company, my role has developed from relocation to HR Partner, to Culture, Diversity & Inclusion Director. 

As a team, we all have different work experiences, but we’re driven by a common goal – focusing on the well-being of our colleagues by creating a work environment where everyone feels welcome. Apart from fostering a culture of inclusivity, we address the gender imbalance in the game dev industry through the “Dziewczyny w Grze!” (Girls in the Game!) scholarship and mentorship program for female high schoolers. Some other initiatives: creating flexible working conditions for parents, supporting our LGBTQ+ network, educating about inclusive language, and last but not least, creating a flow of information throughout the company. Add to that a lot of laughter and a premium selection of memes and GIFs, and you’ll have a good sense of what our day-to-day looks like! 

We work hard to make our company the best workplace for our colleagues, and that includes making time to celebrate. We value each other not only on a professional level, we genuinely like each other’s company and take time to get to know one another, be it at our company-wide Social Fridays, our annual picnic, or during internal teams meetings. 

Agnieszka Szamałek-Michalska

Marta Fortuna, Vice President of Human Resources: I started in social work – supporting underprivileged families and children with social challenges – and this was a very fulfilling period that I frequently come back to. After finishing my studies in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at KU Leuven and graduating from Warsaw University, I started my path in the HR field and continued my social work for non-profit organizations. Since embarking on my HR journey, I’ve been able to develop in various fields of the discipline, starting from employment & payroll, then compensation & benefits. I’ve been responsible for building EB (employer branding) strategies, building development programs, and managing the entire HR aspect of various companies – all of this amid mergers and company reshapes in numerous places I’ve worked. I learned a lot during this period, and the time came to look for someplace unique to fulfill my mission of helping people in organizations grow to their potential and achieve ambitious goals together. 

At CD PROJEKT RED, I’ve found passionate and ambitious people and a chance to build an HR department and its direction from the ground up. I started as an HR Partner, then managed the HR Partners team, and finally took responsibility for the entire HR department. The world of video game creators turned out to be fascinating, and here I am six years later – still hungry for more and aspiring to build an environment and culture that will nurture the deep passion and talent at the company. But honestly, I wouldn’t be able to be where I am if not for my extraordinary team members. We are a diverse team of over 50 unique individuals with different backgrounds and personalities. We build on our strong work ethic and shared values while listening closely to each other and all RED team members. Really, all of us together are in a constant loop of growing and changing. 

On a more private note, I’m happy to be a wife, mother of two children, and owner of a dog and cat – so it’s a pretty full house to come back to after work :) 

Marta Fortuna

80.lv: How is work organized at CD PROJEKT RED? Could you tell us about different teams? How do different teams communicate with each other?

AS: The pandemic taught us a whole new approach. It also showed us very clearly that people are indispensable to any organization, regardless of its size, business model, and activities, and that communication among teams is key. Today, we also know that you don't need to be in the office to know what's going on at the company. We have become more flexible and attentive to people, and we’ve introduced additional tools to support communication. 

We have many teams and each has its own preferred style of communication. Generally, we keep in touch via Slack and email during the work day. If we're at the office, we have coffee, breakfast, or lunch together. 

Last year, we transitioned to Agile methodology. We have daily standup meetings, weekly meetings, milestone announcements, and other methods of keeping information flowing through the company.

80.lv: Could you share some details on how you celebrate your big 20th anniversary internally? What events did you plan? How do you make sure this year is special for your employees too?

AS: Though we began much earlier as a video game distribution company, July 1st, 2002 marks the exact date CD PROJEKT (previously stylized as CD Projekt) announced its shift to game development, revealing CD PROJEKT RED to the world. It’s incredible to take a step back and see that we’ve been a part of the game-dev industry for two decades, and it’s certainly something worth celebrating. We’re proud of our teams, games, and of course – the incredible community we’ve had supporting us. 

We spent a long time preparing for this event as it was one of our first opportunities since the pandemic started to meet, hug, and toast our 20th anniversary together. It gave us a chance to truly spend some time together. What a party! Let's start by saying that it was great to see everyone having fun together and dancing until dawn. There were touching moments and heaps of laughter and a special video made just for the occasion. And since REDs like swag, they also received anniversary sweatshirts. The rest of the party, however, remains our secret. 

We also plan to hold our annual picnic in early September. With such a fantastic team, there’s no doubt that not only will this year be special, but so will the next 20 years!

80.lv: What does this date mean for you and your team? What are the things that made you proud throughout the years? What are your goals now, especially in terms of HR strategy?

MF: We have come a very long way, but we are still young and operating in an equally young and dynamic industry that is constantly changing. It’s interesting how much we’ve evolved – we began as a bunch of game lovers, and now we’re a company that employs over 1000 people, operates offices across several continents, and has legendary games under its belt. For the HR department, our goals are to be the employer of choice, attract and retain top talent, and enhance internal and external employer branding.

80.lv: What skills do you consider when hiring a new specialist? Are there any particular soft skills that are important to your team?

MF: Each position has different requirements. But I will say that in general, we look for people with good communication and team-working skills, who have the potential to grow within the team and the organization. 

We pay attention to the cultural fit aspect of hiring. Of course, we take competencies into account, but we also look for that common denominator that will make everyone feel comfortable. We treat each other with respect and openness, which are the same traits we look for in potential employees; those are the people we want to attract to our company.

80.lv: How do you make sure that beginners feel welcomed and safe at the studio? How do you help them build a common understanding with other teammates?

MF: Our employees have a variety of work experiences, backgrounds (we have 43 different nationalities represented in our company), and skills that combine to create a unique community. Add to that a space tailored to their needs, an atmosphere conducive to building good interpersonal relationships, and the opportunity to be themselves, and you have CD PROJEKT RED’s employer model. 

Employees are our greatest asset, and we know that starting at a new company, whether it's their first job or a change of employer, is always a unique experience. It’s common to find the first few days at a new company stressful, which is why we’re mindful when introducing employees to our company. 

Even before the first day of work, our future employee is taken care of by a dedicated recruiter to whom they can turn with any questions. They’re also prompted to write a few sentences about themselves, which are later sent out to everyone as part of their welcome email. This way, everyone can put a name to the face and also learn about potential common interests. In addition, we always give them a warm welcome on our social media – via our HiRED videos! 

On the first day of work, they’re supported by the onboarding team, which guides them through all the formalities, tells them about our work, teams, values, and hands them a welcome pack stuffed with company goodies. Their team members are also a valuable resource, providing support and advice during this initial, often most difficult period of work.

80.lv: How do you manage burnout? What strategies do you use? Let’s say there’s a super important project with tight deadlines, so the team can’t take a rest. What do you do to keep their mental health balanced?

MF: Mental health and work-life balance are very important to us, so we approach the topic holistically. To take care of mental health, we launched a program titled "Minding Your Mind", which is a series of webinars with recognized mental health experts from Poland. The goal is to learn how to take care of our mental health and well-being, self-development both at work and in our personal lives, as well as come to terms with the effects of difficult situations and their impact on our brains. 

We also take care of physical health. Our Warsaw studio has a private gym and personal trainer who leads yoga and Pilates classes during the week. 

Within our company, we have employees known as Trusted Persons, who are nominated and voted into these positions by their peers – if an employee is dealing with problems of a sensitive nature, they can turn to a Trusted Person, who first and foremost maintains their confidentiality and provides any necessary guidance. Apart from this, we have an online safe space for anonymous talks about sensitive or intimate topics. We strive to be open and have a healthy work environment.

80.lv: Do you consider freedom an important part of your environment? Can artists suggest new strategies and workflows? Can they affect strategic decisions?

AS: For me, freedom is a crucial value in life, in terms of expressing my opinions and working on projects – it definitely boosts my creativity and innovation. I know I can be myself here, without being judged or boxed in. When it comes to artists, it's definitely even more important for them to have the necessary freedom of expression to better develop their talent.

80.lv: How do you approach education? How do you train your staff and motivate them to level up?

MF: At CD PROJEKT RED, we focus on continuous development, so all REDs, regardless of their form of employment, can choose how they want to improve their skills and in what areas to expand their knowledge. We offer webinars, online and in-person workshops (available in two languages), Polish language courses, financing participation in conferences and professional courses, and co-financing of college education.

We have training courses available to everyone, which strengthen skills such as communication, emotional intelligence, efficiency, and negotiation, and we promote knowledge sharing through internal training. We also strongly emphasize the development of our leaders at various levels of management.

Moreover, we have diversified our training forms, reaching for training based on strategic games, case studies, action learning, and short workshop forms (compact learning), which last 2 hours. This allows us to offer training tailor-made for our company and derived from individual employee development plans.

80.lv: What's your take on the post-COVID situation? How did it change your team dynamics? What did you have to modify? Do you think remote work damages productivity?

AS: In 2020, the world changed. Now, there is no return to the ways of work we used to know. This thought initially worried us, but we decided to embrace the new reality and create an inclusive work environment that combines the best features of virtual and personal collaboration. Many companies have opted for the top-down hybrid work model, but our approach is different.

Together with specialists in the field of psychology (both organization and human research) and sociology, we conducted wide market research, surveys, and interviews with employees on their preferences and ways of working. The obtained data was used to create a picture of their needs, level of satisfaction, stress – and even lifestyle. We listened to the voices and comments from our teams, and the conclusions underwent scientific analysis. At the same time, we carefully observed market trends and learned from the experiences of other companies. 

After months of preparation, the New Work Model was created. The model provides creative and effective flexibility in our work environment by allowing employees to have a choice between two options: remote-first and office-first, which they can further adapt to their needs. 

Since our team is our greatest strength, we focus on organizational culture and solutions that build relationships. The model includes many elements, such as encouraging people to spend time together, deepen relationships, and exchange ideas creatively. It also includes workations, programs to prevent burnout, and much more. This is just the beginning — right now we are in an ongoing beta phase. We plan to listen, learn from one another, and adapt our working methods to our needs. The New Work Model is not a top-down solution but a collaborative workplace improvement in which everyone's voice is equally important. Maintaining the company vibe, employee relations, and creative brainstorming – which is so important to the game-dev industry – are just a few of the challenges ahead, but we know we'll be up to them.

80.lv: Could you share some tips for artists willing to work at your studio? What should they focus on?

MF: Definitely work on building up your portfolio, which is the most important part of the application for the artist position. Don't be afraid to post your work on ArtStation and show how you grew over the years. Take part in competitions. If you have a dream company you’d like to join, try to do some work in their particular style – that way they can see you understand their style and would be an asset to their world.

Agnieszka Szamałek-Michalska, Culture, Diversity & Inclusion Director

Marta Fortuna, Vice President of Human Resources

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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