Homer Simpson once described working from home as his dream, and it’s a sentiment shared by many professionals. How many people have dreamed of a morning commute lasting no longer than 30 seconds? A lunch break spent on the back porch? Or having the desire to do something at the end of the workday rather than the urge to collapse in a fatigued heap?
As it usually happens though, there’s quite the chasm between the dream and the reality.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in media & entertainment, where working remotely might mean your commute is a breeze, but also means you are quite literally expected to sleep at your desk. It might mean you can raid your own fridge for lunch, but you’re still going to need to be on a conference call. And if you’re working from home, often times the last thing you want to do is spend more time at home after you “clock out”.
In years past this environment was one only a select few could even consider, but technology developments and logistics have meant it’s becoming a reality and even a practicality for many professionals. Freelancing in general lends itself to this type of situation, and with budgets ever shrinking, many facilities are downsizing or even looking to shift more of their operations to a virtual environment. Often times the biggest issues aren’t around the technological hang-ups though, but more about personal or professional considerations.
Without the oversight of a supervisor, will you be able to manage your time effectively? Without being able to be in the same room as the people you’re working with, will you be able to collaborate with them as effectively? It’s a double-edged sword that cuts both ways, and it’s meant a change in approach for the people involved on every side of a project.
Whether you’re currently working remotely, want to make that transition or are trying to figure out what makes the most sense for an upcoming project, there are a number of things that should be kept in mind.
A SHIFTING PARADIGM
When talking about working remotely, we’re talking about working on a project or job from your own home or satellite office, or working with someone in that environment. Freelancers are definitely more popular than full-time video hires at the moment but it’s interesting to see how this ability to effectively collaborate with people in different locations has influenced the way producers and creative approach a project.
“We have seen an exponential increase in both quality freelance opportunities, and perma-lancers looking for production work,” said Katrina Deleon, Director of Marketing for ProductionHUB, an incredibly popular and trusted job network. “What has also increased most recently is the comfort level – more and more clients are hiring repeat freelancers they’ve worked with. It’s more important than ever to land that ONE new client, because it could lead to a well-paying pipeline for life.”
As an industry that has always relied on hiring short and long-term freelancers, this arrangement can make sense for producers and for creatives. Working remotely means creatives don’t have to drag themselves into an office to do the exact same thing they’d be doing at home, and it makes sense for employers because it can mean they don’t need to provide the real estate or hardware for whomever they hire. And it’s one working professionals are keenly aware of.
“Most people in the post industry are used to being part of a greater machine in some form, be it a team of a few people or a team of a few companies,” said David Torno, who works at a company of four people, including himself. ”It’s fairly modular. The biggest thing is clear communication to make it all work, no matter who it's with.”
To say that working remotely is just about saving gas and rent for a studio space is an oversimplification, but the fact that so many production and post houses ramp up or down depending on a project makes them ideally suited for this sort of work environment. We’re not quite to the point where these sorts of companies are completely digital, but it’s only a matter of time as the need and even the desire to work in a more traditional environment continues to fade.
A DIFFERENT MINDSET
Despite the bottom line benefits that employers can experience when hiring freelancers or employees to work remotely, there are some people who are just not comfortable giving up that control. Some employers will simply never be content if they can’t physically see the people who are working for them, and there are plenty of creatives who only take work that requires them to be in an office. But as the work environment changes, so do the expectations.
In a lot of ways, you are held to a higher standard when you’re working remotely. That’s probably not something most employers would admit, and may not even be something they realize, but when you’re working remotely there’s less back and forth and “check-ins” around progress. It means everything is on you to deliver.
“When working remotely, you are in complete control of your surroundings and the attitude you bring to the project,” said Bradford Hill, a remote freelancer turned in-house Producer for ProductionHUB. “When working from home, I know in the back of my mind that I can work as long as my body can handle. However in an office, you constantly have a timer counting down until the day is over.”
Some people are unable to separate their “work” and “personal” space though. They get distracted by their personal environment and it severely impacts work productivity. Rolling out of bed and immediately into a chair a few feet or a single room away isn’t a fit for everyone and it’s important for a person to recognize what sort of limitation he or she might be dealing with.
It’s just as important to recognize these limitations in employers though, but with a focus that’s more about the bottom line, it makes sense that they aren’t as concerned as they might have been in years past about these details.
“It's become much less about watching the timeclock and more about productivity and deliverables,” said Jeff Foster, a freelancer/contractor in the San Francisco area. ”If you're getting the work done, they don't care when/how you do it – just deliver on time.”
YOUR OWN SPACE TO WORK
Freelancing allows for schedule flexibility, simultaneous clients at once, and potential for increased work/life balance. That balance can be tough to maintain in an environment that looks exactly the same as your private life, and can create problems that run to extremes. When working from home some folks are a bit too comfortable to ever get into “work mode”, while others find themselves unable to ever tear themselves away from their computer or email. But there are solutions to these issues.
“After one year of freelancing I moved into dedicated office space for a couple of reasons,” said Scott Simmons, an editor who works out of the Nashville, Tennessee area. “With two little kids in the house it was often hard to get work done when they were home and two kids isn't the most client friendly environment. Plus the separation from home and work is a good since you don't feel compelled to do laundry or any other home-based non-work-related chores while rendering or uploading.”
Having that space to work is important not only to keep from getting distracted, but also because it does help you realize that you’re at work. Whether you’re at a satellite or home office, it’s important to remember that everything you do is in a professional setting whether you realize it or not.
When you’re on a conference call you might not even notice that your dog is barking in the background, but the people sitting at the conference table on the other end are rolling their eyes or starting to check their emails, which will make things harder for you one way or another.
Jumping on Skype or a video call has become more and more common, as it’s easy to share screens and documents in a way that keeps people on the project connected. But that means they might see your workspace, and if they’re seeing your kitchen table that sets all kinds of wrong impressions.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference though, and nowhere is that more evident than with a wireless headset or Bluetooth connection. Odds are you’ll be on the speaker in a room full of people, and if they can’t hear you because you moved the receiver or your chin is scratching against it, everyone will be that much less interested to hear what you have to say.
DIGITAL OFFICE LOGISTICS
Working remotely means you are responsible for your time and productivity in a way you aren’t when you’re coming into an office. Sometimes that can be a good thing, as it can mean you push through a lull if there doesn’t seem to be much going on. But it also means there’s going to be a lot you need to take responsibility for, even when that isn’t explicitly stated.
“An ideal freelancer takes the initiative scheduling milestones and followups.” said Deleon, who’s gotten a fair share of feedback via the ProductionHUB network. “They don’t need to have their hands held, yet they do ask intelligent questions so they understand the client’s vision, timeframe and primary / secondary goals. And they know when to offer creative input and more importantly, when NOT to.”
How assets are and are not shared is another very important consideration, and it can mean lots of uploading, downloading, and streaming. This goes for versioning, reviewing, and delivery as well, all of which is directly impacted by communication between team members. Keeping that communication clear and concise can become a challenge though.
“Communication is the biggest issue with working remotely,” said Hill, which is something he’s felt as the remote worker and as the person who’s working with someone remotely. “There needs to be regularly scheduled video conferences & project reviewing. That is one major plus to working in an office, communication is lightning fast. Technology is growing in a way that lets us simulate an office setting, like GoogleDrive, Skype, Screen Sharing etc.”
That communication isn’t just about team members though, as it also impacts clients. Sometimes those misunderstandings are just a matter of different people having different perceptions, but they can still negatively impact a project in the short term and lead to major deals.
“Clients can be very vague at best in describing what they want,” said David Torno, who’s put out his fair share of client fires. “Having the separation for offsite professionals inherently causes delays. Even if they are subtle, it adds up over time. So in trying to communicate the notes given by the director to another party, there will be another layer of interpretation there. Shift something a little more red, or slightly scale up a layer, or it needs to be more intense can mean lots of things to a lot of people. That could easily be 2% or 10 pixels to one artist and 0.5% or 4 pixels to another. So all this information can get muddied very quickly.”
Connection and network speeds are of critical importance as well. If you’re working from a remote location or your home you really can’t just blame the network. You need to know what kind of speeds and capabilities you’ll have available.
“The first time I worked remotely on an After Effects project I was caught by my slow upload speeds,” said Chris Zwar, who works with people all over the world from Australia. “With an ADSL internet connection, I could download large files without problems, but the upload speeds were much, much slower. I think it took about 10 – 12 hours to upload my final animation file, which could have potentially meant missing the deadline by a full working day. Since then I’ve worked on larger scale projects for International clients where it’s been faster to courier hard drives than to upload / download files. When working out schedules and timing, it’s easy to overlook the amount of time that delivery can take – it’s definitely something that needs to be planned for.”
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Whether or not working from home is your dream, it’s important to remember that not being in the office probably means you’re going to be dealing with even more responsibility, and logistics like connectivity and follow-ups will be on you to schedule and carry through. And it’s completely understandable that many professionals are more than willing to make those sacrifices. So where can you find this sort of work?
Even when it’s someone who is set to come into an office everyday, some people are leery of hiring anyone they don’t know or can’t vet, and that feeling is even more pronounced when it’s with someone whom they’ll never even physically meet. Networking with people is as important than ever, but there are a number of sites that showcase jobs across the industry, and we even have a job board on PVC courtesy of ProductionHUB.
Whether or not it makes sense for your project depends on your budget and the logistics of your project, but odds are you’ll be able to find the right fit if you look hard enough. The big thing to be concerned about is what you’re going to do if you find the wrong fit.
Because there’s a reason Homer Simpson stopped working from his house.
What are some of the experiences and insights you’ve been able to gather from working in a remote environment or working with others in a remote location? Please let us know in the comments, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll run a follow-up piece to keep the conversation going.