The future of remote collaboration

In the past, Art&Graft has shared annotated ‘sketch-overs’ – screenshots with rough correction scribbles over them – and then logged client feedback in a shared Google Doc. Currently in beta, Dropbox’s Replay tool enables video files to be ­annotated directly in the cloud, and the tool has added a live collaboration feature for real-time interactions.
“We’ve always been a global company, but remote working has seen us extend our horizons to work with talent in South America, Africa, ­India, South-East Asia – there are no ­borders, really,” he adds.
“This has been great not only to store and share final renders, but also working files on most projects,” Middleton continues. ­“Provided each person has enough free space on their machine to sync the files, of course.”
“The age-old issue of time difference can make it more difficult,” agrees Tom Bromwich, head of production at London-based animation studio Art&Graft. “We wouldn’t bat an eyelid at employing anyone across Europe, but we want new approaches for every project. That means ­intense collaboration, and less contact time makes that harder.”

Sharing and actioning different ­layers of feedback – both internal and from the client – can be one of the trickier tasks of remote working. “A ­disciplined process for version control is essential,” explains Britton. “And being able to provide comments on individual frames is more intuitive for clients, particularly if they’re less technically minded.”

Feedback needn’t be frustrating: download Dropbox’s free eBook for tips on managing the creative review process;
Like Uncommon, Stink Studios has embraced the opportunity to find the best talent, irrespective of location. During the pandemic, one of the agency’s most complex ­challenges was a personalised end-of-year ­campaign for Peloton – a fully remote collaboration between client-side and agency teams across the US, Europe, and South America.
“A mix of this form of focused writing and honest, candid and ferociously managed small-team meetings leads to the best work,” he argues. “We find that a shared view of the world is more important than where or how we recruit our talent. We try to seek out the souls that see the world the way we do.”
Art&Graft has used the unavoid­able short-term workflow changes of recent years to evolve its pro­cesses in the long-term. “We learned we could easily share files and collaborate not only with each other but with a wealth of talented collaborators all over the world,” says creative director Stephen Middleton.

Top and Above: Content from Peloton’s end of year campaign, created by Stink Studios

Now, Dropbox’s new Transfer feature enables the largest files to be sent quickly and securely, without the need to sync in the main workspace, or for your collaborators to have a Dropbox account of their own.
“This project was fundamental in us branching out to talent around the world, working with designers and animators in locations in the UK, France, Sweden and the US,” he recalls. “Our remote pipeline ­enabled the production team and creative leads to check in with everyone on Google Chat, and to keep track of work, with constant updates posted to Dropbox.
“However, it’s a misconception that remote working unlocks 24/7 production. Asynchronous working across multiple timezones still presents a lot of challenges. In our experience, it’s always more effective to have a lot of overlap in your working day, wherever you are in the world,” says Britton.
Lockdown gave back a space to creatives they didn’t realise the office had stolen… Remote working, at its best, allows for complete separation like no office ever could

Stills from Wagamama’s Vegamama ad, created by Uncommon

For others, remote working sharpened focus and ultimately improved the final output. “Lockdown gave back a space to creatives they didn’t realise the office had stolen,” reflects Nils Leonard, founder and executive creative director at Uncommon London. “Without the distraction of desk chat, the work became more articulate and crafted, almost overnight.
“There’s a lot more risk of added noise in communication when you’re working remotely,” Britton points out. “It’s vital that everyone is clear and concise in what they’re sharing, and in how they provide feedback.”
While the focus and lack of interruption of a fully remote setup suited some people’s workflow, Art&Graft ultimately settled on a ­hybrid 3:2 split between in-house and remote-­working days. “You can never replicate the ability to overhear conversations,” says Bromwich. “It allows cross-pollination among project teams and draws people together.”
At the start of the pandemic, when Art&Graft was just transitioning to a remote setup, the team was briefed to create a series of films for WhatsApp. “We were still finding our feet with everything, and the project was incredibly fast-moving, with client presentations happening pretty much every day,” explains Middleton.

Imagery for WhatsApp by Art&Graft

Peloton’s brief was to highlight its customers’ personal successes from the past year. “We integrated real-time performance data into a unique film for every single Peloton user,” explains group managing director James Britton. “That’s over 65 ­million unique assets, so you can imagine the challenges of managing workflow and quality assurance.
Many compromises have been necessary for the shift to hybrid working. Without the same face-to-face energy, some agencies struggled to ­maintain their spontaneity and drive – at least at first. But remote processes also bring a wealth of opportunities, such as better access to a roster of top global talent.
“Remote working, at its best, allows for complete separation like no office ever could,” Leonard continues. “There’s a lot of talk about collaboration and team in our game, but for a real leap you may need an isolated moment of insanity from someone talented. Sometimes you need­ to ­retreat to regain that focus, in order to make advances.
“And don’t overlook being organised: good housekeeping of ­folder structures and file locations is the grease that keeps the gears of remote working running smoothly.”
Inevitable inconsistencies bet­ween home broadband connections across the team, however, can complicate matters – particularly when working with the sizeable files required for high-end video and animation work. Dropbox has addressed exactly this with its Creative Tools add-on, enabling video files of up to 150GB to be previewed in the cloud, across any platform, instead of downloading them to your local ­machine. Alternatively, large files can be ­automatically converted to a smaller size before downloading.
“As part of that, we tried to replicate our usual work process in a purely digital space, using Google Chat and Hangouts as if we were in the studio together,” he continues. “Our in-house server is supported by ­Dropbox, so we can quickly share files and folders between the team when working remotely.”
“To maintain that creative energy, use your digital space as an extension or alternate version of your physical space,” he advises. “Share regular WIPs, chat often, video call when necessary.
“Everyone responds to remote working in a different way,” adds Leonard. “For clients unused to talking about creative work all day, it can be a very alien and cold ­environment in which to receive new ­thinking. We believe how an idea ‘feels’ is as important as the idea ­itself, and we work a lot on the body language of every deck, every meeting, and every project.”

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