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What The Finish Line can teach us about remote working

The Finish Line was founded in 2011 by Zeb Chadfield, who wanted to explore a new, more distributed approach to finishing and post.

 

Liz Sunter

The results speak for themselves: The Finish Line has doubled in size every year for the last eight years, and boasts an impressive global client list. So, as the current crisis is forcing companies to explore long-term remote working for the first time, we thought we’d get Zeb’s advice on building a happy, productive remote workforce.

 

Work well, not constantly.

When you’re working from home, it can be difficult to maintain clear boundaries between ‘work time’ and your personal life. But this not only improves the mental health of employees – it results in better work and happier clients.

“Standard practice is that clients will ask for a quote for 24 hours’ worth of work to cover the grade and online, and that work’s done over two days. But that’s only because when you have the overheads of a traditional facility, you’re trying to cram seven days of work into five days in order to pay for your space. Then people are exhausted and they stop being good at their job, so they end up doing overtime that you can’t bill for, and you have no time to upgrade systems or test new things.

“Now that we’re a more distributed company, we only quote eight hourdays. And that means that a 24 hour booking is suddenly three eight hours days,which is really reasonable. Not only does it mean our talentis signing off at a reasonable time, and able to have a work/life balance, but the producer, the director, whoever is signing off the programme,is able to do the same.”

 

Not every in-house process needs to be replicated beat for beat

When you first move to a remote working model, the temptation is to replicate your in-house workflow in its entirety, but the fact is many of the processes you rely on day-to-day work very differently in a remote setting, and it’s likely the ideal solution will have changed. For example, live client reviews, a staple of post workflows, are far more trouble then they’re worth in a distributed situation, as you can’t set up a monitor or space for the client.

“I spent a huge amount of time and money on building our live systems about four or five years ago, and then I found that for working remotely they weren't as good as sending files for sign off. It was better for us to do things on our time and then tell the client, ‘I've uploaded this viewing file for you, watch it at your leisure.’ This had loads of benefits: the client can watch it whenever they like; they can fit it around their life; they can go back and look at things as many times as they want. And also, they're not on the clock, so it allows us to protect the production budget and make sure it’s spent on making the image look good.”

 

See which of your systems could be doing more for you

It’s important to review your systems regularly at any time, but the current upheaval, in which everyone is adapting to new roles and procedures, is an excellent opportunity to see if any of your existing systems are being under-utilised.

“Last year we had our post producer leave and I had to step into the role, which I’ve never done in my life. It was like a chef trying to run a farm. And in so many instances, I was thinking, ‘This is so inefficient. We have this fantastic project management system that could streamline a lot of this, but no one’s using it.’ By the time the new post producer arrived, we’d ironed out a lot of inefficiencies and could introduce him to the new system, so he was working efficiently from day one.”

 

Communication is key

When groups aren’t working together, it can be difficult for them to gauge each other’s output level, workload, and other factors, which is damaging to team cohesion. It’s also a lot more difficult to ask for help, or pop a technical question to your office neighbour. That’s why clear communication and a solid knowledge base are essential.

“I don’t think taking current best practices and shoving them into a remote-based system works. It often ends with people feeling that everyone else is not working, because they can’t see what each other is dealing with. You need to remind people to only think about what they're doing and what they need to get done. At the same time, you don’t want to penalise people for being efficient – if someone is getting projects in ahead of time, don’t make them stay in the ‘office’ for longer than they need to, but do encourage them to talk to other talent about their hacks and workflow tips.

“We do all our communication through Slack. Everyone's always sharing ideas, and if they get stuck the channel is open so people will be learning from their experience. We make sure we've got an internal Wiki with all of our workflow guides and things like that. We have a production bible that lists all the information people need to be aware of for a project. People don’t make mistakes on purpose – they do it because they didn’t know the correct method, so you need to make it easier for everyone to find key information.”

 

Leverage the power of virtual systems

Virtualised systems and storage allow you to give remote workers access to more powerful machines and larger storage volumes than those they have at home, without you having to provide additional hardware. But they’re also useful when it comes to mitigating things like network issues…

“EditShare’s Flow is a really mature storage and file management solution that’s now available as a SaaS model, and it works really well for us. It's easy for us to deploy on a cloud,so we can build a totally sandboxed virtual spacefor each production. In a normal building, your projects are all fighting for resources. If you're ingesting media,it might go into a queue, or if you're trying to play something back and there's only a certain amount of bandwidth, that's an issue. But with all the virtualised systems, you can just make every production completely independent of each other and provide them with whatever services they need, whether that's virtual edit stations or more storage.”

 

Don’t overwhelm your clients with too much new tech

If you’re not in the room with your client, then you can’t operate your system for them. To avoid confusion and delays, you need a simple, client-facing GUI that gives them access to the clips they need (and no more) without overwhelming them with options and tools that you don’t actually want them to use.

“If we’re testing a client-facing product and I'm finding it complicated to use, my client will definitely struggle. And if it's a product that you definitely want clients to use, then you need to figure out a way to get their head around it. The key is to only reveal to the client exactly what it is they need.

“Flow is a really good example because you can say to your client: ‘You need to view your rushes. This system will automatically make proxies in the background and then you can open up a browser and look at them,’ and then not give them access to anything beyond that at first. Once they’re comfortable with the review system, you can slowly give them access to all the automation and feedback tools Flow has.If you throw too much at people too quickly they tend to get overwhelmed and then they tend to push away, because they don't want to say, ‘I don't understand this system. It's too complicated.’ They just get frustrated and say, ‘I don't want to use it,’ and that’s the last thing you want.”

 

Finally, keep trying to build community

The Friday night trip to the pub is firmly off the table for now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways you can keep your team spirit high.

“When you're working all distributed there's a real problem with people feeling connected, so you want to have things like a weekly newsletter or whole-company discussions. You can make sure to do the little things like wishing people happy birthday. We have an Awesome channel on our Slack where we congratulate people when they receive good feedback. A few years after starting The Finish Line I started having one-to-one dinners with people and quarterly team dinners – now I call a different member of the team every day to catch up with them and see how they are doing and if there is more we can do to help.”

“But you also need people to understand they don't need to have their friendship circle at work. In facilities, it's all about finishing work at 3am and thinking ‘we survived the day’ – you go to the pub and it’s almost like you’re sharing war stories. As much as war stories feel good when you talk about them and they're fond memories, they don't come from a good place. They come from an exhausted person trying to have some social time in a life that doesn't have any other space for it. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to get away from.”

 

Do you want to know more about setting up remote workflows? Our team can help with everything from editing to grading to storage, including the latest PCoIP technology. To find out more, get in touch on 03332 409 210, email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com or simply fill out the form below.

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