The future of remote collaboration

the future of remote collaboration

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With the right balance of technology, flexibility and organisation, remote working can unlock huge creative potential.
Many compromises have been necessary for the shift to hybrid working. Without the same face-to-face energy, some consultancies struggled to maintain their spontaneity and drive – at least at first. But remote processes also bring a wealth of opportunities.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Olivia Owen, HR manager at strategic design and innovation consultancy Seymourpowell. “We can explore talent across the globe, bringing new perspectives. And being more flexible empowers staff to get on with the stuff that matters – delivering good work.”

Hybrid working has also transformed how specialist aviation, transport, and product design consultancy PriestmanGoode works with its global client roster. “Pre-pandemic, projects involved several visits to clients’ offices, or contacts across the supply chain,” explains managing director Kirsty Dias. “However, we’ve since completed numerous projects successfully – and on schedule – without ever being in the same room.”

the future of remote collaboration
Art&Graft’s work for WhatsApp

Finding the right solution for managing and sharing large files is crucial for a smooth remote workflow. “People can work locally, and all the project files stream automatically to the server for everyone to use,” says Owen. “Instant links that can be shared directly with clients are a bonus. But you need to keep on top of folder structures and naming conventions. A team member who likes saving to their desktop is akin to living with a messy roommate.”

Motion design and animation studio 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 a wealth of talented collaborators all over the world,” says creative director Stephen Middleton.

“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.”

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 files of up to 150GB to be previewed in the cloud, across any platform, instead of downloading them to your local machine. Alternatively, with Dropbox Replay large files can be automatically converted to a smaller size before downloading.

the future of remote collaboration
Seymourpowell’s work for Virgin Galactic

Sharing and actioning complex layers of feedback can be one of the trickier tasks of remote working. But the right technology can make it much more seamless. In the past, Art&Graft shared ‘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 streamlines this process. Videos can be annotated directly in the cloud, so clients, collaborators and teammates can deliver precise feedback even more quickly and efficiently.

PriestmanGoode has taken digital feedback to another level, developing its own CGI walkthrough tool so that clients and collaborators can review the minutiae of detail on projects such as Pure Skies, a self-initiated concept for a new airline interior. “We can show changes to trim and finish, lighting, livery and more to help facilitate decision making – all in real time,” reveals Rob Walsh, associate director of visualisation. “VR helps us to facilitate discussion and arrive at the right decisions, first time – avoiding expensive re-works.”

Seymourpowell has also embraced the potential of VR, notably in the creation of its Virgin Galactic spaceship interior – a collaboration between teams in London, New Mexico, and California. “We ran the majority of the project from inside our VR collaboration suite,” explains Chris Doughty, head of immersive experiences. “It stripped out the miscommunication that can occur from 2D presentations – essentially giving us a face-to-face experience.”

Seymourpowell has now embraced a digital-only workflow across the board, supported by collaborative tools such as Miro and Figma. “We used to stick Post It notes to walls and sketch diagrams on whiteboards,” recalls Owen. “It’s much quicker and more efficient to have one central, digital resource that can be quickly understood and digested by the team.”

the future of remote collaboration
PriestmanGoode’s work for Pure Skies

When Art&Graft was first 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.

“It 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.

“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.” 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.

“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. 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.”
Feedback needn’t be frustrating: download Dropbox’s free eBook for tips on managing the creative review process.

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