Amador Valenzuela, director, designer, animator and founder of Black Book Studio, shares his challenges and tips on productivity when working from home.
You can do a lot at home, but I miss the social interactions with coworkers in a studio environment. That's the only thing you can't re-create. I've tried to force myself to get to out to industry meetups and conferences more. People tend to forget about you when they don't see you in person.
Challenge #1: Brief and effective communication
When you're working directly with people in the same office, you can quickly talk to them about something and continue your work. Writing and responding to emails kills so much of my day now. I've learned to keep things short and to the point, but sometimes people want details, and I have to hammer out a lengthy response.
+ Daily scrums meetings limited to 15 minutes
+ Instate “no-meeting” afternoons/days with teams/clients
+ Use a tool like LOOM, where you can quickly record yourself talking over video and avoid meetings
Challenge #2: Collaborating is challenging
I have a custom folder setup, which I share with all of my freelancers via Dropbox. I ask everyone to sync up to the folder while we work on projects. That way, we're all accessing the same files, and posting updates is easy.
For communication, I use Slack, which helps cut down on emails and keeps conversations organized. I invite everyone to join Slack, including the clients, but I set up different channels for each team. Keeping them separate helps cut down on confusion and allows my artists to focus on the tasks at hand.
Todoist is also a handy tool for notes. If a client prefers to write their feedback in an email, you can create a new "project" on Todoist and copy/paste their notes into the project. If it's written out with bullet points, the app is smart enough to break each note up into different tasks. Then I use their flag system to mark each one as I complete them. I don't check them off since this deletes the task. I use the flags to color coat each one. That way, I can look back on the list to double-check everything.
+ Consolidate where your team’s assets are
+ Choose one communication platform and stick to it
Amador's future studio space, which currently sits empty
Stay positive and learn the art of the shit sandwich. No matter how bad the feedback might be, you have to learn to sandwich the harsher notes with compliments. It's disheartening to pour your sweat blood and tears into a project, only to read a list of changes from the person you're trying to impress. Feedback is inevitable, but tell them what you liked about the work first. You have to let people know that you appreciate their hard work and effort. It sets a positive tone and maintains good morale throughout the project.
When I worked at studios, we would go out for coffee during the day to let out some steam. Sometimes you needed to vent about the client or maybe talk about something completely unrelated to work. It was a great way to bond with team members and helped maintain good morale during a tough project. Coffee breaks are not always possible when working remotely, so I try and check in with people on Slack. Strike up a conversation unrelated to any task at hand.
When I worked at Digital Kitchen, we used to play Call of Duty after work, which also helped bring the group together at the end of the day. Video gaming is very much doable as a remote artist, even though I'm usually too busy for it myself.
+ Sandwich compliments before and after giving feedback
+ Continue having coffee breaks and non-work-related hangouts with team members
+ Schedule time every week to play a game together
Amador is a director, designer, animator and founder of Black Book Studio. He started his career in the broadcast industry and has worked with many of the top studios around the country, creating commercials for brands like Bose, GE, Target, EA, Reeces, Samsung, Budweiser, Key Bank, and more.
In 2014, after many years of working as an independent freelancer, he launched Black Book Studio, which focuses on design & animation for the entertainment, advertising, and independent entrepreneur communities. Their clients include large advertising agencies, film studios, and city museums to smaller brands and Kickstarter inventors.
Recently Amador has been collaborating with Filmograph in LA to design and animate opening titles on feature films like John Wick, Aquaman, Fast and Furious, Pirates of the Caribbean, Insidious, Sinister, and others. You can see his work at https://blackbook.studio