The WFH mandate has been remarkable to watch, especially in our industry.
“If you would have told me six months ago that in the middle of March every employee would be working from home and creating the same premium content, that we would be selling advertising, putting our magazines together, and updating our websites from our home environments, I would have said that would be very difficult,” Meredith’s President Doug Olson told Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni in a recent interview. “But within a matter of a day or two, we had all of our operations up and running from work-from-home scenarios thanks to a talented and tireless team working behind-the-scenes to make that happen seamlessly and they continue to do so. I’m so proud to be part of this stellar organization.”
Bauer Media USA’s CEO Steven Kotok had a similar story, in another Husni interview.
His company made what he calls a “surprisingly smooth” transition to working full time from home. They had done some contingency planning in advance, and by the time it came to hold their “practice day,” they all decided it was time to stay home.
For many publishers, though, the transition has been a bit brutal, notes Killian Schalk in Publishing Executive.
“There may be a lot of scrambling going on,” he writes. “Perhaps you have total chaos. Perhaps issues are still getting printed, newsletters sent, websites updated, subscriptions delivered, and ads sold… but the production schedule is scrambled, bandwidth is strained, and burn-out looms. No matter what, it’s probably clear that something needs to change to accommodate this new reality.”
Schalk offers a list of seven specific steps to take to improve the remote workflow and keep those publications publishing. The first step? Assess the damage. Noting that you can’t fix what you can’t see, Schalk recommends making the flow visible so you can improve it.
“If you are the boss, bring everybody together in a virtual space of some kind and map the workflow you currently have. Identify problems together,” he notes. “Your job is to ask your team what they need and give it to them; their job is to brainstorm and implement solutions.”
As you do this, you’ll undoubtedly become aware of some skills gaps when it comes to technology. Decide what tools you’ll use, assess who is fluent with those tools, and have them help train up others.
Interestingly, from there the list reads sort of like a “how to be a better publisher anytime” manual … no more emailing documents, create checklists and standards, prioritize content processes via Google Docs or another shared revision tool, and then let your team work.
“It may feel like a leap of faith, especially in a remote setting, but it’s important to give your workflow permission to operate. Make sure your people have the tools and skills they need, keep the communication channels open, and let them do their jobs,” Schalk advises.
As AM Concepcion of Seneca Design noted in the article’s comment section, you may even want to integrate design and layout together in one tool.
“For example, I have a lot of clients placing live InDesign files in a shared, locally-synched Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive folder, and then using methods that let the editors write and copyfit text with adjunct Adobe InDesign software like Adobe InCopy, DocsFlow, WordsFlow, and GoEdit,” she writes. “They were doing this before the WFH mandate to save 60% to 80% of turnaround time, with the ‘side benefit’ of allowing remote access.”
Schalk points out similar kinds of productivity boosts when we put solid processes into place so we can… literally… work from anywhere. Digital connectivity has been a massive boon to the publishing industry on so many levels. Yes, our end result is a beautiful printed piece, and it’s underpinned by well documented and technically sound processes along the way.