Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
I work in television and film post-production. What does that mean? People associate show business with glamor — movie stars, Hollywood premiers and traveling the world. Post-production has none of that. We work on entertainment media after it is shot. Stars don’t drop by for lunch. Paparazzi do not stake out our offices. We are an unglamorous but essential part of the business. We rarely get thanks at award shows.
Still, post-production is a rewarding and collaborative art form. Like many parts of show business, it is relationship-driven, and it can take years to become established. Directors, producers and cinematographers trust us. They bring their projects to us to get them ready for delivery to the public. Our business involves long hours spent in close quarters working shoulder to shoulder to get the film, show or commercial looking and sounding great. Lifelong relationships are established during those hours spent together.
When the pandemic hit, it threatened those relationships as people scattered to the four corners and sought safe places. It was a huge challenge. How do you maintain essential relationships, keep staff connected and continue doing business when production is not happening?
When Covid-19 arrived, we shut down and kept our people home. For a business based on relationships and sophisticated technology, doing a quick about-face as a post-production company was a huge challenge. How do you set up equipment in people’s homes? How do you provide them with strong internet connections? How can we ensure that our clients remain part of the process? How do you make people feel personally connected when they are far apart? It was a new wrinkle in my leadership playbook.
I have 40 years of experience in the industry and have spent 30 of them in management positions. I have been department head, president, founder and CEO of various companies. I picked up quite a few tricks facing those sorts of situations and have had amazing mentors over the years. I have also learned what should not be done, and those lessons are often the most valuable. I had to draw on all those experiences for the challenge presented by the pandemic. I felt like I was pushing a rock up a hill. Here’s what I’ve learned.
As it became apparent that we were not going to be allowed into our offices, we moved fast. We gathered our important players: engineers, artists, management and other people on the front lines. Our task was to set up a remote operation in record time, and we had maybe two days to do it. Intense discussions ensued.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned over the years is that when employees are presented with a tough new problem, they will likely first react by saying it can’t be done. Never accept that answer. However, when pushed, you can usually find a path. Employees will also likely tell you that the cost will be exorbitant. The correct response is to remain calm but firm and challenge your team to find creative solutions to difficult problems. By pushing your people, you help them grow and realize their true potential. I tell my staff, “My job is to make you better at your job.”
Our team not only found a way to get everyone working remotely, but they also did it for minimum cost. We were up and running before New York City shut down. We let clients with work in-house know that we had a plan that protected them, our employees and their projects. I sent an email to all current clients, letting them know we were remote, safe and open for business. Our internal producers followed up with the details. Life would go on, albeit in a remote collaboration mode. We found ourselves in a strange Zoom world where we connected with people in their home sanctuaries. We were safely distanced, but we could still see and talk with each other.
The next lesson learned was when we next had to figure out how to manage from afar and keep everyone involved and motivated. When staff who’ve been working together for years are separated, it causes a seismic shift in the way they relate to each other. In these situations, conflicts arise but might not be addressed. Emails are misinterpreted. People miss important Zoom meetings.
When the pandemic hit, our first impulse was to overcommunicate. We used email, Zoom, phone calls and every other tool at our disposal to keep communication flowing. The plan worked well out of the gate. The staff appreciated our efforts to keep the company going. We remained in regular contact with clients. I sent monthly updates telling them how we were doing. I kept it fun and light. I included personal news: the passing of our dog, how the lack of a haircut made me look like a Chia Pet, how my wife eventually learned to cut my hair. We created a company magazine highlighting projects completed during the pandemic and detailing our Covid-19 reopening policies. We shared pictures of staff at home, as well as family recipes. It was well-received. Take a look at how you’re communicating with your team, and identify any additional measures you could be taking to better support your staff.
I’ve learned that it’s crucial to conduct a great deal of soul searching and internal processing to create an environment where your staff can work efficiently and maintain a sense of teamwork and camaraderie. You likely won’t always be 100% successful, but if you adapt every day, you stand a greater chance of success. Communication is key.
The pandemic has presented unique challenges. We have all faced desperate situations: Many people were locked down, alone in their homes and apartments. Make sure you’re cultivating frequent and clear communication with your staff. Don’t be afraid to show your human side — we all appreciate human contact, especially when it includes humor and a personal touch.