St Patrick’s Day was very different this year for us. I had planned an elaborate menu of fabulous Irish cocktails to toast everyone in the studio, but instead I spent the day with my management team saying emotional goodbyes to our guys and making plans to shut the building for the foreseeable future. It was eerie and unsettling. And since the UK government has refused to tell businesses to shut, companies are not covered by their continuity insurance—so it’s either carry on or shut down. All 60 of us are still hard at work, safely at home—the safety and wellbeing of our people and their families always matter most—and we’ve committed to paying everyone, including those who don’t have active production roles.
There was so much positivity and enthusiasm at Kidscreen Summit this year. Everyone seemed to be feeling good. And when everything is going great, it’s easy to blather about how important culture is in our industry and in our studios. But when a crisis comes that’s exactly when our metal is tested and if we really walk the talk. When our backs are against the wall, will we look after the people that have given so much to our studios over the years? Could we ever see a crisis like this as a cheap opportunity to get rid of people? Or do we hold them, hug them, make sure they’re doing okay? And if we ask our studios to disband and work remotely, do we know they will deliver? Will they stay on schedule? Will they be motivated and will they care? And is it true that the trust we build in the good times can help us when things go bad?
Being located on a small island, we’ve always had a percentage of our crew who work remotely, so we’re used to video call briefings and meetings, and our plan, right now, is to be able to meet all our delivery deadlines, which we have so far this week. I’d never say that I have all the answers, but we do things in a way that sits well for me and I’m happy to share some of our strategies.
Communication: Staying in touch with each other when we’re remote is vital and video calls are best—they bridge the distance and remove any kind of ambiguity. We introduced Microsoft Teams across our company recently and it has been really productive.
Encouragement: I’m hosting a “Positivity” hangout twice a week where all 60 of us in the company dial in and hang out. The agenda so far consists of ridiculous things that have happened during the lockdown…and Dad jokes.
Support: I have formal twice-weekly video calls with each team in the organization to just check in with them to make sure they’re doing okay (and to stay on top of everything too). I’ve made it very clear that I’m here for anyone who might be finding life tough and I’m always one confidential click of a button away. Each head of department and team lead take the same pastoral approach.
Discipline: Working regular studio hours is important and having a clear separation between work and life in terms of hours and physical space (and not crossing the line into either when it’s not time for that).
Technology: Upgrade to the biggest and fastest connection your ISP can offer, because when everyone is working remotely off your server. The bigger the connection, the faster your team can access large files and the more productive you’ll be. A VPN is a must of course.
Our focus now more than ever, is to continue to tell stories of hope to every child in every home in every country around the world and to continue to shine some light into the darkness.
Stay safe and take care everyone
Colin Williams is head of positivity and creative director at Sixteen South Studios in Northern Ireland.