There’s a common mental image of the 21st century anytime, anywhere creative worker: a coffee shop regular, logging hours on Photoshop on a Macbook in between informal meetings with videographers, engineers, and clients.
This image reflects the lives of the nontechnical, business creatives who rely mainly on Google Apps, Microsoft Office, and Software as a Service (SaaS) or mobile Mac and Windows applications. It’s a very different story for the specialized experts (let’s call them technical creatives), who work mainly on high-priced systems and crown-jewel-type projects that will always reside at company headquarters, rarely on a kitchen table. This group is also one of the fastest growing inside organizations as the world’s creative experiences move from images and movies to real-time, interactive 3D experiences (like video games and virtual tours).
In reality, the work-anywhere lifestyle has grown steadily for the past 20 years for everyone who uses a keyboard except high-end video editors, game developers, special effects artists, 3D designers, and architects who make our favorite things. The files they work on may be too large to upload, or require computing power too costly to let out of the office.
But why have these technical creatives in particular stayed glued to the studio? The reasons included poor collaboration practices, and half-rate workplace tools. Let me explain.
We’ve been sold this idea that being onsite in an office or studio is the key to productivity, but it’s anything but. In fact, many high-end creatives find this type of environment draining and counterproductive. Many do their best work in isolation, free of constant office interruptions. Case in point: 74% of our customers, at our remote-access company, say they would prefer the majority of their time be spent working from home.
Last but not least is the towering stack of applications we’re given to “get work done.” From Slack and Dropbox to Jira, the noise and work these tools create is just not worth the trouble; they create more work compared to the problems they solve. File sharing through Dropbox? Try that with a 500 GB file being passed across three teams multiple times a day. Project reviews through Teams? Fine for a still artist, but try watching the subtleties in animating single strands of hair through video chat. And what about actually editing that animation on expensive, high-performance hardware while working remotely? It’s basically impossible to use a common remote desktop protocol.
If you are a technical creative who wanted to break the chains, be done with commuting, and see your family—and avoid clustering at HQ with other virus transmitters—the past year brought some good news. A core work stack for remote, computation-intensive creative work has emerged. Expensive hardware and software, and files too valuable to go off-premises can be accessed remotely with necessary precision, reliability, and safeguards.
The result is that technical creatives can live the “work anytime, anywhere” dream mentioned above. Here are some of the biggest opportunities I see as we make the permanent transition to hybrid work:
Asynchronous work is worth embracing
Remote teams have expanded geographically, allowing business owners to expand the typical workday outside the hours of a single locale. A design team with specialists in Europe, Los Angeles, and India can pass a high-end project around the globe, from one designer to another, over 24 hours to meet a deadline. The crown-jewel files never move, and every remote participant uses the same high-performance workstation. It works, if you can give everyone the fine degree of control needed for their particular job. Giving two job functions the ability to collaborate seamlessly will also lead to huge efficiencies and eliminate unnecessary glitches and headaches across the organization.
Shared resources are the future
Approximately $500 billion has been spent on high-performance computing in the last few years, yet a vast majority of that high-priced hardware sits idle all night. In moving to hybrid technical creative work, we can make high-powered workstations available on demand to wider groups of people. Again, the “team around the world” concept applies; you cannot ship a high-end film editing studio to every person, but they take turns operating the one at HQ from their time zone, maximizing its utilization through the night.
Common work technology needs to meet specialized demands
Collaboration tools, conferencing, file sharing, and project management all need to work not just for knowledge workers whose apps or files travel with them (think Google Apps, Office, Photoshop) but also for enhanced performance work that must remain centralized. This is especially true now as industries like game development or architecture go remote. Teams seamlessly working together on immense, complicated projects will be crucial. An architect at a major construction site needs to upload notes and even changes to the building’s floor plan; today, from a mobile device, the architect can upload provisional updates while the building’s files remain safely at company HQ.
The talent pool just went global
A strange thing happened during the economic uncertainty wrought by the epidemic: workers of all ages and professions simply quit their jobs for a wide variety of reasons. As a result, companies now must do more to attract the talent they want, and they can offer more freedom to formerly office-bound creatives. Game developers no longer need to be in the office to work with proprietary game files on extremely costly hardware.
In addition, companies can recruit specialized talent wherever they find it, and allow hires to work from home, in their own country and time zone. And technical creatives—take high-end film editors as an example—no longer are forced to congregate in major cities. Hybrid-specific benefits and compensation packages are necessary if you’re expected to compete with New York or Los Angeles salaries.
The pandemic forced technical creatives to join the rest of the world in moving to more flexible work environments, and new technology options made that feasible. Now it’s up to employers to invest in the infrastructure, tools, and technology for talent that requires performance computing to work how, where, and when they want to.
Benjy Boxer is a cofounder of Parsec, a remote desktop provider for gaming and other creative work.