Life as a freelance motion graphic designer: In-house vs remote work.
Are you thinking of going freelance? There are actually two different ways you can do this, in-house or by working remotely. So, what’s the difference between the two and which is the better working environment? The difference really is as simple as it sounds. Working in-house means a company or agency will hire you for an agreed amount of time to work in their offices usually on one specific project or perhaps on several different projects if their workload has temporarily increased or their workforce decreased. Working remotely means working from your home office on a project for a client or agency. With the huge advances with technology over the last 5-10 years, it’s no longer the case where freelancers have to physically be in an office to work on a project. Skype, Google Hangouts and Slack all make it possibly to communicate with a team or producer. You may go to their office for an initial meeting or do this over the phone/Skype and then complete the entire project from your home office sending everything to the client via email/dropbox/google drive etc. Working remotely can be a great experience but how does it compare to in-house roles?
One of the biggest plus points to working in-house is having the people you are working for in close proximity. This means should you have a questions about the project, big or small, you can usually get an immediate response as opposed to having to send an email or trying to get hold of someone via Slack. This can save enormous amounts of time. There’s nothing worse than not being able to move on with a project because you need the answer to something and end up losing precious time while you wait for a response.
Another big plus point is getting to interact with other human beings. Ok, so not everyone you meet will be your new best friend but you get to meet a huge range of people with different personalities and skill sets. It’s a great way to learn new things and perhaps find new, more effective, ways of working.
You’ll also generally have more structure to your day. You’ll be working office hours, although with some projects this may not be the case if there is a tight deadline. Usually, you’ll be made to take a lunch break and just by working in an office environment with other people tends to make you more productive.
The last plus on the list has got to be free stuff! Ok, so in most instances this is generally tea, coffee and, if you’re lucky, a biscuit or two, but some companies may even pay for your lunch or take you for drinks after work so you can get to know the team.
So now to the downsides of working in-house. It was mentioned as a plus point but it can also easily fit into a negative, you HAVE to interact with other humans!! While the majority of people you meet will be great or bearable there will always be that one person that grinds your gears! Whether it’s because they think they are better than you because you’re merely hired help or they are loud and obnoxious. Whatever the case may be, just remember it’s temporary. A few days or a week or so and you’ll be out of there. Plus, you can always just stick your headphones on and drown them out.
There’s also the aspect that you are surrounded by people constantly and sometimes you may feel like there’s always someone looking over your shoulder or checking in to see what progress you’re making. You can’t necessarily blame a company for this, they don’t know you or your work ethic and if they are paying a premium for your skills they want to know they are getting their money’s worth. However, sometimes that person/s can be a little too overbearing and make you second guess your own abilities or simply make you feel unwelcome and out of place which isn’t nice.
The other nuisance to working in-house is commuting. Depending on the distance you have to travel you have to get up early, perhaps make lunch, get to the station/bus stop on time and then make the journey into the office all before 9am and that’s if you’re lucky enough to not get hit by train cancellations or line closures! Working from home means you roll out of bed, into the shower, into clothes and take your breakfast to your computer before starting the day, meaning you’ve had that extra hour or so in bed! When I worked in Soho, London as a motion graphic designer it took me (on a good day) an hour and a half each way.
My absolute least favourite aspect of working in-house is the equipment. Usually, as the freelancer, you get given the rejected Macs or PCs that lie under a blanket of dust. Once you finally manage to get the damn thing working, you realise it’s using After Effects V2.5. Then there aren’t enough Creative Cloud accounts and finally, just when you’re panicking because it’s nearly lunchtime and you haven’t done a single bit of work, you realise that they don’t have any of the plugins you use on a daily basis installed. Despite all of this, the account manager or producer is completely bemused as to why you haven’t created 30 seconds of animation for the day. For this reason, always take in a laptop with everything installed so you can work from that instead.
You’re at home! Simple as that! You have all your home comforts. You don’t have to leave and do a horribly tedious commute and at the end of the day, there’s no long slog home with a bunch of other tired, sweaty commuters. You just turn off your computer and go make dinner, or chill out on the sofa.
You don’t have to deal with people you don’t like! Sure there may be a client who is getting on your nerves or harassing you, preventing you from getting on with the job, but they’re not in the same room as you so it’s possible to ignore their email for a bit or wait until you have free time to return their call. You get to interact with no one else but your dogs (or cat or whatever other pet you may have).
This one has been touched on in the previous paragraph but you are left to get on with your work (unless that client just won’t stop calling!). You don’t have to make small talk with the person next to you. You don’t get distracted by other people goofing around and you don’t have to get involved in office politics. Bliss!
Possibly one of the best things is that you get to use your own setup! As I previously mentioned, there’s nothing worse than arriving at an office for freelance work and having to use the most outdated computer or laptop that doesn’t have the correct software installed and so it take about 3 hours to sort yourself out before you can even start work and then even when you do the internet is set to snails pace and the files you need to use are taking a further 4 hours to download! Yet you’re still expected to complete the work in the same amount of time! Working remotely means you can use the set up that you have created. Your computer, your software, your internet and files organised your way.
Finally one of the biggest plus points to working remotely is that it’s cheaper. You don’t have to pay for travel or lunch, or any of the snacks/coffee/after work drinks in between (ok, technically you do but it’s waaaay cheaper). Over time, you can save a small fortune.
I mostly use the iPad Pro for storyboarding and character development and this thing shines with both. For storyboards, I use ProCreate and create each frame and then import them into Photoshop. Then, I use a script to export them as still images and import them into InDesign. It’s by far the smoothest process and the benefits of creating better and clearer storyboards is worth it over just using Photoshop in the first place.
When designing characters, it’s great to be able to quickly sketch ideas out and then import them into Illustrator on my PC or MacBook Pro and this is the best thing about it. Instead of having to set the Wacom Cintiq up every time (I hate having wires everywhere) I can pick the iPad Pro up and within 10 seconds I can start drawing out ideas. When I’ve finished, I can put it away in my desk drawer and it won’t hog any desk space.
Since these were first mentioned on MacRumors, I hoped they would ship with the full version of macOS but I must admit I’m ok with it running iOS. Since the release of iOS 11, their mobile OS has only gotten better and the Files system is pretty sweet, although not perfect.
So, which is the better option, in-house or remote freelance? I believe this comes down to completely personal preference. There isn’t one definite answer as both have huge benefits and also big drawbacks. I have met some of the most talented people working in-house, some of whom I’m now lucky enough to call friends, and these people have taught me invaluable skills and time saving work techniques. You get that feeling of inclusion in most places and having the ability to be sociable is a huge plus. Saying that, if you’re not the biggest social butterfly and prefer your own space, then this can also be a negative aspect too. At the same time I love working from home and using my own set up. I’m lucky enough to have a great, light and airy home office and also lucky enough to live in a great location where I can take my dogs for walks in the beautiful countryside. I definitely could do better with structuring my days and sticking to office hours but there aren’t enough hours in the day to do the work as well as marketing etc.
Whether it’s in-house or remote work, only you can decide which is best for you. Both have distinct advantages/disadvantages and I would highly recommend mixing it up between the two, especially if you haven’t had much experience before going freelance.