In the past few years, creating unique video content has become a significant part of Envision’s marketing and communications strategy.
To help support that strategy, we actually built a video studio in our office space towards the latter half of 2019. This space included a large green-screen, as well as professional lighting, camera, sound, and editing equipment. Our video process was just starting to take off in early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and our team adopted a fully distributed model.
While we were prepared as a company to work from outside our normal office space and remain very productive, the hard truth is that there are certain things that you need to be in the office to do. Simply put, for our team to use our new video studio, they actually need to be in that studio! This proved to be challenging when our company’s pandemic response closed the office to any non-essential personnel. Only those who had to be in the office could do so, and no teams could meet together in one room, including that video studio.
We didn’t want to have to pause our video plans, but we also needed to make sure our people could remain safe. To help solve this problem, we turned to Microsoft’s collaboration tools, specifically Teams, Stream, and OneDrive. These were the same tools we were already using in other aspects of our business, and they helped us continue using our video set-up to produce new content for our channels while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. Here’s how we did it.
A Note on our Studio’s Set-Up
The first thing to understand is how our video studio is set up, and how we collaborated in that space prior to COVID-19. The studio is a single, large square room with a large green screen on one wall, a practical set arranged on another wall, and a desk with our video editing station on a third wall of the room. The middle of the space is largely open so we can set up lights and cameras for filming. Normally, collaboration in this studio means having the “talent” either in front of the green screen or at the desk in the practical set. We then have the video’s “producer” positioned at the editing station where they can review everything being recorded and make adjustments as needed.
This set-up is a fairly standard way to utilize a space like this, but for it to work, it requires multiple people to be in the same room. That was what we needed to find a way to work around.
Our First Attempt at Creating Videos During the Pandemic
When our office first closed to non-essential personnel in late-March, we knew we had to change the way we created videos. We packed up a “kit” of tech that the talent could take home to record videos there. This was our first pass. We coached the talent on how to set-up the equipment, collaborated on a script, and then turned them loose to record a video. Unfortunately, the end result was less than optimal.
Having the background of the video be a wall in someone’s dining room was not ideal, especially when compared to the way our studio’s set looked. The bigger problem, however, was the audio quality. While our video studio was built with audio quality in mind, including soundproofing on the walls to eliminate echoes, a person’s home space is certainly not built with those same considerations. As such, the audio track was distant and unclear, and the overall production quality of the video not something we wanted to release on our channels. Back to the drawing board!
Video Creation: Take 2
If we wanted our videos to retain the quality we had worked hard to achieve, we knew that utilizing the studio we built would be our best bet. The question then became this: how can we film at our physical location safely? As part of Envision’s social distancing guidelines, only one person was permitted to be in the video studio at a time. How could we scale down our previous multi-person video production process to just one person?
One of Envision’s Marketing Specialists, Megan Kurose, has been really instrumental in our ongoing video efforts. She visited the studio to get it set up for this new process. Focusing on the practical set on one wall of the video studio, she arranged the cameras and lighting to accommodate talent sitting at the desk in the set, marking equipment locations with bright tape on the floor in case anything was accidentally moved. By doing this, all the talent had to do when they came into the studio to record was flip a few light switches and turn on the camera and microphones, and boom – they’d be ready to roll.
Now, here is where the collaboration using Microsoft’s tools came into play and really allowed our video production efforts to continue to be a team process. Since the talent needs to be alone in the studio, we wanted to find a way to give the producer a presence in the room without them actually being there. To do this, we set up a large monitor and webcam behind the filming equipment that directly faces the talent at eye level. The talent can now call the producer via a Microsoft Teams video meeting so that the producer can still be “in the room” while also abiding by social distancing guidelines.
During filming, the producer can be onscreen the entire time, watching the production and listening to what’s being filmed. If the producer wants to give feedback to the talent, all they have to do is use the “raise hand” feature in Teams, which will add a yellow box around their video feed. This visual prompt lets the talent know that the producer has some direction they wish to communicate about. The talent can also choose to add additional people to the video meeting to source further feedback.
With this new process, our video team has been able to maintain communication and collaboration across distances, while still allowing us to utilize the video studio for high-quality video and audio recording. While this process is not as seamless as if the producer was actually in the room, it still presents our team with a viable collaborative work solution while we can’t all be physically together.
Further Collaboration with the Microsoft Platform
Teams has been instrumental in our video production process beyond just providing the director a window into the recording studio. We’ve also been able to use Teams to collaborate in real-time on scripts and graphics. Additionally, the chat function has been enormously helpful in swapping photos of the physical set and quickly communicating necessary adjustments.
As for file sharing during this process, Microsoft OneDrive has helped to make that process seamless. Prior to social distancing guidelines, the producer could simply take the SD card out of the camera, pop it into the computer at the video editing station, and begin edits. Now, the talent can use OneDrive to upload both soundcheck and final recording files. Then, they can either share the files with a single person or a group of users by emailing the OneDrive link, or better yet, just sending it directly within Teams.
The final Microsoft solution that we’ve added to revamp our video production process is Stream. With Stream, the producer can upload edited videos and choose to share them with specific individuals, or entire groups/channels. Users can add their feedback in the comments section underneath the posted videos. Stream has given our team a great way to share videos internally in a collaborative and secure manner while keeping all our feedback in one place for the entire team to see and respond to.
The solutions we came up with for our video creation process are not groundbreaking, as what we really did was take advantage of some of the tools we already had in place. However, the lesson here is not about developing something brand new in order to solve a challenge – it is more about refusing to allow those challenges to become an excuse for sacrificing quality. It would’ve been easy to just move forward with that first post-COVID video attempt and say it was “good enough considering the circumstances”, but we did not allow ourselves to take that path, and neither should you.
Another lesson this experience has reinforced for us is the benefit of having the right technology in place. We were fortunate that we already had these Microsoft collaboration tools integrated as part of our day-to-day work life. We also have made sure that our employees have the right equipment at home so that the producer working outside of the office has the hardware and software needed to edit this content.
I encourage you to reach out and talk with me more about how we have used the tools covered in this article, as well as others, to continue growing our marketing efforts throughout the pandemic. Additionally, if you’d like to learn more about modern workplace initiatives or discuss the technology and processes that you are using now, you can easily book some time with Envision’s experts right here.