Villing & Company

Observations On Working Remotely as a Digital Artist

A while back, my wife decided it was time to return to school to pursue her master’s degree. As a result we headed south to Indianapolis so she could complete her education while I continued my position at Villing & Company working full time from home. I’ve been doing that for the last year now and the experience has been surprisingly positive…except for a few inconveniences like what happened to me last week.

As I was formulating ideas for this article, a thunderstorm barreled through central Indiana feasting on power lines and transformers along its way. Indianapolis fell victim, and I found myself in the dark staring at a blank computer screen in silence. No way to work. No colleagues to commiserate with. Limited communication. My warm bed in the next room never felt more tempting.

Fortunately my cell phone was charged, so I called in to inform the mother ship that until the sorcerers in hard hats began casting their magical spells on those metal boxes hanging from telephone poles, I would be blissfully free from having to respond to any emails. Having been sucked back to the early 1800s, stripped of modern communication technology, I was forced to write the first draft of this blog by candlelight on parchment with a long feathery quill.

It got me thinking about how incredible our modern world really is. Just 150 years ago we didn’t have the telephone. By the 1970s, we had fax machines, and a little over a decade later, we saw the widespread popularity of the Internet. But it wasn’t until much more recently with the increased availability of high-speed Internet solutions that working remotely became a viable possibility for someone like me.

Allow me to explain. My job at Villing & Company consists of a number of roles from editing and producing all of the agency’s video content to illustration and design work on occasional print and Web sites. Video work, especially, requires working with massive file sizes. Because of that, before the advent of high-speed Internet, delivering such content for review both internally and with clients would have been slowed down significantly by dependence on companies like FedEx (not to mention more expensive).

But due to high-speed Internet, it’s now easy to send very large files back and forth between coworkers and clients via email and uploading files to FTP servers. In one day, I can finish editing a TV spot, compress it and upload it to the company FTP in relatively little time. It’s not uncommon to edit and send several revisions of a project within one workday. This makes the revision process nearly as efficient as it would be if I were physically present in the main office.

But is the efficiency of working remotely the only thing to consider? I’ve reflected on Scott Tingwald’s recent article about the importance of actual verbal communication over email to foster healthy professional relationships. This may be the most important lesson I’ve learned from working remotely thus far. It’s easy to rely totally on email for its many benefits, but I can’t tell you how much just picking up the phone and talking to coworkers directly has made me feel more connected to the team.

It would seem that telephone calls would be cost-prohibitive due to long-distance charges, especially if you are working out of state or at extreme distances. But modern technology comes to the rescue again. I use Skype, a computer program that utilizes my existing high-speed Internet connection as a phone line, which allows me to make unlimited long-distance phone calls for only a couple of bucks a month.

So here are a few pointers for making the road a little smoother if working from home becomes a future possibility for you:

  1. Download Skype or a similar Internet-based phone service. This will require that you buy a headset, but it’s worth it for the money you will save in the long run. It’s just peanuts for unlimited long-distance calling.
  2. Call in to meetings as much as possible. It might be a little awkward to be the disembodied voice in the room, but it’s worth it to feel connected to your colleagues.
  3. Make a task list to send to your employer or creative director to keep them up to speed on projects you’re working on and what their status is. This allows your boss to have a quick reference to how busy you are as he/she assigns projects and plans deadlines.
  4. Utilize FTP and email for both internal and client review when possible. It’s fast and free to post a video on the Web for the client to check out. Much better than making them wait a day for a FedEx package.
  5. Travel to the main office whenever you can. This will help keep your professional relationships feeling personal.
  6. Communicate clearly and as often as possible to keep other team members in the loop.

I think the 21st century is greeting my return with flickering lights, so I’d better wrap this up. Overall, my experience has been positive and as I continue working from home, I hope to continue learning new ways to keep the experience both efficient and personal. There really is no replacement for in-person, face-to-face communication, but by utilizing modern technology, it has become a lot easier to make it work.

Filed Under: general

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