I’ve been working from home off and on for much of my career. Pre-COVID, I would have said I like the option to work from either home or office depending on things like what I had to do that day. I just took a job that is full-time remote so that option is off the table.
Here are some ways I’m changing up my remote work routine:
I shared my thoughts about the new world of remote work during a recent IDG TECHtalk Twitter Chat that Network World picked upp.
A4) Scaling up remote access and chat/collaboration tools top my list of lessons. Content management gaps are also going to rear their ugly head for some organizations and offer lessons (not everybody may take heed the content management lessons though). The #IDGTECHtalk— Will Kelly (@willkelly) March 26, 2020
I’ve become sort of a student of remote working because of my freelancing and consulting work. A special area of interest is the changes (both good and bad) in dynamics and project management that sometimes occur when a remote technical writer joins the team.
While this post speaks more about remote technical writing projects, you may find that you’ve bumped up against one or more of these things while working as a remote writer:
Microsoft Office might just be your Frenemy
While some may color me a “Microsoft Office fanboy”, Microsoft Office is ubiquitous in my local marketplace so I’ve had to make it work to get my job done. As a remote writer, you may have to contend with file corruptions, template issues, and sundry document format and versioning issues all on your own. A couple of document versions put together with bad habits may mean your remote writing project becomes more of a font fondling exercise in (re)formatting the document. My advice is t do your best to own all facets of the document you are writing including the template and document management.
Out of sight shouldn’t be out of Mind
Writing projects especially those of the technical writing persuasion are usually lowest on the project manager’s list of priorities but still rank as a line item on a project schedule. It’s important to keep your writing project from falling off the project manager’s radar. You can do this by actively participating in team status calls; making your presence known through IM sessions; and doing what you can so you and your writing project(s) make project milestones and get the attention and resources they need to complete successfully.
Like it or not you are a project manager
Whether you are an employee, contractor, or freelancer working remotely, project management is part of your responsibilities whether explicitly or not. Too often writing projects can be ignored and you have to implement your own project management and communications strategy. Then again, if your experience has been anything like mine, you’ve found that there are a lot of managers who don’t understand what it takes to deliver a writing project. If you find yourself strapped with a manager like this, expect an education exercise at best and at worst keep a paper trail of your communications with management.
These are only a few things that came to mind based upon my own experience and discussions with clients and professional colleagues.
What lessons have you learned from remote writing projects?
Hey there! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content development manager living and working in the Washington, DC area. After spending years focusing on technical and SDLC documentation, much of my work now focuses on thought leadership content and marketing collateral. My articles have been published by DevOps Agenda, Mobile Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.
Last year after spending four years working from home, I took a corporate job working in an open office. I read much about the transition being hard, because I went from the upmost privacy to being able to see and hear the people working around me.
When I got my start as a technical writer, everybody worked in the same office, in the same building. Collaboration in those days was via shared network drives and eventually corporate email. I’ve been working remotely pretty much since 2012 with the exception of some on-site meetings and business trips. On a recent trip, I had a chance to speak with some other remote workers and the topic of collaboration came up. The consensus of the discussion that many organizations are still getting collaboration wrong with their virtual teams.
Here are seven ways that you are getting collaboration wrong with your project team:
1. Using email first communication
Email is the original collaboration tool making it a natural solution for virtual teams. Going email first for communication will catch up to virtual project teams eventually. Long email threads grow unwieldy. Likewise, forget document version control.
Email first communications also puts you at the mercy of the most disorganized person on the team. He or she is the person who always misses an email or asks other team members to resend their emails.
Email first communications invariably leads to follow up (even multiple follow ups) slowing down communications and collaboration.
2. Drowning out team member voices
Whether it’s differing personality types, micromanagement, or miscommunications there’s the potential to drown out team member voices. Virtual teams make it even easier by not centralizing communication, avoiding group level communications. Other ways you can drown out team member voices includes:
Delayed response to one-to-one online chats
Ignore one or more team members in chat rooms
Ignore real-time communications like video conferencing or the old fashioned phone call
No engagement with review comments in documents or presentations
No appreciation of team member’s preferred communication channels
Virtual teams also drown out team member voices when they don’t adjust after miscommunications.
3. Forgetting the art of the pitching new ideas to your team
New ideas for solutions, processes, and communications should be welcome on virtualteams. Team collaboration can break down when one or more members go around the team to sneak in a process or system change that may not fit the needs of every team member, or even cause more work unnecessarily.
Even without agile development and DevOps, project reporting takes on a new importance with virtual project teams.
5. Using duplicate systems and tools
The mass proliferation of freemium cloud-based messaging and collaboration tools makes it easy for duplicate systems to crop up on a virtual team. Doubly so if the IT department back at the corporate mothership may not be attentive to the out of sight, out of mind employees and contractors.
6. Dodging questions and answers
Perhaps it’s because I’m a technical writer but I’ve become a student of how people answer questions. There’s what I call the dodge and denial method that can wreak havoc with virtual team collaboration. A team member dodges answering a question. The average corporate culture will excuse it as the person being too busy. Scratch beneath the surface, the person is often just disorganized or even dodging the question because they don’t know the answer and fear losing face to their fellow team members.
7. Distributing project documentation & @artifacts in the widest dispersal possible
If you or somebody on the team need to ask “where’s such and such document?” then you are doing something wrong. With the popularity of Google Apps for Work and Office 365, it’s possible for a team to have a wide dispersal of personal accounts and cloud space.
When a team doesn’t centralize project documentation and artifacts then virtual project teams may have members not using the more correct and up to date information.
Virtual team collaboration for the win
Industry trade publications are filled with stories about winning virtual project teams. Working on virtual teams on commercial and federal government projects, I’ve come to see that communications and collaboration can make or break such teams.
Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.