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Here’s 6 reasons why remote workers are valuable.

guy telecommuting
Remote work is great for remote workers because it’s always Casual Friday. 🙂

I was re-reading an article I had posted on Facebook years ago, namely “More Companies Turning To Virtual Employees” found on the Huffington Post in early 2012, and saw that technical writers were among the top positions listed to be good remote positions and positions for independent contractors. Back then, I thought, “Great! Sign me up!”

Four years later upon re-reading this article, I was thinking, “Great! Sign me up!” However, I’m wondering if things have changed since that article has posted. The reason I ask is that I’ve been looking for those remote positions, and I’ll be damned if I can find one, or find one easily.

Now, keep in mind, I’ve had the opportunity to be a remote worker, and I did it for about three years. The small consulting gig I have after hours that’s an extension of that job is still done remotely. I know what it takes to be a successful remote worker.

So why is it so difficult to find these remote positions? When Marissa Meyer of Yahoo took away telecommuting privileges in 2013 (a year after the Huffington Post article), did it scare everyone else to do the same? I protested that move then, and I protest it now.  I’ve seen many positions listed that could be done remotely, or mostly remotely (like an occasional visit to the office would be okay), but everyone insists that workers need to be in the office. I’m all for teamwork, yet I’ve been on several teams remotely without any problem.

I have a feeling that there are several misconceptions about remote working on the part of employers. Perceptions I have heard include:

  1. Workers will get more done in the office workers who work remotely goof off and regard the time as their own.
  2. Working from the office costs will be less expensive.
  3. You can keep a closer eye on workers/micromanage when they are in the office.
  4. There’s nothing like the social aspects of being in the office as part of a team.
  5. Being in the office with your fellow co-workers will instill more teamwork, and more company loyalty, and more productivity. (This was an argument of Marissa Mayer.)

Rubbish, I tell you!

I have found from my own experience, and the experiences that others have told me, all these are not true. This is not to say there isn’t some truth to some of these preconceptions, but they are based on the worst in class workers instead of the best in class.

Here are the 6 reasons why employers should consider hiring more remote workers:

  1. Remote workers actually put in more hours than office workers.
    Since we don’t have to commute to the office, we often are starting work earlier and finishing work later. Good remote workers will usually have a home office so they can be removed from household distractions, and distractions are actually fewer than in an office setting. Even if we have to step away for a doctor’s appointment, pick up the kid from the bus stop, etc. we put in more quality time in those working hours. In most cases, we keep the same business hours, but are at our desk more than someone moving around the office.
  2. Remote workers take on a good chunk of the operating costs.
    Since we work from home most often, we pay for the space, electricity, heating/AC, and the internet connectivity. All the other potential costs, like a VOIP phone, network box or VPN, and a company computer would be the same as if you were at the office. In some cases, the remote worker uses a VPN connection, and it’s the cost of using their own computer or equipment being used. The employer doesn’t have to pay for the occupation of space at the office.
  3. Good remote workers don’t need to be micromanaged.
    Remote workers can keep themselves busy, and are more productive if they don’t have someone constantly looking over their shoulder. If details are important to an employer, remote workers have to deal with details to ensure that communications about projects are understood well as a result of being remote. They ask clarifying questions as needed. Just relax!
  4. Social time isn’t going to get the work done.
    Being a remote worker can be lonely sometimes, and some of the social aspects of working in an office can be missed. But thanks to social media tools, web conferencing, and good old email, being remote isn’t anti-social. Work, after all, isn’t about hanging out with your friends. Work is about getting a job done, and if you become friendly with your teammates, that’s great. I’ve seen plenty of situations where workers at the office socialize more than they actually work. You don’t have that problem with a remote worker.
  5. Remote workers work harder to be a valuable member of the team than those in the office.
    While there is some validity that face to face events help to foster teamwork, it’s not a must-have. Remote workers can feel out of the loop a little bit when there are small chats across cubicles that are missed out, but when phone meetings or web conferences are going on, remote workers will go out of their way to integrate and ensure that their contribution is at least on par with the office teammates and that the other teammates know that you are pulling your weight–sometimes more. This is especially true of global or cross-country teams that all meet remotely whether they are at the office or not. By being allowed to work independently as a remote worker, and by being allowed to work in a way that best suits that worker, this situation allows for more worker satisfaction, which can lead to more loyalty to the company, and further productivity.
  6. Here’s a bonus for prospective employers–you don’t have to limit your search to a local commuting radius or pay for any relocation for the right remote worker.
    The best person for the job might be 100, 1000, or more miles away, ready to adapt to time differences if needed, and ready to work!

Not everyone is cut out to do remote work. And yes, some jobs do require that you need to be in the office, or at least every now and then.  But in this digital age when we can connect in so many ways, I don’t understand how this hasn’t taken off more. I have Skype, WebEx, AdobeConnect, and other web conferencing tools at my fingertips. I also have email, social media, and internet access. I have most of the standard tools such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud on my laptop. What’s stopping me from getting another remote position?  Oh yeah…it’s that I can’t find where they are, and they aren’t many of them out there.

What do you think? Should remote working or telecommuting be happening more? It was predicted that more people would be telecommuting by now, but I haven’t seen it happen yet. What are your experiences? Include your comments below.

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My response to RJ Jacquez’s question: Will Tablets replace PCs?

Recently, due to the upcoming release of Microsoft’s Surface machine, RJ Jacquez released two blog posts promoting the idea that tablets, in time, will indeed replace the PC as we know it, and that Microsoft is going in the wrong direction with this Surface device. Between his post titled, “For the sake of ‘Mobile’ I hope Microsoft Windows 8 and the Surface Tablet fall short” and Tablets Will Replace PCs, But Not In The Way You Think, he says that he feels that Surface is not taking us forward because it embraces the idea of adapting our devices to old software, instead of moving forward with mobile devices and rethinking how to create new productivity software for these new tablets that can make users more productive.  After paraphrasing several articles that have been out in the press that claim that productivity apps such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and Final Cut Pro (to name a few) are items that need to be addressed by the tablet industry, he counter argues,

Personally I think that most of these articles miss the bigger point, namely the fact that most people think that Tablets replacing our PCs will require a 1:1 task-replacement approach. I don’t buy this argument….In other words, we are currently shaping our mobile tools and soon these amazing devices, along with the incredibly creative apps that accompany them, will shape us and redefine every single task we do from here on out, including learning design, image editing, web design and yes every productivity task as well.”

I understand what he’s saying. If I’m interpreting him correctly, his argument is that devices like Surface should not be adapted to run bloated “power” software that needs the extra storage and peripherals to work, thus making the devices less mobile, but rather software should be streamlined to become more efficient so it can run in a tablet like an iPad which doesn’t need extra storage because it relies on the Cloud nor does it need any other peripherals to function. Some of the other “power” apps that RJ mentioned that critics think would need PC power include Photoshop, Microsoft OneNote and Avid Studio.

Well, I do have to agree with RJ insofar as I think that mobile is the future, and it is forcing us to really look at software and its limitations, and it’s making us think about how to streamline processes and our needs. mLearning is in the midst of a huge revolution due to that mindset right now. And actually, there are tablet versions of Photoshop, MS OneNote, and Avid Studio available for tablets that cover most of what users need. So it’s not like these kinds of software can’t be adapted for most people’s uses.  The average user does not use Word or Excel or Photoshop or other apps the same way as a power user, so streamlined apps are fine.

However, I think there may be a need–at least for a little while longer–for PCs to still exist for other kinds of “power” uses. The first thing that comes to mind are apps that are not as mainstream as the ones mentioned so far. Tech comm apps like Framemaker, RoboHelp and Flare are the first ones that come to mind. Now I know that Adobe is working to put just about all of their major software products on the cloud, so that’s a move in the right direction. I have no idea if Flare or the other leading tech comm productivity software packages are moving that way as well. The same thing with e-learning software…again, Captivate is part of Adobe’s cloud-based Technical Communications Suite 4 right now, but what about Lectora or Articulate or other instructional design software packages?  These are all software programs that aren’t quite ready for tablet use yet, but for the sake of mobile productivity, it might not be a bad idea to move in that direction. But for now, staying as desktop apps is probably fine.

There’s an app called Cloud On that has the right idea. It’s an app that’s available for both iOS and Android use, and essentially it provides a means of accessing full versions of Microsoft Office on tablet devices, and then saving documents in a Dropbox, Box or Google Drive account. No short cuts here! Full functionality of the software, on the go!

So, why aren’t the all the big software companies jumping onto the bandwagon with this? Apple already has by creating tablet versions of their iWork and iLife apps, but what others? Some companies have taken baby steps, or are working on it, and others…well, I think they are not keeping up, or are in denial that having a lean version of their software is needed.

I can say, as I mentioned, that I’ve used Cloud On, but I’ve also used my iPad’s Notes app. I used the Microsoft OneNote app on my iPad heavily last year during grad school, as I would start my homework assignment on my iPad during my lunch hour, and then sync it in my SkyDrive account so I could access it from my laptop at home to finish an assignment. I recently used Photoshop Touch on my iPad when I was too lazy to power up my laptop one night to fix a photo for a friend.  When I’ve made movies or did any digital photography projects, they’ve been done more on my iPad than on my laptop due to more affordable choices that meet my basic needs for editing.

So, my answer to RJ’s question is that I feel there will still be some apps that will need a PC to do much bigger jobs. Desktops and laptops are our workhorses right now, and you wouldn’t ask a pony to do the work of a Clydesdale horse. The PC isn’t going away anytime soon, and it will remain the hub of business and other work for some time to come. But, I agree with what RJ said, that in looking forward to the future, we need to continue to think mobile and how we can make it work so that much of these workhorse products can be made more lithe and flexible to our needs.

One last thought to put the mobile/tablet point in perspective–if you are a Star Trek fan like I am, you will have noticed that everyone carries portable devices–the size of a tablet, e-book or smartphone– to access huge databases and information, and to do much of the “heavy” information lifting for anyone aboard a starship. This was depicted on the shows well as much as 25 years ago, before the advent of tablet devices and smartphones. Think about how the various characters on the show used their devices. They would tap into a main computer device on the ship–much like we would access a network or the Cloud–to obtain information and make various calculations as needed.

It would seem to me that we are getting closer to that kind of scenario in reality, but we’re not quite there yet. We’re getting close, though!

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Upgrade Time! PREVIEW of the NEW Adobe Technical Communications Suite 4!

I’m very excited as this is my 100th post here on techcommgeekmom.com, and with this 100th post, I am able to present all of my readers with a special preview.

Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite 4.0 (TCS4) is now out!

Woo hoo! It’s great to see that along with upgrades to the Adobe Creative Suite and e-Learning Suite, now the Technical Communications Suite is getting a major update as well.

Now, you may be wondering, like most technical communicators, what changes have been made between the 3.5 version and the 4.0 version. Good question! There have been several upgrades to the software package, thank you very much. How do I know? Adobe was kind enough to invite me to a preview a little while ago, and even as a newbie to this software package, I can say that I could see that the company is trying very hard to keep up with the needs of technical communicators, and they are taking the necessary steps to embrace mobile technology, which is highly evident in this upgrade.

Now, I took as many notes as I could, considering the presentation went by faster than I could take the notes, but I know that there are a few major highlights that are important to cover.

As the speakers from Adobe started the presentation, they concentrated on identifying key trends they felt were happening in technical communications, namely a movement to structured authoring, rapid mobile growth in smartphones and tablets, the need to make content more interactive, the concern of technical communicators having to do more with less resources, and the need to provide searchable, personalized and socially enabled content. It sounded to me like they were on the right track, especially if the improvements they were about to present fulfilled these needs.

One of the main anchors of Technical Communications Suite is Framemaker, and here in the TCS 4 Suite, Framemaker has been upgraded to Framemaker 11. From what I’ve been able to gather from my observations, Framemaker had its heyday, then it lost favor, and now it’s starting to regain steam again. Framemaker (FM) 11 seems to be taking the improvements make from FM 10 another step forward. Structured authoring was the main focus of the improvements with this product, including multi-view editing environments providing WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) of XML and author sources as well as getting WYSIWYG output as well. Content creators can edit XML documents in any view, and the changes are reflected in all views without manual changes. This bodes well for working towards single-source creation! DITA and XML support has been enhanced as well, and performance using these has been enhanced as well.

A big addition to FM 11 is ability to include rich media objects like vector images with hotspots, video, and 3D modeling. One of the features I liked that was demonstrated was one where play, pause, and jump buttons were created around a video/animation presentation within the content. Nice! The 3D model imaging that can now be used will be great for how-to manuals, so there is better context at looking or training on physical objects, like looking at a machinery part from all angles. From a productivity standpoint, SmartPaste and SmartInsert features have been added to help auto-format pasted or inserted text or content into a new document, but one can still retain the old formatting as well. Another appealing feature is the ability to create your own Framemaker set-up. Adobe’s goal was to enable content creators to be able to author content faster by allowing the creators to customize navigation and workspaces. That sounds great! Of course, what got me most excited was to hear that FM 11 has been oriented to now enable mobile output, including multi-screen HTML5 content as well as ePub 3.0 and Kindle formats. That’s definitely a step in the right direction!

The second main anchor of Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite is RoboHelp (RH), now available in version 10. RH 10 works seamlessly with Framemaker, as it always has, but again Adobe has focused on streamlining the workflow process as well as improving the product’s output. That output includes new outputs for mobile devices. RH 10 can deliver content to iPad as well as other tablets, smartphones, and desktops now—there are 17 output formats now! It is set up so that authors can work in a multi-author, multi-reviewer environment, where it’s easier to personalize and optimize content relevance. Content can be rich media—again, like FM11, and includes various HTML5 outputs that include mobile apps, ePub 3.0 and Kindle now.

The HTML5 output has also been made to be modern looking, frameless and SEO-friendly. The output is responsive design that works well with fluid layouts like CSS 3 and media queries. Like FM 11, RH 10 can customize and optimize the appearance of the content on each screen as needed. Socially enable documentation can be produced using RH 10, which means that creative native and web mobile apps can now be produced from RoboHelp. This is a big boost for making apps for iOS and Android mobile apps. The workflow view is easier as multi-layout options are available, and there is a preview tool that allows the author to see how the output will look on different devices and subsequently, there is the ability to assign different styles to different devices, including the output publishing settings for each device. One of the other features that caught my attention was that now there is also out of the box integration with MS Sharepoint, so it provides end-to-end workflow. Being someone who’s used SharePoint at my last job extensively, that would make things flow really well for output, and I’m sure that would provide a better product for the end user as well!

TCS 4 has several new features about it. While it includes Framemaker 11 and RoboHelp 10 as mentioned, it will also include the updated Captivate 6, Acrobat X Pro, and now Illustrator has been added (most likely to accommodate vector images better) and Adobe Presenter. I think I’m most excited that not only the newly updated Captivate has been included, but that Presenter has been included as well. I think this is a really smart move on the part of Adobe, because between Captivate and Presenter, more interactive content can be created and put out for mobile. And yes, as I mentioned before, the big push for TCS 4 is being able to provide technical communicators with tools to produce output for mobile devices. To use their words, they are “embracing the mobile revolution” with the multi-screen outputs that are in HTML5 and other mobile formats like ePub 3.0, but also providing tools to make the content context sensitive, providing socially enabled apps, and support for optimizing indexes, glossaries, custom metadata and other content features.

Adobe even made sure that it was understood how TCS 4 would work very well for those in the e-Learning world, saying that TCS 4 provides “new workflows to bridge technical communication with e-Learning” by providing tools that can create m-Learning opportunities and rapid step-by-step authoring. Keeping up with other major trends, cloud-based computing is integrated into the product, as review workflows can now be done using the cloud with TCS 4.

One of the new pricing features also includes using the same cloud pricing model. There will be monthly rates as well as a reduced rate that monthly is cheaper than a month-to-month rate. Due to a lot of these new features–especially the ones that help enable publishing content for HTML5 and other mobile content, I would especially upgrade if I had an older version of TCS or older version of Framemaker and Robohelp. The fact that both FM 11 and RB 10 have customizable views is a big bonus, as well as having the capabilities to produce mobile-friendly content is a big boost. Having more efficient single-source authoring, and cloud capabilities—there are a lot of good things that are added to this.
Now granted, like I said, I’m still a newbie to using the product and using it, but from this reviewer’s standpoint based on the preview, it’s good to see significant upgrades to a product making a strong comeback in the technical communications field. I do hope that as time goes on, Adobe continues to keep up with updates to the product, especially considering the “Creative Cloud”-like option with obtaining the product.

It’s an exciting product, from what I can see, if you are just starting out, or need to revamp your technical communications software.

I hope this review has proven to be helpful. Have you downloaded your copy yet? If so, do you think these changes are big improvements or is there still something missing? Please leave a comment below on what you think about TCS 4 so far.

Adobe notified me just as I was writing this post (before I posted it) that I will have a chance to test-drive the product itself very shortly, and once I have it installed, I’m hoping that I can give my techcommgeekmom readers more information about this product–from my newbie perspective, and see if the preview information holds up to the real deal. Stay tuned!