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Tech Comm and The State of Urbanization

This is how I view many cities.
Is this really where all the tech comm work is?
Photo by Lee Aik Soon on Unsplash

Being that I’m a person whose career is always seemingly in flux, I was listening to a past webinar that featured a few people I knew who were giving advice on how to stay current within the tech comm profession.  While I found there were a few tips in there that were useful, I found that many of them were things that were things I had already tried, but hadn’t found true.  Or, I’ve been doing them all along, and I’m not as far into my career as I want to be.

I’m sure after reading a lot of my posts about remote work, people obviously know what a big proponent I am of remote work–especially in the tech comm field.  But I started thinking about additional aspects of it, and why it’s important that we try to keep working towards remote opportunities being available in this day and age: urbanization.

Now, just so you know, I’m currently contracted at a company–remotely–that has a vested interest in urbanization. One hundred and fifty years ago, people swarmed to the cities to find jobs–industrial jobs in factories, mostly–to support themselves and their families. Once the industrialization craze calmed down, as housing and cost-of-living costs went up in the cities, the move towards more suburban areas started.  People could live outside the cities and still have really good jobs, or they lived in close enough proximity to get to a city without the hassles of city life. It was a winning situation.  I’m finding that now, that is changing back to the industrial revolution thinking again, except there are differences this time.

This time, we are driven by the digital revolution–not the dot-com industry, exactly, but all the digital companies that run throughout the internet that provide information, development, and other resources in our lives.  This sounds like it’d be a tech comm paradise–and it could be–if it wasn’t for one thing. Many of the opportunities are in the cities. Millennial are willingly flocking to the cities to hopefully provide manpower needed, but even they can have issues with living in the cities simply because of one thing: cost.  I know I’ve read where you can’t even afford to live in the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley, even on the generous paychecks they dole out there, even if you live hours away.  I think I just heard or read the other day that millennials are the first generation that won’t be able to buy cars or homes easily after a couple of years of working out of college.  Baby boomers could because the cost of college, housing, and other “normal” living arrangements were still easily attainable. With each generation, it gets harder, and even if you are a Gen-Xer like myself, it doesn’t mean it’s easier necessarily.

I can’t speak for everyone, but as for myself, I find it very difficult to think that the only way for technical communicators to get jobs is to uproot themselves–and in some cases, entire families–for jobs in the cities, and that includes contract jobs.  It’s bad enough that tech comm struggles to prove to industries that it has permanent value, and that technical communicators are not engineers, scientists, pharmacologists, executive MBAs, or computer programmers/developers who can write. The industry expectation is that you are one of those things, and you can write, instead of the other way around–a writer who can learn terminology and research, and can turn techno-babble into clear language for everyone else. That’s already a battle. But to say that those who do value tech comm are only found in the cities? That’s horrible.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Why is being in the city so important in the digital age? Is it because that’s where the financing is found? Is it because of corporate offices being in a city? I’m sure it’s yes, on both accounts.  But when you really stop and think about it–why, in this digital age, are we having another flocking to urban areas? This doesn’t make sense to me.  I think about where I live in Central New Jersey.  When I was getting out of college, this area was the hot spot if you wanted to find a job. I moved from my parents’ house to the town I live in now to be closer to Princeton. Now…unless you are in finance, pharmaceuticals, or are an ace web programmer/developer (none of which are me), there’s nothing. All the appropriate jobs in are either in New York City or Philadelphia, both of which are at least an hour and a half commute in each direction. That would be three to four hours out of my day. Now, not to sound old, but that’s WAY too much of my time that could be my own. Taking public transportation doesn’t make it any better, really. It makes it more of a hassle, and still doesn’t allow me to own my time.  I know people who do it, and I think they are crazy.

There are a LOT of talented people around the world. A lot of smart people around the world.  I know technical communicators who, like myself, are at a loss as to what to do, because either they already live in a city and struggle to afford it, or like me, struggle to find something that’s either remote, or nearby so they can have a good quality of living for themselves and/or their family.  Why should we sacrifice so much? It’s bad enough that the jobs are in the cities, but if the cost of living in those cities is making working at those jobs unattainable, isn’t the solution for companies to start either moving to the suburbs OR figuring out ways to encourage remote working? Perhaps that’s too logical.

The re-urbanization of society is not necessarily a good thing, especially considering this is the digital age, where we can put up hotspots and satellites and wi-fi towers anywhere we want within reason.  Why aren’t companies taking advantage of this technology? If they like to think of themselves as global and inclusive, why are they limiting that global access and inclusivity only to their urban work sites?

As technical communicators, it should be a big part of our initiative to promote ourselves not only as people who add value to a company’s bottom line through documentation, UX, content strategy, and other skills we have, but that we are also able to work just about anywhere–including in our home offices–and still be effective at what we do. We can help our local economies by staying put and not contribute to the overcrowded cities and the rising costs there.  Why would I want to try to get a studio apartment in San Francisco or Silicon Valley or New York City for USD$1-2 million when I can get a three-to-four bedroom house in a nice neighborhood, have some green space/a garden, a good school district for my child, for a fraction of that? Why should I have to sacrifice my time with my family and other obligations I have to my community by commuting four hours round trip everyday, and sacrificing my physical and mental well-being at the same time?  Urbanization is not a solution, it’s more of a problem. Digitization should be allowing for more widespread resources, not confining them to one area that everyone must flock to.

If companies truly embrace global digitization and global opportunity, they shouldn’t focus solely on cities. They need to look EVERYWHERE, and provide opportunities everywhere.

What do you think? Include your comments below.


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The Complete Guide to Working On A Remote Team – Megan Berry – Medium

The secret to increasing productivity, work–life balance, and team happiness

Source: The Complete Guide to Working On A Remote Team – Megan Berry – Medium

Thanks to Adam Helweh of Secret Sushi for finding this gem. And oh–what a gem this is!  I think this is probably the best article I’ve ever read that discusses the advantages of working remotely. I’ve been working remotely on and off (mostly on) for the past five years.  I LOVE working remotely, for all the reasons listed in this article. The methods mentioned in this article are along the same lines of what I’ve practiced for years successfully, and I can endorse and validate everything that’s said in this article. Working remotely CAN be done, if it’s done in an organized manner, the work is still taken seriously and done well, and you maintain your communication skills. It’s no different working out of your house as it is your office if you are communicating with other team members or clients around the world! It’s still a conference call, or email, or instant messaging, or video calls, no matter the location! It’s the 21st century already! More companies need to get on board with this, especially for technical communicators!

If you are looking for a remote worker, I’m available right now! You can visit to learn more about what I can offer.

What do you think about the perspective of this article’s author? Include your comments below.


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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.