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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.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Bear Grylls of Technical Communications?

My techcomm, m-learning, and e-learning friends–I need to advise you of a painful truth about the world. It’s rough out there. The world economy has been such a mess for the last five years or so, and it’s been slow to recover from the bad times. At least from my own experiences, I can say that just in the last three and a half years alone, I was laid off, unemployed, working, then laid off again to now where I’m semi-working (working part-time, just finished school) and have a few projects, but nothing that’s long term as of yet. In other words, it’s a jungle out there, and I know from first hand experience that technical communicators need to be survivalists out there, like Bear Grylls or Les Stroud (SurvivalMan). Just like those on that show, “Survivor,” we need to outwit, outplay and outlast others to stay in the game. One has to start thinking out of the box as to how to continue in the world as a technical communicator.

Within the last two days, I encountered two things that addressed this very notion. The first was an article by Miriam Lottner, who writes the Documentation Management and Technical Writing Blog for Tech-Tav Documentation, Ltd. in Israel. She wrote an article called, “Getting to the top and staying there” that addressed the issue of technical communicators looking for jobs where she lives. As someone who contracts technical writers herself, she addressed what she looks for and what she feels are skills that are needed to get ahead today in the technical communications field. She recounted a story of being able to place a person for a very specific project because they had skills that others did not have. The main point of her article was that to stay ahead, one needs to push away the obsolete skills that nobody wants to know anymore, and brush up on or learn new skills, because technology is always changing. She even mentions that she is in the process of writing a book about HTML5 to help other learn and get ahead. (I’m looking forward to getting a copy! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Miriam on Skype, and she’s a sharp cookie who loves techcomm, so I’m sure the book is going to be fabulous!)

Fast forward a day, where I was at the home of a fellow member of the Society of Technical Communications (STC-Philly), along with some other local NJ members, and we sat together to listen to a virtually shared meeting presented by the STC-NYC chapter. The NYC chapter was having speakers Ross Squire and Donna Timpone present a talk called, “Technical Communications: Your Annual Career Tune-Up.” It was an interesting presentation, because while there were great tips to remind those who were participating about making networking connections, it was emphasized that with technology moving so quickly these days, it really benefitted technical communicators to get out and learn new skills. Going back to school or taking an online course on something new was encouraged to not only boost one’s skills and provide someone with additional experience that could be brought into a new job, but the use of social media to make networking connections was also important. Being passive doesn’t work anymore if you are looking for employment of any kind, whether it’s to move up or just find something at all. Staying on top of the game is what is key these days. A key point to Ross’ and Donna’s talk was that e-learning and m-learning, both in acquiring information and putting out information was going to be vital. In other words, being on both the receiving and sending sides and understanding those roles will be crucial. Understanding and participating in social learning is highly important. In other words, if you want to play the game, you have to start gaining the survival skills.

In reading Miriam’s article, and listening to Ross and Donna, I felt a certain satisfaction knowing that in many respects, I’m on the right track with getting my own career started. Less than 3 years ago when I got laid off the first time, I started taking matters into my own hands by starting with my online courses for a graduate certificate in technical communications essentials. I’m glad I kept up with my classes, because now I’ve been laid off again for a while, but I’m about to graduate with my Masters degree in technical communication, and after looking at trends and issues in techcomm, e-learning, and m-learning, I feel like I’m ready to get out there. It may be a little rough and bumpy sometimes, and no doubt I’ll be on my own to struggle to survive, but I believe I have what it takes, and I will be a tech comm survivor. Heck, while I’ve finished my classes and have yet to still get my Masters degree in my hands in a few days, I’ve already started boosting my skills set with learning some new software that will be coming in handy as I move forward with my career in the near future. Learning never ends. If I hadn’t taken some courses or taught myself other IT skills years ago, I wouldn’t even be where I am now.

(Addendum: Look above at the ID/TC Educational Resources if you are looking for some ideas of further e-learning, m-learning or tech comm learning!)

The Boy Scouts have among their important mottos the saying, “Be prepared.” This is so vital these days.

So, do you have what it takes to be the Bear Grylls of technical communications? If not, you need to do some boot camp training soon….