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Is remote work finally back on track in tech comm?

Photo of woman doing remote tech work from home/Photo by Microsoft.Today, I was reading Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post about remote work, and how Facebook is realizing that a lot of people like remote work. Surprise, surprise! They acknowledge there’s some down-sides to working remote in some cases, but they want to figure out how to resolve those issues and make it a viable option for more employees (not all, mind you).  You can read the entire post on Facebook, but the paragraph that caught my eye the most was this one:

This is probably overdue. Over the past few decades, economic growth in the US has been quite concentrated, with major companies often hiring in a handful metropolitan areas. That means we’ve been missing out on a lot of talented people just because they happen to live outside a major hub. Creating opportunities beyond these cities could also be part of the economic recovery, especially if more companies hire remotely as well.

No kidding, Zuckerberg! This has put a lot of talented people out of reach of you and other companies with the same practice. You’re just figuring this out now?

It also made me think about where we might be today if remote work hadn’t been disrupted several years ago. When was that? It was when Marissa Mayer of Yahoo ordered all positions had to be connected to an office, and there was no remote work for Yahoo anymore. That set a BAD precedence that other tech leaders decided to follow. I said that when it happened back in 2013, and it still applies now. That move set back remote work in the tech world at least a decade or so, and it’s taken a pandemic to force the issue now.

I’m glad to see Facebook and Twitter and other big tech companies start to realize and embrace that remote work is viable. Yes, there are still some issues to work out, especially for those who are not used to being without a physical office dynamic. But for those of us who have been almost begging for more remote opportunities, especially those in tech comm where being in person isn’t always a necessity all the time, it will hopefully expand our job opportunities so that technical communicators can finally work in places where we know we can without having to relocate if we don’t need to. (I’m one of those people who need to stay put because of services related to my son’s special ed education.) Hopefully these changes that are happening will be the new precedence that will have many more companies–even those outside of tech–realize that remote work IS viable for so many of us, and that it should be supported and embraced in order to attract the best talent out there. It doesn’t have to be for everyone, but those who prefer that work should have more opportunities and be supported in those opportunities.  Who knows? Perhaps we’d have a better environment with fewer commuters, more local community participation and support for the local economies, more affordable housing options, better interconnectivity infrastructure, and companies could save money while workers could actually find work!

What do you think? Include your comments below.

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Virus puts gig economy to the test – LinkedIn

Woman blowing her nose, sick at workIt’s amazing to see how suddenly companies are taking coronavirus/COVID19 so seriously, and suddenly allowing remote work in droves. In light of this, my friend Ken Ronkowitz shared this link on LinkedIn which covers a few articles and comments about how this pandemic may show how the gig economy can truly work, and despite all the protests about remote work not being productive, it really can be.

It’s a LinkedIn article, so make sure that you log into your LinkedIn account first:

Virus puts gig economy to the test

What do you think? Will this be the “needle that broke the camel’s back” when it comes to proving remote work is viable? Or is this solely a temporary fix? Include your comments below.

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Who knew it’d be a pandemic to encourage remote work?

It is early March 2020. At this writing, the coronavirus (also known as COVID19) pandemic is slowly taking over, and people are starting to realize that they need to take it seriously. Unlike other pandemics in the past (last big one was “Spanish Flu” 100 years ago), we do have the knowledge and means to prevent it from spreading too much with basic sanitary hygiene like washing your hands and not touching other surfaces and hands that infected people might have also touched.

It is in light of this that I’m getting many of my tech comm friends pinging me on social media about remote work, as in, “Hey, I know you are an advocate for remote work, and more companies are sending people home in fear of the coronavirus.” Yep, so I’ve seen!  Who knew that it would take a pandemic to encourage remote work?

While there are jobs out there where you do need to show up, most technical communications jobs are really not among them. I’ve worked on virtual teams of technical writers, content strategists, UX designers, programmers, project managers, visual designers, and we did just fine. It’s all about communication and having the appropriate tools, but I’ll go into that more in a moment. Let’s look at some other factors that show that remote work is super viable.  

I could have told you that remote work was better for health reasons long ago. First, we can keep our germs to ourselves more by staying home. This doesn’t mean that we never leave our homes, but because we only go out to shop or get errands done, we’re not exposed to as many things as most. Yes, it only takes one germ to get ‘ya, but your risk is significantly minimized. I used to get really bad bronchial infections, colds, and other things when I worked in offices, no matter how much hand sanitizer I used and how many Clorox anti-bacterial wipes I used on my equipment.  Once I worked from home, that happened less often.  If workers don’t get sick as often, then their health benefits are not as expensive and there’s more time working. That benefits employers as much as it does workers. 

Costs of working from home is significantly less. I think I read a statistic–I think Chris Herd put it on LinkedIn recently (he’s another big remote advocate like me) that it costs something like $18,000+ per worker per year (or something like that) to pay for office space. I don’t think that included internet/wifi connectivity, water/electricity/heating/cooling, telephony, or any other things that you have in an office. Working from home, that costs about 1/10th of that per year. Additionally, there’s the cost of commuting by car or public transit, or even eating out for lunch. Those costs in not only money but time also take away from the “bottom line”–they add up very quickly. 

Remote workers also reap mental health benefits from working from home. In most cases, there have been studies that show that working from home is more productive as there are less disturbances, allowing workers to better focus on their work.  They can use that free time to get a gym workout in, talk to their kids, make a healthier meal than take out, or just…whatever. The balance between work and home is better because there’s more “home” time involved.  Less stress means happier workers. 

Now, I know there are those who say that they like having to work around people. Good for you! But I know this tech comm bunch–most of us (including myself) are introverts. (I know, I don’t seem like one, but I am an extroverted introvert.) We don’t have to deal with people ALL THE TIME. What about that one co-worker you would prefer not to talk to unless you have to? When you are in the office, you are forced into seeing your office colleagues all day, whether you like them or not. You see them more than you see your family, in some cases. If you have great colleagues, good for you. I’ve been in bad groups and good groups. I would rather control my face time with all of them. Remote work lets me do that.  We live in an age where we can video conference, audio conference, make phone calls, email, and instant message people. There are shared drives and BaseCamp and Microsoft Teams and Jira/Confluence and other tools that help with the collaboration. As I said, I’ve been on teams where everyone was spread out globally, and with consistent, concise, and frequent communication using most of the tools listed above, we would make great things happen. 

IT CAN WORK. 

Now, companies are forced into trying it for the sake of world health. I’m willing to bet that many companies that previously didn’t have any kind of telecommuting or remote options that are now forced to consider it are going to get a shocking surprise at how well things will work. Remote work was supposed to be something that was going to be very commonplace by 2020, and it still isn’t. (Thanks, Marissa Meyer.) 

I’m looking for a new remote position right now, as a matter of fact. I am suited for it. I prefer it. I get more work done. I am able to keep after my health better. My mental state is better. I can take care of my family better. I’m more comfortable working in my own setup, and saving money on commuting and other working-at-an-office costs. Some of my best work has been done when I worked from home. 

Will this be the huge wake up call that we advocates of remote work have been waiting for? Time will tell. 

What do you think? Include your comments below.  

PS – You might also want to do a search in this blog on the word “remote” and see several articles that I’ve shared and other insights as well. 😉

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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.