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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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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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By Paying Employees To Live Near The Office, Imo Cuts Commutes, Ups Happiness

See on Scoop.itM-learning, E-Learning, and Technical Communications

There’s that one guy who commuted seven hours a day and claimed to love it. But for most people, the daily commute is something we dread. The average commute time in America is 25 minutes, per the Census Bureau (with great variation by region).

Danielle M. Villegas‘s insight:

This is a great follow-up to my post titled, “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? (Not a tribute to the Clash).” Thanks to @BillCush for posting this on Twitter. I did have a commute just a mile and a half from my house at one point. It was the next best commute I ever had (the best being my current commute, which is working from home). I would have no problem moving to be closer to a company if a) buying and selling a house in this area was easy to do–we know it’s not, and b) if, for my personal circumstances, we could be assured that there was a special needs program or school that would appropriately accommodate my son’s needs. That’s what holds us back now.

But this is what perhaps Marissa Meyer at Yahoo!–and other employers–should consider.  They need to make relocation more practical and accessible, and be in more accessible locations. From where I live–between NYC and Philadelphia, so many people drive more than the average 25 minutes to work. I think 25-30 minutes is reasonable, but others will drive easily two to three times that amount around here. I remember the average commute in Washington, DC could easily be 1-2 hours, and that was considered relatively “normal”. That’s ridiculous, if you really think about it. We live in a time of great technology, and there are social tools we can use. We need to find the right balance between being either very close to work, or allowing for more work-at-home situations.

–techcommgeekmom

See on www.fastcompany.com

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Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? (NOT a tribute to The Clash)

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Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!
Photo courtesy of TechCrunch

During this past week, Yahoo has made headlines with its new ban on work-at-home scenarios for employees. It raised a lot of hullabaloo, especially for working parents. According to an article on Mashable.com on 26 February 2013,

The move, as described in a company-wide memo leaked to Kara Swisher at AllThingsD, is intended to boost “collaboration and communication” at the Internet company by requiring all employees to physically report to one of Yahoo’s locations….a source [says] that there are a “huge number” of remote workers in customer service, marketing and engineering, many of whom “weren’t productive.” For Mayer, the new rule will either force these workers to work in the office, which the company believes will help productivity, or force them to quit, which will help the company cut costs.

Part of this also included reducing maternity leave to two weeks instead of the standard six to eight weeks most companies permit. Mashable.com followed up with an article on 27 February in which Yahoo offered “no comment” but added that

…several anonymous employees said Yahoo’s move to abolish telecommuting indicates that Marissa Mayer, who became company CEO last July, is “in crisis mode.”…Work ethic at Yahoo has deteriorated over time, and the new policy allows management to better monitor and inspire people at the office, the employees revealed. What’s more, it’s seen as beneficial if less productive staff chose to leave because of the policy, they added. Indeed, some workers have abused the work-at-home option to the point that they’ve founded startups while being on Yahoo’s payroll, the employees said.

Even in crisis mode, is this the right thing to do?

This is where the Geek Mom part of me, rather than my Tech Comm side, needs to speak up. I can understand both sides, as I’ve been on both sides. It boils down to the work ethic of each employee, and so a blanket policy shouldn’t be made, but done on an individual basis. Slackers, move on. Productive workers, carry on.

I was fortunate that when my son was born, my husband and I could afford to allow me to be a stay-at-home mom for a few years. It was a good thing too, because within a year or so, we first started noticing the symptoms of what we now know is my son’s high-functioning autism, although at that point, we were lead to believe his issues were not related to autism. Even then, I had to get him involved in kiddie gyms, music programs, speech, behavioral and occupational therapy during those years to try to help with his symptoms. Could I have worked full-time during those years, even at home? I doubt it. I did a little home-based business when he was a toddler, and started working a part-time job once my son started school that worked with his school schedule, but I didn’t go back to work full-time until my son was in first grade, when my part-time job went full-time. For me, that was the right decision, and as I said, I was lucky I could afford to do it at the time. My son needed me more than any corporation, and I knew that I could not give any corporation the full-attention it needed due to my son’s needs.

I think about my sister and my sister-in-law who are also working moms. Both of them had babies in the last year, and had full maternity weeks off. Unlike me, they both went back to work after their maternity leaves–which is fine. That’s pretty much the norm these days–what I did was probably more the exception than the rule. But I also know what they had to go through in the adjustment of going back to work after six to eight weeks. If Marissa Mayer and her HR department think that two weeks for maternity leave is enough, then none of them are parents and are crazy. Doesn’t federal law, namely the Family Leave Act, counteract that? I remember that I didn’t even feel ready for anything for about the same amount of time as a normal maternity leave (and I wasn’t on leave!) when I had my son. It was about six to eight weeks after my son’s normal birth that I felt that I could get around better, and was my old self again, as well as feel that I had any kind of routine with my baby–and I didn’t have to go back to a full-time job at that point!

Now, several years later, I’m still working full-time, but I am now working from home. I still have to make occasional trips to the home office (located an hour and a half or so from my house) now and then, but it’s just that–now and then. I work from home 90-95% of the time. I still have email conversations and phone calls from the company, and I just work on my projects in the quiet of my own home office. I do use my time the same way I would if I were in a typical corporate office. I keep fairly regular business hours during the day, and my bottom doesn’t get out of this seat unless it’s for bathroom or lunch breaks. I have had occasions where I have had doctor’s appointments and such, but I try to schedule them for my lunch hour or before or after work hours, just like anyone else, or I make up the time by staying later or making up the hours later. It’s totally an honor system, and even my boss has implied that as long as I get the work done completely and in a timely manner, how I organize my time is my business. Even so, I try to be honorable and respect that this is a job that I could easily be doing in an office as well, and so I try to run my day the same way. My son goes to after-school childcare like any other kid in the afternoons so that I can keep normal, albeit flexible, business hours (I tend to work from about 8:30-4:30).

I can easily see how others could abuse this privilege, but in this case, I blame Yahoo for not keeping closer tabs on it if they felt they had to reign everyone in. It seems like a ghastly way to save money if it’s meant to wean out those work-at-home employees who are slackers and let them quit instead of just firing them. This way, not only does Yahoo save money with less workers, but inducing “voluntary” layoffs by means of people quitting means that Yahoo doesn’t have to pay for unemployment insurance. They only pay unemployment if workers are officially laid off or fired. Sneaky, don’t you think?  Seems a little dirty-handed, if you ask me.

It comes down to the work ethic of individuals. If someone is on the payroll and not doing their job by not delivering what they are assigned to do, then it’s a problem. If these work-at-home employees have  little to show for the hours they claim to be working, and are out of touch, then they should be let go. They are abusing the privilege of being able to work at home. As I mentioned, it is truly an honor system that needs to be checked. I’m sure that I’m checked as I go along. How am I using my time? Am I delivering what’s expected of me for the hours that I claim I’m working? Am I available to my co-workers when I’m at home, and do I respond to them appropriately and in an appropriate time frame during business hours? Do I make sure, given that I do live within a reasonable proximity of the office to go in now and then, to actually GO to the office for some face-to-face meetings? Absolutely. In fact, I think the next meeting I have at the office is one which I requested a face-to-face rather than a conference call. I treat this job like any other, but there are others that do not.

The root of all this comes down to productivity. All of us can’t be work horses that dedicate their lives solely to career like Marissa Mayer. That’s just not life–we have families, whether they include children, partners, parents or friends that we need to spend time with and care for them as they would care for you. Life is more than a job as well. Many people have hobbies and interests like sports, crafts or travel, and time is needed for that. There needs to be time for a LIFE, but not at the expense of not having a job.

My job and my career role are important to me, and I respect the position that I’ve been given. I am fortunate to have a work-at-home job that allows me to have a great, productive job that utilizes my technical communications skills while being able to save time and money on commuting so that I can be available if my family needs me. I can work from home if my son is sick or has a day off from school. He’s much more independent now than he was when he was younger, so working from home is easier to do now. (He’s 11 years old now, so he doesn’t need quite so much attention.) It’s actually less stressful, because I don’t have to make excuses for how I have to leave to go get him in the middle of the day if he gets sick. I can easily make up the work from home later. He just plays video games and play while I work. I’ve been fortunate in the past that if I had a need to work from home instead of being in the office, I could. I did my best not to abuse that privilege, and I think I succeeded.

I think Yahoo needs to seriously rethink its position. I understand what it’s trying to do, but it’s going about it all wrong. Work-at-home can be cost-effective, and can be collaborative with the right employees. Weed out the ineffective employees and get the right people in who would greatly appreciate and honor the opportunity, and then things will pick up. Instead of bringing employees together, this is a divisive move than a uniting one.