Should Technical Authors be allowed to work from home?

With the recent media attention on Yahoo’s announcement that it is banning its staff from “remote” working, we thought it might be useful to look at the case for and against Technical Authors working from home.

The case for allowing remote working

  1. They can do their jobs more productively without interruption from others. When Technical Authors are writing (which is approximately 50% of their time), it can often help their concentration if they can work in a distraction-free environment.
  2. There’s less need for office space and related costs (telephones, desktop computers etc).
  3. Staff may be less stressed. Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family, claims people who work from home tend to have less stress and are more productive, partly because they don’t invest time and money in commuting, and they can have a better work/life balance.
  4. You may get more flexibility over staff availability. Without the need to commute, staff may be more willing to work out-of-hours.
  5. You have a wider pool of people interested in your vacancies if you can offer some flexibility in working hours and location.

The case against allowing remote working

  1. You’re more likely to build up a company culture if everyone is working in the same space together. This is particularly important for start-up businesses.
  2. It’s easier to network with others. These contacts could boost your careers in the future.
  3. It’s easier to monitor the work staff are carrying out.
  4. It’s can be faster to make decisions (as you can carry out impromptu meetings).
  5. According to Marissa Meyer, face-to-face meetings boost the quality of decisions and business ideas:

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”

Our opinion

Being a Technical Author is one of those roles where remote working can work well. However, it’s best to be able to have both options available – to have people who can come into the office within a short space of time, should there be an emergency. There’s a great deal of value in meeting people face-to-face, and to be part of a company culture (especially within startups), but it can help enormously if you can write in a distraction-free environment.

If you do work from home, you need to have a productive working environment, and be able to be self-disciplined.

What’s your opinion?

You can use the comment box below.

See also: Cherryleaf recruiting services

Announcement: April date for the Advanced Technical Writing Techniques course

You’ll find we’ve added a new training course date on our Web site for our Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques.

It will be held on Monday 22th April.
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Technical Authors and the dark art of persuasion

Our latest post for the STC’s blog has been published today - Letter from the UK: The Dark Art of Persuasion.

The reason why Science and the dark art of persuasion interested me, was because we’re noticing the techniques of persuasion appearing in some Web-based Help. Indeed, we cover some of these techniques in our advanced technical writing course. So, although the debate was on what scientists should know about persuasion, and whether they should ever use these techniques, it seemed likely that the information would also be relevant to technical writers.

See Letter from the UK: The Dark Art of Persuasion.

Extra date for Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques

You’ll find we’ve added a new training course date on our Web site for our Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques.

It will be held on Monday 25th February.

The January course sold out within ten days, so it’s wise to book early.

If you’ve read the technical writing blogs and magazines, you’ll have noticed a growing interest in new approaches to technical communication – asking whether all of the tried-and-tested writing methods from past decades still make sense today.

In this course, you’ll find out how Technical Authors in leading companies are now applying techniques from other disciplines (such as psychology, copywriting, usability and elearning) into the information they create. The course has been designed to be independent of any particular authoring tool, and to work in both a structured and unstructured authoring environment.
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Announcing: Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques

You’ll find a new training course on our Web site called Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques.

If you’ve read the technical writing blogs and magazines, you’ll have noticed a growing interest in new approaches to technical communication – asking whether all of the tried-and-tested writing methods from past decades still make sense today.

In this course, you’ll find out how Technical Authors in leading companies are now applying techniques from other disciplines (such as psychology, copywriting, usability and elearning) into the information they create. The course has been designed to be independent of any particular authoring tool, and to work in both a structured and unstructured authoring environment.

If you want to discover new approaches to technical writing, this one-day, hands-on advanced workshop is right for you.

To start with, we’ll be offering this course on-site or in-house (i.e. at our training centre in Central London), with public courses following later on. As an on-site course, the exercises can be based around your existing content.

For more information, see Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques.

The best book for Technical Communicators in 2012

The best book I’ve read in 2012 wasn’t written for Technical Authors. It wasn’t even published in 2011. It was written by one my fellow speakers at the STC Conference in Chicago, and it was one that was the most thought provoking books I’ve read this year.

One of the subjects it explores is curiosity:

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Nine myths about technical writing

“We can design away the need for a user manual and online Help”

The idea of a product that totally is intuitive to use, the product that sells itself, sounds terribly attractive. Often these are called commodities, and consumers tend to go for the cheapest one, or the one with the best brand image.

There are situations where good intuitive design can sell successfully, and the Apple iPad is probably the most well known example. However, even iPad users seek Help and want user guides.

iPad books at Heathrow Airport

iPad books at Heathrow Airport

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Does looking at online Help make users forget?

Treasury at Petra, JordanOver the weekend, Dr Chris Atherton suggested I look at “the doorway effect”. You may well have experienced walking through a doorway and then finding you’d forgotten why you’d stood up in the first place.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have discovered your brain is not to blame for your confusion about what you’re doing in a new room – the doorway itself is.

 

 

From Scientific American:

The researchers say that when you pass through a doorway, your mind compartmentalizes your actions into separate episodes. Having moved into a new episode, the brain archives the previous one, making it less available for access.

The doorway can be a virtual doorway as well as a physical doorway. The researchers’ experiments involved seating participants in front of a computer screen running a video game.

So is this effect also happening when users need to leave a screen in a software application and read Help – be it delivered as a .CHM file, on a Web site or on paper?

The solution? If we deliver User Assistance (Help) in a way that it is actually located within the application screens, not only can we minimise the need for users having to go through a virtual door, we can also embed the learning into the users’ specific situations.

More: Scientific American article