TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
I can't speak for telecommuting for a contractor; it's a different world. But
I can tell you how it's working for my staff and myself at our company.
We all work for a software development company, and about six months ago, our
department (Documentation) was chosen to be the guinea pig for working at home.
(Mostly, sorry to say, because we were viewed as being a bit more "expendable"
than the engineers, but such is life...)
So far it's worked fairly well for us, but there are some circumstances that
are different for us than for the average tech writer. First and foremost of
these is that we're very much a part of the product development teams that we
work with. We're involved with product meetings, we've got totally free access
to the engineers (and they to us), and we're *expected* to help QC the software
and make suggestions. For that reason, our work is VERY interactive, and so we
have to limit time away from the office.
The second factor is that our company is very careful about system-access; a
not-unusual circumstance for software developers. Network and server access is
tightly limited, so our ability to access databases, etc., from home is also
limited (like "none"). In one case we've been able to set up a sample database
at home for one writer, but the others have to be in-house to check things out
or take screen-shots.
For that reason, days at home are normally limited to two a week, although
special circumstances for one of my staff makes three days a week at home her
standard. I request at least a day's notice before someone takes a "home day,"
and I prefer they be taken on Tuesday and Thursdays, but I'm a notorious soft
touch about this.
So far, we've all been very pleased with how this has increased employee
satisfaction and productivity. The peace and quiet of home makes editing,
original writing, and graphics development go much faster. And certainly we've
benefited in employee attendance; no more half-days off to wait for an
appliance repairman who'll be there "sometime between noon and six." A great
reduction in the number of days needed to stay home with sniffily kids. And
when one of my writers was suddenly put on bedrest by her doctor, she was still
able to work at least part-time, doing editing for the rest of us, which helped
Downsides have been few. I've had to make the point a couple of times that
working at home means a *increase* in the writer's responsibilities for
reportage; they're got to be able to say what they were doing and for how long.
And if they promise material by a certain time, they're under even more
pressure to produce it at that point, or have a REAL good explaination why.
Not fair, perhaps, but that's life.
There has also been some pain expressed when deadline pressures mean that more
time HAS to be spent in-house, just to get the access needed to the subject-
matter experts; working at home gets real addictive real fast. But overall,
these are minor considerations.
So I'll recommend it as something to explore at any company. That is a
freedom that writers have; give us a computer and a word-processor, and we
can probably work anywhere. My only real complaint, *sniff*, is that as
department manager, I RARELY get the luxury of working at home. But dems da
breaks, I guess.
Since my opinions belong to me, anyone stealing them deserves what they get.