Subject: Telecommuting...?
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- SIMPLYWRITTEN -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 27 Sep 1998 12:31:15 -0500

I recently posted a job on the list, and got several responses, many
long-time colleagues on this thing. Almost all asked about doing work from
long distance, the so-called telecommuting route.

I took some time before responding. These responses weren't mostly from
hopeful newbies or fresh-faced graduates. These were largely people I'd
corresponded with for years, people whose opinions I value and whose
professionalism I can see even in short postings.

I seriously re-evaluated Simply Written's structure and project profiles,
seeking a crack to pry open a telecommuting possibility. Maybe we could have
the client poke a hole in the firewall, rather than have us work onsite on
his NT server. No dice. Or maybe we could take videotape and photos of
machinery and email them to somebody else. Not financially feasible, nor
workable considering the usual crumple-zone deadlines we routinely face.

In short, I failed to come up with a scheme for telecommuting. Our software
projects are almost all beta and have to be nursed in the hospital.
Machinery documentation usually requires that we be there to get our hands
greasy. We do no web development (no profit margin, you know) and our
large-scale production depends heavily on our own specially-designed
templates and project plans, things we can't impart across the I-net. Many
of our writers work from home, but our writers are generally just writing,
often in Microsoft Word, not doing layout or structure design. Those are
separate functions, in our view, that call for special training and methods.
This should theoretically make it easier to farm out the writing to faraway
places, but the *subject matter* can't usually be sent there.

Yet just about contractor I know is hunting for v-jobs and can't lay claim
to having gotten many of them. Just what factors make such a long-distance
job workable, anyway? I'm open to such distributed jobs as book editing, but
I haven't been able to discern how to make Simply Written's tight project
management techniques work over a long distance. Maybe it would if we just
farmed out entire projects, but we don't...our quality control standards
forbid it.

What kinds of jobs have successful telecommuters done? What were the
characteristics of the jobs? What worked...and what didn't? And for you
who've farmed them out, what worked and what didn't?

Tim Altom
Adobe Certified Expert, Acrobat
Simply Written, Inc.
Creators of the Clustar Method for task-based documentation

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