Combating remoteness

I find myself musing this morning about being a remote technical editor.  Being a remote employee definitely has its challenges, but remoteness is definitely a part of working for an international company.

About 5 years ago, I changed assignments and began working for a different division, whose people all worked in the US-Pacific time zone.  I continue to live and work in the US-Eastern time zone.  To top it off, I’m a morning person.  But, time zone challenges is the most obvious of issues for working remotely, but I’m going to dig deeper and think about how to combat the feeling of remoteness in an editing relationship.

As technical editors, we are often accustomed to being at the end of the line, the end of the information development process.  Obviously, when we do our technical editing changes based on the type of editing we do and the type of information we are editing, but typically we aren’t often brought in during the design phase.  In some cases, hopefully rare cases, we are even skipped over completely due to time and resource constraints. I think being a remote technical editor makes this worse, and we have to work even harder to be more visible and available to our teams.

When I say visible, I don’t mean with a webcam.  I mean online in our company chat program, or I mean setting up or being in meetings, and contributing or volunteering to help out with various projects.  I also don’t mean sending more email, although I am definitely guilty of relying too much on email as a convenient communication medium for my disparate time zones.  I volunteer to help research guidelines or rules, to help figure out better ways to use our quality-checking tools (grammar checkers, spell checkers, and terminology checkers), or to review design specifications to help identify terminology or usability issues at the start of the project, instead of down the line in the documentation.

I have worked hard in my extended development team to be known as the go-to person for terminology.  I’ve taken on the role of “terminologist” and evangelized that role widely, such that everyone knows who to ask their questions about what word to use in the interfaces they are designing.  Or, if my writers are having a hard time getting their developers to let go of some jargon, they bring me in as “the heavy” to lay down the law on what is or is not acceptable.

I think I feel a bit more remote in my role as “technical editor” because my writers are so overwhelmed with too much work that they are moving too quickly and aren’t engaged in the best practices for information development.  Most writers know how much they benefit from having a technical editor, and they see how much better their information is after addressing my editing comments, but sometimes you can’t see the end when your buried in the chaos of getting it all pulled together. I think that’s why as a remote technical editor I try to be the most flexible and adaptable to providing that quality assurance whenever and however it helps them the most.  Luckily, I am a maniacal project planner and expert time manager (thank you Stephen Covey!).  I find myself constantly redefining my own processes and tool usage to accomplish this.

One particular process that I think I need to change is my “standard operating procedure” for how I return my editing comments.  I always do my editing in PDF files or DOC files, and I usually send along a summary report in my email where I attach those files.  I think I should set up a 15-30 minute meeting with the writer, to be more visible and present my summary report “in person” instead of via email.  We usually do chat or discuss my specific editing comments, when there is an issue or question about them, but I think I could build even better relationships if I formalized the return of my comments with the writer.

In the November 2011 issue of Intercom, my friend and colleague Barrie Byron co-authored an article, “A Virtual Success: Best Practices for Working Remotely.”  It does a much better job speaking to this remoteness from a broader, general employee/employer perspective.  It contributed to my own musings this morning specific to being a technical editor in that environment.

Happy (remote) editing everyone!

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