Sorry! The dog ate my technical manual
by Chris Burden
We have been working from home for many, many months now. For some, lockdown was a chance to slow down, catch-up or develop new skills. At 3di we never really did stop for lockdown. In fact if anything, work got bigger. More calls, more emails, more JIRA tickets, just more of everything. Well, almost everything. There were some things that just stopped: the office banter, the daily commute, the limitless coffee, and one of the things that hit the hardest, cake Fridays.
So how have we managed? Well, the loss of cake Fridays has been more than compensated by our new lockdown diets. All I can say is thank heavens for elasticated joggers! In all seriousness, the first few weeks were not easy. Establishing a routine, getting the office area set up and training the rest of the household not to walk into the camera view during calls were just a few of the many challenges I faced when adapting to working from home. But, there have been some advantages to working from home as well…
Good quality webcams became a hot commodity – Pre-lockdown, we tolerated mediocre built-in webcams because they were only getting used a couple of times a day. Now they’re the only way we can see each other. I was lucky, I already had a decent webcam and was quickly up and running. However, in the first few months, there was a global shortage of the little blighters. For a brief period, webcam’s were worth more than their weight in gold. You could get one if needed but you also needed to have just won the lottery. As a technical writer, interviewing a customer technical subject expert, or collaborating with colleagues, having that good visual connection can be really important.
I am always available, apparently – You would have thought that being at home meant you could hide away. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Even if you are in a meeting, you can be reached through a myriad of apps; Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, WebEx, etc. The breaking down of the work/home boundary seems to eroded some of those good habits of turning off and being able to focus on one thing at a time.
Everything appears to be available online – As time has passed, I have found more and more weird and wonderful things could be found online. In fact, I challenge you to find something that cannot be ordered online. Seaweed and a 2-bike bike shed? No problem.
The plants in the office have gone nuts – So what happened to the office? Our office is part of a suite of serviced offices in the center of Edinburgh. A great location before lockdown but now with everything shut and all culture cancelled for the meantime, the office location and benefits were gone. In our office, we had some plants. I went into the office during really quiet times, and amazingly they had gone wild! They were huge and looking really healthy. I wonder how much longer we would need to wait for them to take over and to return the office block back to a natural Scottish forest?
Working in the kitchen – As mentioned before at the start of lockdown we all started ‘nesting’; trying to find the best place to work from. For me, that was the kitchen. I had a big table and some light, and at first it seemed perfect. However, after a few weeks, this setup was not working. Others needed to use the kitchen, food was too easy to get, and conference calls had to fight with the TV in the next room. Eventually, we got in some builders and were lucky enough to knock out a wall and create a really nice corner area, fully desked and perfect for working at.
As someone that has been a technical author for a while, I’ve had to adapt to many changes over the years. However, none have seemed as sudden or stark as lockdown and the massive shift to working from home. Each day, businesses that once thrived seemed to be closing their doors, and newer, online-based businesses and scrappy start-ups seemed to be booming.
I also found that I completely forgot what people looked like with legs. During the brief respite in between lockdowns, I managed to meet a client face-to-face (with masks, of course), and it felt bizarre to see people walking around and not just hovering mid-air.
Its been a very strange time for everyone, and adapting can be difficult. So, with that in mind, here are some tips that I’ve picked up on to help you survive working from home:
So as a technical author, it has been a mixed experience, working from home. On the plus side, you can really focus on writing and get right into some decent content development. On the negative side, you no longer have that direct collaborative environment where you can ask silly grammar questions or bounce ideas off work colleagues, at least not without setting up a chat or sending a message.
But, part of being a technical author is adapting and changing to embrace the new. As long as you stay disciplined, get your set-up right and have a decent supply of Lego, you should be able to survive the working from home wilderness.
Chris joined 3di as the team leader of our Edinburgh office in 2018. Chris really enjoys the process of learning how his client’s companies work, what issues they face, and then using this information to come up with bespoke solutions to their problems. In his spare time, Chris enjoys cycling and taking advantage of the numerous cultural events in Edinburgh.