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Sorry! The dog ate my technical manual

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…

So here’s a selection of my observations…

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.

A zoom meeting on a laptop screen
A screen that everyone has become familiar with over lockdown

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.

A jungle path
A recent photo of our Edinburgh office

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.

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Some advice from a seasoned technical author

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.

It’s 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:

  • Get a good seat at home – lumbar support is key.
  • Get a good office setup – wherever you set up in your home, ensure you have space for a big monitor and a coffee coaster to stop you from ruining your furniture.
  • You need to be disciplined to work from home. It is very easy to just keep doing the ‘fun’ parts of your job and neglect others, but this can be very detrimental to your work in the long run. Plan every day and keep going back to the plan to make sure you stay on task.
  • Keep in touch with as many people as you can. Send no more than two emails to a client and then try for a face-to-face video chat
  • Start and finish at the same time every day.
  • Do not forget Lunch.
  • Switch off after work – Personally, I find that Lego is good, and TV is bad.

Final thoughts

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.

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Chris Burden

Chris Burden

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.View Author posts

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