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In the previous “Working as a freelance technical writer” article, we looked at what you’d need to consider when going from employment to self-employment.  Here, in part 2, I’m going to explain my typical working day. As always, this is my personal experience of working freelance.

Can technical writing be done remotely?

One of the appeals of working freelance is that you can work from home, dressed in your pyjamas, fancy dress, or whatever takes your fancy. It’s usually scruffy dog walking clothes in my case. No commuting, all interaction via email, Skype, etc., what bliss. 

Well, freelance life can be like that. But it’s very much dependent on the type of clients you get and the type of work.

Some clients are more than happy for you to work remotely, perhaps because they don’t have the office space or they are in a different country. Others are a bit more reluctant and will expect you to work on site at least some of the time.

And some jobs are just impractical when working from home. I’ve found documenting physical products, especially large scale ones, to be challenging when done entirely remotely. Sometimes, you really do need to see the thing in operation to get a better feel of how it works and what might go wrong or be misunderstood.

What about daily stand-up meetings?

If you work in software documentation, it’s quite common to have daily stand-up meetings. For those of you who don’t know what a stand-up is, I’ll quickly explain. Every day, the whole team will get together (usually standing in a circle), and each person will tell the group what they did yesterday, what they are doing today, and what obstacles they are facing. It’s good for communication in the team.

But what happens if you are working remotely?

It doesn’t have to be an issue. With Skype, Zoom, etc., you can participate in standups fairly easily. I’ve worked in teams where it has been a mix of on site work and remote work and, the odd technical issue aside, the standups have worked well.

But mistakes can happen, especially when you are out of sight and out of mind. There have been quite a few times where someone has forgotten to invite me.

If you’re interested in having remote standup meetings, I found some useful tips in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVRlvBnKLBw.

Getting information from SMEs

But how does it work if you’re working remotely and you need to get information from subject matter experts? This is an area that can get tricky, as it’s easier for them to ignore your requests or sideline them for a bit when you’re not actually there in the office.

Here are my tips for communicating with SMEs when working remotely:

Be friendly and try to get to know the SME via digital means. Don’t waste their time with idle chit-chat, but at the same time take an interest in them as people and don’t just bombard them with questions.
Be proactive.  There will be times where there are delays in getting the answers you need. In these times, make sure you move on to the next piece, but keep track of all your questions and follow-up if needed.
Book times to speak with SMEs if needed. When they have lots of people asking for help, it’s easy for them to sideline the questions from remote workers. When this happens, suggesting a scheduled timeslot can help.
Raise any delays or problems with whoever is leading the project. A simple “I understand <SME x> is busy on this part of the project, but I can’t complete these topics without their input” is often enough.

Keeping track of your work

As you’re likely to experience some delays with people getting back to you with answers and reviews, it’s important that you are proactive. Not only in following up to get the feedback you need, but also in starting new content while you are waiting.

But if you’re anything like me, you’ll start to get a bit of brain fog when you have too many topics on the go. So it’s really important to keep a close track of the status of each piece of work.

Personally, I like to use Trello or Asana to keep a record.  I still have a lot of time for the traditional pen and paper too (you can’t doodle on Trello or Asana).

Working as part of a team

The thing I miss most about working on site as an employee is that feeling of being part of a team. That you’re all in it together. I didn’t realise I’d miss it when I quit though!

Of course, it’s likely that you will be working as part of a team, but if you’re working remotely, you miss out on things. You only get to be involved with the bits that others choose to share with you. So you can miss out on opportunities to help and to learn. For example, In software teams, I’ve often seen features being developed, overheard the devs talking, and been able to offer some suggestions on better UX. Working remotely, it is harder to do that.

There’s also the issue of loneliness. Now, I’m not a very social creature and am not the sort to get involved with work social activities. But working all day on your own can start to get to you. I never realised how much it helps to just hear about what other people are doing.

There are ways of dealing with the loneliness though, so don’t let that put you off. I am planning to write a post about it soon.

Over to you

Are you thinking of switching from employed technical writer to freelance technical writer? Do you have questions about freelance technical writing that I could maybe help with? Or different experiences to share? Please let me know in the comments.

Techncial Writer, Craig Wright

Craig Wright is an experienced technical writer based in Chesterfield, UK.  He hates writing about himself in the third person, so I shall stop now.

Always interested in new content writing opportunities. Remote working preferred.

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