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The Perks of Being a Remote Technical Writer

The Perks of Being a Remote Technical Writer

I’ve been a technical writer at Wizard on Demand (WoD) for over two years now, and I’m still amazed by the flexibility that it offers me. I can make a living doing something I enjoy — learning about all things tech, and producing content that helps and educates people. I’m part of a lovely, distributed team, and — perhaps the best part — I get to travel.

Because WoD is fully remote, with team members spread across different time zones, we can work from wherever we like, as long as we have a stable internet connection. So over the past few years I’ve been able to have long “workations” and pay extended visits to friends who live abroad.

But of course such a flexible setup comes with its own challenges. As a remote technical writer, you need to organize your own workflow diligently, jump on a lot of video calls — and it can get lonely when you don’t have an office where you can drop in regularly. But how do other people manage it? To find out, I talked to my fellow technical writers on the team: Sarah, Brad, and Bailey, who all joined WoD after transitioning from more “hands-on” technical jobs. Together, we’ve been able to collect quite a few interesting perspectives on working remotely, and how it differs from a more traditional setup.

If you’re curious what it’s like to work as a technical writer, want to learn more about our fully remote setup, or are looking for advice on how to succeed at working remotely, then this blog post is for you.

Working remotely at Wizard on Demand

I had my first job interview with WoD’s founder, Alexey, just before the pandemic. Alexey, who had been working remotely for many years already, had scheduled the interview over Zoom, which, at the time, was still relatively unknown. I remember friends and family being intrigued when I told them about my “unusual” interview. Of course, two months later, Zoom had become a household name, and the use of video calls had become widespread across industries. 

The anecdote illustrates how WoD, being fully remote from the start, was far better prepared for the months to come than many other companies. My coworker Bailey tells me how, at his previous company — a startup in the agritech space — the transition was bumpy. Almost from one day to the next, management had to organize special equipment, set up a VPN, and reorganize the means and schedules of communication. “There’s just a lot of technical overhead to working remotely when you transition from an office,” Bailey says, “but when you’re remote from the start, all of that is factored in.”

And it’s not just about the hardware. As fellow technical writer Sarah tells me, her previous experience working as a full-time developer who was forced into remote work due to Covid left her kind of depressed. “Almost nobody on my team understood the need for talking outside of work. They were like, why would we have a meeting about nothing?” she says. But when you don’t talk to anyone on your team for days on end, that can feel quite alienating.

At WoD, we have many tools and procedures in place that enable us to work and communicate remotely, from different time zones, and, for the majority of our team, part-time. We probably didn’t even know just how well our setup was working, until one of our long-time clients recently told us how they admired and valued our workflow. “I don’t know how you do it,” they said to us. “But it’s cool!”

How do we do it?

Over the years, we’ve perfected our machinery for producing written content, which consists of several well-defined steps. An article needs to be outlined, drafted, reviewed, edited, and checked by the client. We also produce custom illustrations for most of our pieces, which adds additional steps to the process. To organize this complex workflow, we use Asana, a browser-based task manager. 

The other tool that shouldn’t be missing from any remote workflow is a communication platform — Slack, in our case. Slack’s highly customizable notification system has received a lot of praise, and justifiably so. Its granular notification settings allow me to still be “on” when needed, while also being able to switch off outside of work hours. 

Of course, being remote and in different time zones, most of our communication goes through the messaging service. As my fellow technical writer Brad puts it, “Slack is like popping your head up out of the cubicle to ask or answer a quick question, with the advantage that you can take a couple of minutes to respond." But still, putting your thoughts in writing can be tiring — even for us who make a living with the written word — and can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. That’s why we rely on frequent video calls, too. 

In addition to regularly scheduled meetings, everyone on the team is willing to jump on a quick video or voice call if an issue can’t be solved in chat. And we also try to socialize — albeit irregularly — with team activities like playing a game on Board Game Arena, or doing an online escape room, for those who are interested. 

Let’s now take a moment to talk about the actual work — writing and everything around it.

Writing and everything that goes with it

Being an inherently “lonely” task, writing lends itself particularly well to a remote, asynchronous workflow. This gives our team members the freedom to organize our work as we please, to a large degree.

Brad, who says that he is more productive in a remote work environment, has found that having multiple blocks for writing in the day has helped him organize his own workflow much better. “Which one becomes the main writing block largely depends. If I sit down and nothing happens, I’ll just do something else,” he says. 

Similarly, Sarah uses a calendar with three blocks per day, which helps her balance her various commitments. After working from home full-time during Covid, Sarah wanted “to do something fun,” so she enrolled in circus school for four months. To be able to support herself throughout the course, she took on a part-time job at WoD, relegating her writing sessions to evenings and weekends.

Personally, I do my best writing in the morning, so I try to keep my schedule free of meetings before noon. But inspiration can strike under surprising circumstances. Once, I wrote a tutorial on variables in Python in the lobby of my accommodation in Crete, which had been flooded by the heavy November rains. Sitting on a couch with my fellow travelers as we were trying to keep our feet dry, not only did I have no trouble getting “into the zone” and meeting my tight deadline — I even got some useful tips from the person next to me, who turned out to be a former developer.

But of course, there’s more to technical writing than putting pen to paper. In addition to product demos and team-internal calls, we often set up video calls with our clients for content planning or specific interviews with their subject-matter experts. We are, however, constantly vigilant to avoid “meeting fatigue” by keeping the call duration and the list of attendees short. As Sarah explains, “All companies say this, but at WoD, I pretty much only ever have meetings one afternoon a week. So it's much better here than when I was a developer and had all the scrum ceremonies!” Plus, with almost all team members working part-time and out of different time zones, nobody is expected to attend each and every meeting. Instead, we record the meetings and share them, so that everyone can get up to date asynchronously.

What’s so great about our job?

Everyone I talked to emphasized how much they appreciate the autonomy they have over their own work schedule and the flexibility to work around other commitments. Parenting, studying, volunteering, and hobby projects are just some of the endeavors our team members combine with working for WoD.

But a fully remote job offers flexibility in not just when we work, but also where. This is especially valuable for those of us who split their lives between several locations. Bailey tells me how in his time at WoD, he has worked on a farm part-time, spent time with his parents in the US, and stayed with friends in different countries. He even says that traveling enhanced his productivity — working part-time, he would make sure to finish his tasks early, so that he could spend more time with friends and family.

What I appreciate most about working at WoD is how it combines flexibility with a professional, streamlined workflow. Every article is a collaborative endeavor rather than just something I have written, which is more fun and makes for a better product, too.

For Brad, who maintains an impressive portfolio of private coding and DIY projects, switching from a developer job to writing has given him back his love for programming. “It’s become a hobby again, which means that I enjoy things a bit more because it’s not my primary source of income.” 

Plus, the job allows us to peek into many different areas of tech at once. By working closely with clients in different IT fields, I feel that I have a good grasp of what’s hot in tech right now, even while I’m not working as a developer myself.

It’s not all great, though

While there are enormous benefits to those of us who like to travel, work odd hours, or simply prefer to work from home, it’s clear that this job isn’t for everyone. When I discovered that none of us used a coworking space, I wondered whether technical writing was only for introverts. But Sarah says that while she considers herself a social person, her extraversion can come out in other places — for example, in her circus course. She wouldn’t even be particularly keen on going back to an office, she says, because “offices are very boring spaces.”

But not everyone feels that way. Bailey, for example, stresses that he prefers working from an office, because he enjoys the social side of it — and because it makes it easier to separate work and private life by keeping them physically disjoint. 

It’s true that things can become a bit blurry when your apartment becomes your office — but I find that with time, it gets easier to discipline myself and keep a dedicated space at home that I use only for work-related stuff. I’ve also enjoyed the spontaneous coworking arrangements that have materialized during my travels: sharing a large table with other digital nomads in Izmir while looking out onto a lovely garden, or joining my friends in their freshly installed office space in the Portuguese hinterland. 

Of course, despite all our efforts, communication gets harder when people never share the same space, and are scattered between time zones. At times, we just can’t resolve an issue because someone is out of office or simply sleeping in their respective time zone. But our organizational issues have been greatly improved by the recent addition of project manager Emma to our team. In addition to handling the bulk of communication with our clients, Emma keeps an eye on the writers’ schedules and ensures everything is running smoothly. 

Tips for winning at remote tech writing 

While working from home comes with its own unique challenges, it also lets everyone implement their individual coping mechanisms. Here is a non-exhaustive list for how to make remote work better — exclusively from our team of technical writers.

Tip 1: Have a morning routine

If you, like most of us, prefer to work mornings, then you likely know how tempting it can be to just jump from your bed to your desk and start working. As Sarah says, “and then it’s midday and you’re still in your pajamas. That’s not a great way to live!” Remember that you’re saving time by not having to commute to work, and take the time to ease into your workday. Reading, meditating, drinking coffee — morning routines can take all kinds of shapes!

Tip 2: Go for walks

When you combine working from home with online shopping, you could, in theory, never leave your house. But clearly, that’s a recipe for damaging both your physical and mental health. Taking breaks and moving outdoors at least once a day can work wonders. Plus, as every writer will agree, abandoning your familiar surroundings for a while is almost guaranteed to bring new insights. I often write at least parts of my articles in my head during walks in the park.

Tip 3: Try different setups

Sitting on chairs is bad for your posture, which explains the emergence of ever more evolved, ergonomically optimized sitting arrangements. Brad impressed me with his array of work setups that he rotates through regularly: “I’ve got a standing desk, an old school desk in a corner, and a rocking chair that I found on the street. If I’m uncomfortable, I just pick up and move to a different spot.”" While not everyone will be able to set up three different workstations in their home, it’s worth trying out different setups, and varying your position at least once in a while.

Tip 4: Find a café or library that you can work from

Some days you may feel sick of your own apartment, want to see new faces, or just crave a coffee that is actually good for a change. So it’s a good idea to have a safe haven in the form of a quiet café or library with steady WiFi that you can work from.

Tip 5: Don’t force creativity

While I’ve gotten better at structuring my writing and even editing my own texts, I still feel sometimes that inspiration can be elusive, a bit like a cat that will come to you for cuddles only if you don’t show too much interest in it. So if I hit a wall, I often take a step back, work on a different task, go for a walk, or just call it a day. When I come back to it in the morning, I often find the words come to me on their own, having marinated overnight.

Tip 6: Ask about WiFi and workstations before you travel to a new place

This one is for the digital nomads. When you check out reviews for accommodation, specifically look for comments on WiFi quality. And if there are pictures, make sure that they feature a desk. I generally prefer to stay in higher-end, quiet hostels because they often have better setups for remote workers. There are even some that cater specifically to digital nomads.

Tip 7: Ask for help

When you work from home, it can be easy to forget sometimes that there’s a team around you — people with different areas of knowledge and specialities. Why not profit from that?

In the beginning, I would sometimes try to get a specific feature of a client’s library to work and would spend hours trying to debug it. When I finally decided to address the problem, I’d realize that the error was caused by a bug in the library’s source code. In addition to asking more questions beforehand, I now have a rule of not spending more than an hour trying to get something to work. If I hit that limit, I’ll ask a coworker for help, or I’ll talk to the client directly.  

Join our team!

Think that remote work with all its perks — and its difficulties — could be for you? If you have a background of any sort in IT and enjoy explaining complex topics to diverse audiences, we’d love to hear from you — and, hopefully, have you join our team of remote technical writers.

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