“Best” meaning the spot where a tech writer can create, curate, and deliver the most helpful documentation with the least effort.
“Sit” meaning… well, actually sitting (or standing) at a workstation on-site. Remote work is a viable option, of course, one that more and more successful, segment-leading companies embrace, but I’ve already written about the advantages and challenges of working remotely as a users’ advocate.
I judge locations loosely according to the following criteria:
- Access: How easy is it to interact with people, not just to get information but to nurture relationships with key colleagues?
- Facility: How easy is it to attend gatherings and meetings (scheduled and ad hoc), and participate in process ceremonies?
- Visibility: Do your coworkers see you? Your coworkers need to know that you’re a part of the team.
- Intangibles: What other advantages or disadvantages does the location bring?
Here are my spots ranked from worst to best.
Another floor or another building
This is the absolute worst: a location with all the challenges of working remotely and none of the advantages.
When you’re offsite, your company usually supports you with the communication and collaboration tools you need. Your coworkers know your circumstances and are more likely to interact with you through those tools.
When you’re onsite but distant, you are effectively working offsite, but without that valuable support and understanding. You have no chance to catch folks in the halls or in the breakroom. Your interaction with coworkers can easily attenuate down to emails and voicemail. Plus you still have to commute, with all the costs in time, cash, and sanity.
When I was relegated to a distant floor, I quickly learned that emails and voicemail weren’t enough to do my job efficiently. So I planned expeditions into my sources’ territory. I didn’t rate a company-issued laptop (and these were the days before tablets and smartphones), so I carried spiral-bound paper notepads everywhere. I assigned each product its own notepad, filling them with scribbles that I’d transcribe later in my writing cave downstairs. I still produced decent doc, but it wasn’t efficient. I felt like I was building LEGO while wearing oven mitts. It sucked.
Non-product group (Accounting, HR, Facilities, etc.)
At least you’re on the same floor or in the same building, but through some quirk or oversight, you’re sitting with administrative staff far away from the people who work on the stuff you need to document.
On the plus side, you get to know folks who can make your life at work a bit easier. HR is your source for benefits, hiring, and visa issues. Accounting handles payroll, tax withholding, and expense reimbursement. Facilities personnel control your workplace environment. Don’t discount their powers. Try working a day under flickering lights or under a vent blasting super-chilled air. A comfortable tech writer is a productive tech writer.
All these perks are great, but they have little material effect on your documentation, unless you work on projects related to deploying accounting or HR systems
One potential negative to look out for: Your coworkers can be very status conscious. To these folks, where you sit indicates your place in the corporate hierarchy. Sitting with “low class” employees confirms your insignificance and governs how they interact with you and how they prioritize your requests. It’s not fair or right, and I hope you can change your circumstances in the long term, but sometimes you have to play the hand you’re dealt.
You’re still not sitting in Product Land, but now you’re among techies.
If you work for an XaaS software company (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS), sitting with IT folks, listening to their conversations, can give you a “behind the curtains” view on the technology that drives your company. This backstage pass can help doc for deployment, configuration, or integration. For end-user doc, not so much.
IT folks hold the keys to the server rooms, literally. If you have a good relationship with IT, you can maybe negotiate some leeway with computing resources for a tech writer in need. For example, when I wanted to build a static site generator for internal doc distribution, I asked one of my IT pals for advice. In short order, he set up a virtual machine in an appropriate flavor of Linux as a sandbox for my development and testing.