Colleagues in different locations and how to get people to read the manual

I think that successful businesses with multiple locations have to follow the Systems of Engagement in B2B Enterprises defined in the “A Sea of Change in Enterprise IT” reading this week.  These five ways to make technology work internally and externally to be more productive really do make a difference.  These things won’t completely turn a business around, but they’re good things to do.  The first point of making meetings work better across time zones sounds like a no-brainer but it’s something people just don’t understand.  Verizon Wireless has many locations across the USA.  I’m in NJ and have to keep in mind there are times I’m working with someone located in CA.  I always look at the location of my colleague when scheduling a meeting to be polite to not schedule a meeting during a time that’s out of their office hours.  I even go as far to not schedule during their lunch hour!  And we use tools that allow for conference calls and screen sharing, even telepresence.  These technologies may be expensive to implement but make a big difference in how employees can work together and reduces employee travel.  I think addressing issues collaboratively and keeping collaborators connected really does help solve issues with real solutions quickly.  No one person will make a complete difference, but having a team that can easily communicate and come up with ideas will really make a difference.  I notice that sometimes my boss will get upset at my team for communicating.  I believe she thinks we’re talking about personal things, but we’re really collaborating and coming up with great ideas to help take our work to the next level.  I also agree that mining community content to extract insights and viewing collaboration and social systems in context will help with diving in and analyzing the community to result in better decisions for the future.  It’s also important that not everything has to be shared with social systems.  Having a social presence is important, but having the wrong social image can be just as harmful as not having a social presence at all.


Information design and architecture are huge responsibilities for technical writers.  Information design and architecture isn’t only for external use, internal staff can benefit as well.  Information needs to be easy to find and displayed in a well organized format for customers and internal staff to use it.  In the world we live in people are inpatient.  We want what we want when we want it.  If there is a barrier to getting what we want, we become frustrated.  When I worked as a technical writer and implemented a knowledge base, I came up with a draft layout of categories that information should be posted to.  I tried to put myself in the shoes of the customer and thought about where I’d look for this information.  There were many internal meetings to discuss this because we wanted customers and staff to see value in this knowledge base.  It had to be right the first time, as a customer, as well as internal staff, will base an opinion of it on their first use.  If they find what they’re looking for they’ll look at it again.  If a customer can’t figure out where information is, they’ll call customer support and already be frustrated that they had to pick up the phone, and not look at the knowledge base again.  I tried to do some searching to see how long a customer will spend finding information on a knowledge base before giving up and calling technical support, but I wasn’t able to find any details on this.  I think it’d be a good study to conduct.  However, there’s plenty of information, like this link below from Zen Desk, about how to develop knowledge base content.

Technical writers are also content managers.  It’s part of the job of a technical writer to create and manage content.  This starts with defining the information to relay, the format/template that is used to relay it and making sure the content is up to date.  As a technical writer I’ve started many documents trying to figure out what the reader on the other side of the computer screen is looking for.  It’s difficult but I think the best we can do is relate to the person on the other end of the document.  Maybe customers will actually read the manual if they feel it’s put together well, and it’s easy to find and navigate.


Posted on October 27, 2013, in Literacy, Society, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. evelynmartens13

    Hi Christine:

    Thanks for the inside look at the knowledge base process. I didn’t realize how you were using that term until I went and read the zendesk article you recommended and saw that knowledge base has it own acronym — KB. I don’t think I’ve seen this terminology in any of my classes yet. (Maybe I’ve missed it?)

    Did you find those tips helpful? For example, does someone in your organization “own” the KB? Is that you?

    • Oh, sorry! I guess I didn’t think about the people that might not have worked with knowledge bases :/

      I do think those tips are helpful. I think that setting up a knowledge base can be intimidating but I think you have to approach it by laying out information in a way that can make sense for how a customer is going to use it. I think a lot of times the person that wants to implement a knowledge base at a company might not be a communications person, making this a difficult task to complete.

      At my last job I was the owner of the KB. I wrote most of the content, but some of the tech support staff would write as well. Everything was marked internal only until it was reviewed and approved by me.

      I know Verizon Wireless has KB/forums but I’m not sure who manages that. I’m off the hook for that at this job!

  2. Fun images chosen to complement your reader response here. 🙂

    How often do you have those across-timezone meetings? Have the West Coasters expressed their appreciation? I liked the detail you shared in this section too:

    [W]e use tools that allow for conference calls and screen sharing, even telepresence. These technologies may be expensive to implement but make a big difference in how employees can work together and reduces employee travel.

    Given how new our MSTPC program is, we are only just planning out ways to encourage synchronous communication in our grad courses, but I do recognize how beneficial it would be, especially after reading everyone’s responses to Turkle in the midterm.

    Did any of you participate in the webinar Dr. Watts held about advising last week? If so, please share how you think it went!

  3. I have meetings that go across-timezones at least once a week. Some weeks I have more than others, but they are pretty constant. West Coasters haven’t expressed appreciation, but I do think they appreciate it. I have joined a few calls in the evening to accommodate their schedules, and for that they did apologize and thank me for being able to rearrange my schedule to attend.

    While we’re not a 9-5 world anymore, I really do try to work with people so that if they’re working overtime it’s not because of a meeting I’m scheduling, unless it’s an emergency situation.

    I really agree that MSTPC can be enhanced to have synchronous communication, but it it really tough with different time zones and work schedules. I have a “webinar” in a class of mine that is 10 – 11:30 PM my time. I’m happy to attend because I’m excited to see how it will work, but I know I’ll be yawning the next day as I normally go to bed at 10! But, we must make sacrifices because I’m sure I’m not the only one that needs to rearrange to participate.

    I did participate in the webinar Dr. Watts held. I thought it was really informative and the ability to ask real time questions was really nice. It also added a personal aspect to the program. I’ve spoken with Dr. Watts about MSTPC, but for those that haven’t it was a great intro to the program and advisement.

    • I also have online meetings with customers across all time zones. I always ask them what time works for them and make it happen, even if I have to stay late or work through lunch. One time, I had to come into the office at 5:30 AM as they were on the East Coast and had meetings early in the morning prior to seeing patients for the day. I definitely learned something that day – what time the lawn sprinklers turn on in the morning! You are definitely right about how we have to make sacrifices in order to make things work for everyone involved.

      We have found online meetings to be a HUGE way to save money. We used to have sales reps traveling several times a month. One trip could cost $500 easy. Our webinar service is about $1000 for the entire YEAR.

      One are that we’ve struggled is finding a time when our meetings involve clients from multiple time zones. We are trying a new tactic – just targeting one zone at a time.

      By the way, we have that sign hanging in our office – the one that says “Keep Calm and Read the Manual.” 🙂

  4. With our staff that live in different time zone, for the most they convert to the central time zone. the exception is the staff on the west coast that work directly with customers at their locations (we have staff working onsite long term with customers).

    One thing that we like to use with our customers is GoToWebinar (a family member of GoToMeeting for one on one) for product releases. The VP presents and the customers register and listen. At this time we do not allow live verbal questions but there is staff present to take written questions (usually me). I

    • I’ve used GoToWebinar and I really like it. I agree it’s a great tool to connect with customers. I love that it joins people in listen only mode to avoid the meetings where every other sentence you hear “can you please mute your phone if you’re not speaking?” because someone has background noise that is distracting to the content being presented.

      • We use WebEx Event Center and WebEx Meeting Center. I think GoToMeeting is easier to use, but WebEx has more functionality. Both are great, though!

  5. Does your boss not understand the value in team collaboration? I am taking a project management class this semester and we are broken up into virtual teams. I found which is a free web video conference system that you can have up to 12 people on at once. I have only had a challenge with one team member who is using his work computer and can’t download the software so he put it on his phone instead.

    The project I worked on this summer was with a company whose tech writing department was a mess before the current tech writer took it over. They are working hard to improve it and will be going to an online help system sometime in the near future but in the mean time, there are binders everywhere! They are used to it so they don’t seem to mind but that poor tech writer has a long way to go to get it up to better standards!

    • I’m not sure if she does…some days she seems to encourage it and others she doesn’t. It’s tough to read.
      I tend to not be a fan of teamwork because it really is tough to get everyone to work together with different schedules. IT seems like that site worked for you though. I’ll have to keep that in mind if I encounter group projects.
      I say good luck to that tech writer that is transitioning the binders to that online help system! It’s tough work!

    • Jen (and anyone else who has taken the online Project Management course) – you’ll have to share with us what you think about this class. I took it last semester and it truly mimicked the challenges of the real world (working in teams across time zones using technology).

      I had one group member stationed in Korea (12-hour time difference) and the other worked for a company where he was traveling constantly. We tried skype and ooVoo and the the traveler group member couldn’t get either to work so we just talked on the phone. Oh yeah, and did I mention that neither of my group members could get the MS Project software to work? It was not an easy class to do online. I wish you better luck, Jen!

      • I was excited to take this course until I saw this! But I guess if it mimics the real world the class will be difficult. I suppose the class wouldn’t be true to teaching project management if you didn’t deal with the issues that are in the workforce.

        • I’m sure you will do just fine! Personally, I’d rather have it be challenging than a cake-walk that doesn’t teach me anything about real life, you know? Besides, now that you have a heads up about some of the potential issues, you’ll be better able to tackle them head on! 🙂

  6. We don’t have manuals at our job, but we have a lot of documented processes that our users (the business) needs to use to perform their job functions. It is always a struggle to get them to use the documentation, and we have found a few reasons why. If they have had trouble finding documents before, they seem to be more likely to ask rather than look themselves. Also, if it appears sloppy and out of date, users seem to automatically assume that it is, and they won’t use it. To remedy the situation, we’ve moved documentation so that it is all housed in the same place, and we’ve also updated all documentation we maintain to have the same appearance. We have a consistant header, and a standardized set of styles to use, so it is easy to identify it as a document that we maintain. It still isn’t perfect, but things have definately improved.
    I’ve been on work calls that have included people from India, Ireland, and Texas (I’m based in Wisconsisn), and I can confirm that scheduling is an issue at times. We have to do morning meetings hear to be able to catch the staff in India at the end of their night shift, and the Ireland staff approaching the end of their day. It definately makes things interesting.

    • The “more likely to ask rather than look themselves” is a big point. It’s so much easier to get up and have a conversation and talk about something than look through paperwork or an online system to get an answer. This also helps with the social aspect of work. We can’t sit on our computer for eight hours a day without any interaction, so I think that plays a part in talking to coworkers instead of looking online for an answer.
      I worked with a team in China and that was really tough. I had to do trainings for them at 9 PM so their staff could be in the office. They did work with us and join meetings off hours as well, but it really makes for a big communication gap. If they had a question sometimes it set the project back a day because of the time difference.

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