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.