In Person vs. Remote Work

This has become a more important topic since I started freelancing: which work can you handle from your laptop, and when do you absolutely, positively need to be in the room in order to get things done?

In person

Yes, I know, we have email, text, video teleconferencing, and all these other wonders of technology, but sometimes we still need to be in the same room as our coworkers.

Some of it depends on the size of the job. Generally, the larger and more complex the project, the better it is to have all the players in the room. Large proposals, for example, often require in-person coordination because people are bringing in new content at random intervals. It’s easier to avoid version control hairballs if you can tell people in the room, “Nobody touch the document, I’m working on it!”

Large government proposals–for reasons that elude me–often require hard copies of everything, even CDs of the electronic content. That requires physical coordination of binders, page dividers, CD cases, and cover sheets.

Sometimes the project doesn’t need to be that large. It could be a one-page letter or two-page position paper. Small products with political sensitivity and a lot of people providing input can sometimes be handled better with all the players in the room.


All that said, I’ve handled policy papers and letters to members of Congress by phone with all of the people providing input >1,000 miles away. I’ve worked with 200-page technical documents via email. And yes, I’ve worked on proposals and other products remotely. It can be done. I have customers whom I have spoken with only on the phone or worked with solely via email. Given enough time and patience, remote work can be made to work.

Remote work is easiest with small groups of people who have shared backgrounds (i.e., have worked together before) or experiences (i.e., similar shared knowledge). I’ve had the biggest challenges working remotely with individuals or groups with whom I have not worked before and who are discussing content completely out of my realm of expertise.

If you’re a “people person” or work better in person, you might need to seek out local clientele or people who want you on site. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time at home. As it happens, I’m quite comfortable working on my own most of the time, and most of my clients are out of state, so that arrangement works just fine for me. Face-to-face work happens, but it requires a travel budget, which again means that a project must be important enough to warrant paying for air fare and lodging. Note that important work often entails having you in the room. That’s just something to expect as you alternate between remote and in-person work.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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1 Response to In Person vs. Remote Work

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    Well said, Bart. I’m on a remote project where, as the ship-to-translation deadline looms, I find myself spending less time updating the docs than responding to emails, sometimes hitting Send only to find that someone else has introduced another wrinkle I have to react to. How I wish I could be in the same room, or at least on the same hallway as the rest of the team.

    BTW, I love the phrase version control hairballs. So much that I think I’ll use it for the name of my new rock band.

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