Question: I’m developing the docs for a new product where all the engineers are in the U.K. with another whole team in Russia. Nobody’s responding to any of my emails, and there’s no code or product to look at.
The only thing that’s ever worked for me is being there in person. Otherwise it will take 3 times longer to do anything at all. It’s not just you. People have a natural resistance to working with anonymous strangers that they had no hand in picking. On an unconscious level, they don’t believe the other team members actually exist and therefore it’s a waste of time to deal with these foreign ghosts.
Another factor is that dispersed teams are often a legacy of corporate acquisitions, and so on a team level there is resistance, paranoia, and competition of all sorts. Each team may feel that half their projects will get canned anyway, along with their jobs, and why bother? After all, if you’re not there in person to hold them accountable, you won’t have much leverage.
So, what’s a tech writer to do? Well, if the projects are getting canned anyhow, you might as well put together any old thing. And if the project’s really important, one indicator is that the company is willing to invest in getting the engineering groups together, and hopefully you can tag along, get drunk in foreign climes, and try to establish at least one or two friendly allies on each team. Try to win over the engineering leads, but if you can’t, take whatever you can.
A word of warning, women can get drunk with engineers and have fun, but use caution. There’s a lot of unprofessional conduct out there, don’t let any of it be yours!