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Synopsis

As an employer, restricting your hiring to a limited geographic region means you’re not getting the best people you can. As an employee, restricting your job search to companies within a reasonable commute means you’re not working for the best company you can. Remote shows both employers and employees how they can work together remotely. Essentially, how you can work from any desk, in any place, anytime, anywhere.

About David Hansson

David Heinemeier Hansson is a Danish programmer and racing driver. He is also the creator of the popular Ruby on Rails web development framework and the Instiki wiki. Hundreds of thousands of programmers have used Ruby on Rails. Its most famous users include Shopify, Airbnb, Kickstarter, Zendesk, and Goodreads. Additionally, Hansson is a partner at the web-based software development firm Basecamp.

About Jason Fried

Jason Fried is the co-founder and president of 37signals. 37signals is a Chicago-based company that builds web-based productivity tools. 37signals also developed and open-sourced the Ruby on Rails programming framework.

Offices Are Not the Future

During the day, the office has become the last place people want to be when they need to get work done. This is because offices have become interruption factories. It’s tough to get meaningful work done when your workday has been shredded into work moments. Every 15 minutes, you will likely be interrupted by a meeting, call, or request.

Meaningful work, creative work, thoughtful work, and essential work require extended periods of uninterrupted time. These periods are not viable in the modern office. There are potential distractions associated with working from home. For example, loud children or your TV. However, you can generally control these interruptions. Having greater control over your environment will mean it’s easier for you to find a working environment that suits your work style.

Stop Commuting Your Life Away

The author suggests you consider how long it takes you to get to the office from your house. Suppose your commute is 45 minutes each way. In this instance, you are spending between 300 and 400 hours of your year commuting. This wasted time will be eating into several facets of your life. Not only will your personal life take a hit, but you will also notice your financial and productivity levels are being limited.

Escaping the 9-5

“Release yourself from the 9am-to-5pm mentality. It might take a bit of time and practice to get the hang of working asynchronously with your team, but soon you’ll see that it’s the work—not the clock—that matters.”

– David Hansson & Jason Fried

One of the most significant benefits of remote work is it is often associated with greater flexibility. This greater flexibility means you can adapt your sleeping schedule to match your natural sleep cycle. Additionally, this greater flexibility allows you to engage with several activities you may have previously been barred from doing. For example, doing the school run. 

A company efficiently built around remote work doesn’t even have to have a set schedule. This is especially important when it comes to creative work. If you are struggling to be productive creatively, you can take some time to relax before attempting your work again.

Enjoy a Blend of Work and Retirement

Your life no longer needs to be divided into arbitrary phases of work and retirement. You can blend the two for fun and profit. Design a better lifestyle that makes work enjoyable. When work stops being the majority of your life, you will likely start enjoying it. Additionally, both you and your employer will be saving money as a side effect.

The Impact of Remote Working on IBM

The introduction of remote working has had a significant impact on certain large companies. For example, IBM introduced remote working in 1995. Since then, they have witnessed considerable changes in how the company works:

  • They have reduced office space by 7.2 million square meters.
  • 5.4 million square meters have been sold for $1.9B.
  • The sublease income from leased space was $1B.
  • They have 386000 employees, of which 40% work remotely.
  • They saved 5 million gallons (19 million liters) of fuel in 2007. Thus, preventing more than 450,000 tons of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere in the United States alone.

Remote Work Does Have Limitations

Hansson is not offering remote work as the perfect solution with no compromises. Working remotely can be associated with the following costs:

  • Missing talking with real people.
  • Feeling the loss of an imposed structure on your life.
  • Struggling to set boundaries with family members.

The Common Excuses for Avoiding Remote Work

Magic Only Happens When We Are All in One Room

You can likely recall sitting around a table with colleagues as ideas were flowing. These ideas formed to build concepts and innovation. However, this magic is not confined to one room. You do not have to see and touch each other to innovate. Hansson highlights that collective thought and innovation can be adopted via two simple tools: a voice connection and a shared screen.

If I Can’t See Them, How Do I Know They Are Working?

A common fallacy among managers is believing that people only work when they are being observed. However, the reality is that lazy workers will always slack off. This is the case even if they are at an office desk. 

People’s Homes Are Full of Distractions

If you are a manager, you must understand your employees are responsible adults. Similarly, if you are an employee, you should trust yourself to avoid temptations. If you struggle with distractions within your home, you can always decide to work from a coffee shop, a library, or a co-working space.

Only the Office Can Be Secure

Security is a serious part of most jobs. However, software has mostly solved the issue of security. Hansson offers these recommendations for ensuring security while remote working:

  • Enable hard drive encryption (FileVault).
  • Disable automatic login and require a password from waking from sleep.
  • Turn on encryption for all sites with sensitive information.
  • All mobile devices use lock codes and can be wiped remotely.
  • For each site, use a unique generated secure password.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication wherever you can.

But Who Will Answer the Phone?

Your company may rely on somebody being available at all times. However, this does not mean everybody must be working simultaneously. Instead, you can have employees overlapping each other and starting at different times. This way, you can always ensure a remote worker is ready to answer a client’s queries. 

Big Business Doesn’t Do It, So Why Should We?

Big businesses are inefficient.

Looking at big businesses for innovation and productivity tips is probably a bad idea.

Moreover, some big companies are already doing it. For example:

  • IBM
  • Johnson & Son
  • Accenture
  • eBay

Others Would Get Jealous

Working remotely is often regarded as an ideal, partly due to the perks suggested in this book. Therefore, some people worry others who cannot work remotely will become jealous. However, the reality is that you are part of the same team. If you can work remotely, you shouldn’t sacrifice your freedom to stop somebody else’s envy. Both workers should understand their company’s goals and understand that remote work should make you happier and more productive. 

What About Culture?

Your work culture should not be about having fun. Instead, your work culture should be:

  • How you talk to your customers.
  • What quality is acceptable.
  • How your employees talk to each other.
  • Workload: too little, normal, or too much.
  • Risk-taking: bet-the-company or slow growth.

I Need an Answer Now

What’s the biggest problem in traditional offices? Too many interruptions.

Most questions can be managed by:

  1. Email
  2. Chat
  3. Phone call

We Paid Considerable Money For This Office

The money you’ve spent on the office is a sunk cost: it has already been spent. Now it is only a matter of deciding if working in that office makes the team more or less happy and productive.

How To Collaborate Remotely

Thou Shalt Overlap

When you’re working remotely, there’s nothing worse than waiting a full day for feedback. You need at least four hours of overlap to avoid collaboration delays.

The Virtual Water Cooler

Even when working remotely, you can’t work 8 hours straight. You need to take a break from time to time. This is still a great time to spend some time with your team. In real life, the place for these chats would be a water cooler, a coffee machine, or a tea maker. In the remote world, this place is a chatroom like Campfire or Slack.

Forward Motion

To instill a sense of company cohesion and share forward motion, everyone needs to feel that they’re in the loop. A weekly discussion thread where you can discuss what you’ve been working on can keep everyone up to date and on track. This thread could also include what you intend to work on in the future.

The Work Is What Matters

The greatest benefit of hiring remote workers is you generally judge them purely on their production. So, we don’t care when they come into the office in the morning or how many coffee breaks they take. All you need to worry about is the work produced.

Easy on the M&Ms (Meetings and Managers)

The two major complaints offered against remote working are:

  • You can’t have face-to-face meetings
  • Managers can’t tell if people are working

When meetings are the norm, they become overused, and we grow numb to the outcome. Too many meetings can destroy morale and motivation. Further, meetings are major distractions. They require multiple people to drop whatever it is they’re doing and instead do something else. Remember, there is no one-hour meeting. If you are in a meeting with four other people, it is a five-hour meeting. 

Additionally, management is essential, but micro-management is awful. Suppose the manager is constantly asking people for updates on the project’s status. In that case, they are subtracting precious time from actually doing it.

Beware the Dragons

Cabin Fever

Human interaction does not have to come from coworkers. Working remotely means you can interact with your family, neighbors, or even complete strangers in a coffee shop or a co-working space.

Check-in, Check-out

One limitation of working remotely is it is hard to keep a work-life balance. You wake up, check some emails, then have breakfast. After this, you work all morning, prepare yourself a sandwich, and work through lunch. After dinner, you log in just to quickly check that all is well.

The fact is that people burn out due to overworking. From time to time, there may be a need for a quick sprint. However, your job is a marathon. It’s fundamental to find an appropriate pace. 

Mind the Gut

If you’re not careful, remote work could lead to you putting on weight. Therefore, you should find excuses to move. For example, instead of just eating lunch at your desk, you could walk to a café.

The Lone Output

Encouraging one employee to work remotely is not a proper experiment of remote working within your team. Instead, you need to encourage at least an entire team to work remotely. This should include project management and key stakeholders. Then, give them a few months to adjust and ascertain the impact this change is having.

Working With Clients

  1. Tell them you’re remote.
  2. Give them references before they ask.
  3. Frequently show them work.
  4. Be very available.
  5. Get the client involved.

Hiring and Keeping the Best

It’s a Big World

Thinking internationally drastically increases the talent pool you can utilize and makes you a better fit for tackling global markets. What you have to be very careful with is language barriers. Most communication is written. Most people with so-and-so written communication skills are a poor fit for remote work.

Life Moves On

Given how hard it is to find skilled people, you should be doing whatever you can to keep them.

People who’ve been with the company for a long time are ideal remote workers. They will know everyone and know how things work. Keeping a solid team together for a long time is the key to peak performance. People grow more comfortable with each other and do even better work.

Seeking a Human

Another problem with working remotely is that there is the risk of having someone working at home from dawn till dusk. With these individuals, they are thinking about nothing other than work. This is not conducive to excellence. The trick is to assemble a team of people who are naturally interested in more than just their work. Magic and creativity thrive in diverse cultures.

No Parlor Tricks

Instead of smart quizzes, ask them to show you their design or their code. The primary way you will communicate is through the work itself. It’s the work that matters. 

The Cost of Thriving

Remote working shouldn’t be a way to pay people less. Instead, pay them the same salary, and you will develop more loyal employees. The companies that offer remote work are at an unfair advantage in attracting and retaining the world’s best people.

Great Remote Workers Are Simply Great Workers

It’s a lot harder to fake your way as a remote worker. At the same time, this gives back the edge to quiet-but-productive work. Talented remote workers have two qualities:

  1. They are smart.
  2. They get things done.

When the work output is there in the open, it’s much easier to judge who is actually smart rather than who simply sounds smart. When you work with someone in an office, it’s much harder to determine this. In general, if somebody is in the office from 9 to 5 and is nice, then we assume they must be a skilled worker. Remote work speeds up the process of getting the wrong people off the bus and the right people on board.

On Writing Well

Being a good writer is an essential part of being a reliable remote worker. When most discussions are settled over email or online chats, you must be equipped with effective writing skills.

Test Project

When evaluating candidates, we should judge their work rather than their résumé. The best way you can do this is to hire the person to do a little work before signing a contract. Start with a small project, about a week, and pay them a reasonable amount.

Meeting Them in Person

Although Hansson encourages you to incorporate remote working, he does not expect you to choose candidates remotely. If you can, meeting your candidates in person will allow you to obtain a lot more information about the candidate:

  • Are they polite?
  • Do they show up on time?
  • Are they decent human beings?
  • Do they treat people well?
  • What does the rest of the team think?

You can tell a lot from a quick face-to-face.

Contractors Know the Drill

If there’s an ideal training regimen for remote workers, it’s being a contractor for a while. As a contractor, you have to set a reasonable schedule, show sufficient progress at regular intervals, and be deliverable. All these are skills perfectly suited for remote work.

Managing Remote Workers

When’s the Right Time to Go Remote?

In general, it’s best if you start as early as possible. Cultures grow over time, and it’ll be a lot easier if your culture grows with remote workers. That said, if you do have a well-established company, you can always introduce remote workers to the mix. It won’t be as simple, but most things that are worth doing aren’t easy. So, start early if you can. If you can’t start early, start small.

Stop Managing the Chairs

“If I can’t see workers come in and leave their desks, how on earth can I make sure they’re actually working? What is my managerial role at the company, if not to ensure that the workers are working?”

– David Hansson & Jason Fried

The job of a manager is not to herd cats but to lead and verify the work. The trouble with that job description is that it requires knowledge of the work itself. You can’t effectively manage a team if you don’t know the intricacies of what they’re working on. What’s certain is that a clued-in manager does not need to manage the chairs. When or where someone is doing the work is irrelevant most of the time.

Meetups and Sprints

Just because you don’t have to be in the office all the time, there is no reason not to get together occasionally. It’s a great way to meet people you have been working with in “real life.”

Level the Playing Field

If you treat remote workers as if they’re second-level citizens, you’re all going to have an unpleasant time. The best approach is to have some of your top employees work remotely. These are the people with the power to change things. Top employees need to experience the same problems as those who can only deal with them. In doing so, they can better understand their fellow employees.

One-on-Ones

While Hansson advocates frequent check-ins with all your employees, it’s a solid idea to check in a bit more frequently with remote workers. The goal here is to keep a consistent, open line of communication.

Remove the Roadblocks

Nobody wants to have to waste time waiting for someone to approve something. The best way to ease the remote worker’s situation is to do away with these roadblocks entirely. Start by empowering everyone to make decisions on their own. Suppose the company is full of people whom nobody trusts to make decisions without layers of managerial review. In that case, the company is full of the wrong people.

Using Scarcity to Your Advantage

When something’s scarce, we tend to conserve and appreciate it more. When something is abundant, we rarely think twice about how we use or spend it. Face-to-face communication is crucial, but the overabundance of meetings makes them a complete waste of time. Remote work solves this problem by forcing people to rely on email, phone, chat, or video calls. Face-to-face time becomes valuable again.

Life as a Remote Worker

Building a Routine

  • Find a routine to work at home.
  • Change your clothing for work.
  • Divide the day into chunks, i.e., Catch-up, Collaboration, Serious Work.
  • Use the layout of your house as a switch: work only in your home office.

Working Alone in a Crowd

Getting away from the office is critical for your productivity because nobody can disturb you in person. They can email you or try chatting, but they can’t barge into your flow. However, if you struggle with feelings of isolation, you can always pop to the local coffee shop.

Staying Motivated

The only reliable way to motivate people is to encourage them to work on the stuff they like and care about. Most people suffering from insufficient motivation will blame themselves first. Most of the time, the problem is the world you’re working in.

Nomadic Freedom

Don’t wait for retirement to travel the world. If witnessing the world is your passion, you shouldn’t wait until old age to pursue it. Creative work that can be done remotely requires a computer and an internet connection. You still have to respect the laws of remote collaboration, like excellent writing skills and overlapping time zones. However, working while traveling is certainly viable.

A Change of Scenery

Routine tends to numb creativity. Conversely, changes in scenery lead to all sorts of new ideas. Don’t think of working remotely as simply shifting your routine from the office to your home. Look at remote working as an opportunity to work from wherever you like, and explore a new coffee shop daily.


Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.

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