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ABOUT THE BOOK
Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is an examination of the emerging trend of remote working. They discuss the benefits of working remotely for both the employer and employee while examining common excuses. Remote offers plenty of advice on how to get your company started on having remote employees and also advice on how to manage your work if you are a remote employee. A great all-round guide on the new way to work!
THE TIME IS RIGHT FOR REMOTE WORK
[Sidenote: Farid, the founder of StoryShots here. I’m penning this text shot in the midst of a Coronavirus outbreak in Feb 2020]
If you ask people where they go when they really need to get work done, very few will respond “the office.” If they do say the office, they’ll include a qualifier such as “super early in the morning before anyone gets in.”
The office during the day has become the last place people want to be when they really want to get work done. That’s because offices have become interruption factories.
It’s incredibly hard to get meaningful work done when your workday has been shredded into work moments; interruptions every 15 minutes.
Meaningful work, creative work, thoughtful work, important work—this type of effort takes stretches of uninterrupted time to get into the zone. (See Deep Work by Cal Newport for more on this) But in the modern office, such long stretches just can’t be found.
Yes, working outside the office has its own set of challenges. And interruptions can come from different places, multiple angles. If you’re at home, maybe it’s the TV. If you’re at the local coffee shop, maybe it’s someone talking loudly a few tables away. But here’s the thing: those interruptions are things you can control. They’re passive.
You can find a space that fits your work style. You can toss on some headphones and not be worried about a coworker hovering by your desk and tapping you on the shoulder. Neither do you have to be worried about being called into yet another unnecessary meeting.
Your place, your zone, is yours alone.
Stop commuting your life away
If it takes 45 minutes to get to the office from your house, that’s 1.5 hours every day, 7.5 hours a week and between 300-400 hours a year.
What could you do with 400 extra hours a year? Commuting isn’t just
bad for you, your relationships, and the environment—it’s bad for business.
It’s the technology, stupid
So why didn’t people and progressive companies do it before?
Now we have:
- screen sharing
- Task lists on Basecamp or StoryShots’ favorite productivity tool, ClickUp
- real-time chatting
- sharing files on Dropbox
The beauty of relaxing workday hours is that the policy accommodates everyone— from the early birds to the night owls to the family folks with kids who need to be picked up in the middle of the day.
A company that is 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 can’t get into the zone, there’s rarely much that can force you into it. When face time isn’t a requirement, the best strategy is often to take some time away and get back to work when your brain is firing on all cylinders.
“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.”
This makes it so much easier to handle distributed teams, as long as there is some overlap in the working hours.
The new luxury
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 because it’s not the only thing on the menu. Shed the resentment of golden handcuffs that keep you from living how you really want to live.
This doesn’t mean you have to pick up and move to Colorado tomorrow, just because you like skiing. Some people do that, but there are many possible in-betweens as well. Could you go there for three weeks? Just like working
from the office, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
(See The 4-Hour Workweek for more on location-independence and mini-retirements)
Talent isn’t bound by the hubs
Technology only happens in Silicon Valley. Moviemaking only happens in Hollywood. Advertising only happens in New York.
Great talent is everywhere, and not everyone wants to move to San Francisco (or New York or Hollywood).
When you have dozens of competitors within walking distance of your office, it should come as no surprise when your employees cross the street and join the next hot thing.
Star employees who work away from the echo chambers of industry spend far less time brooding about how much greener the grass is on the other side and, generally, seem happier in their work.
It’s not about the money
When people hear remote working, they think of outsourcing.
The main advantage of remote working is to aim at a better quality of life: in the meanwhile, you and your employer will save money as a side effect.
But saving is always nice
IBM introduced remote working in 1995. Since then
- 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, preventing more than 450,000 tons of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere in the United States alone
It’s not all or nothing
Embracing remote work doesn’t mean you can’t have an office, just that it’s not required. It doesn’t mean that all your employees can’t live in the same city, just that they don’t have to. Remote work is about setting your team free to be the best it can be, wherever that might be.
There’s still a trade-off
Remote work is not without cost or compromise. You start missing talking with real people. You feel the loss of imposed structure: you have more freedom and more power, And what about the family men and women who choose to work from home? It’s not always easy to set boundaries.
You’re probably already doing It
Most people don’t trust remote working.
Is your lawyer working in the office? Is your accountant working in your own office?
No? Well, they are remote working.
DEALING WITH EXCUSES
Magic only happens when we are all in one room
Everyone’s sitting around a table, ideas are building on ideas, and intellectual sparks are lighting up the room. It’s tempting to think that this kind of magic only happens when people can see and touch each other.
You’d be amazed by how much quality collective thought can be captured using two simple tools: a voice connection and a shared screen.
If I can’t see them, how do I know they are working?
A manager thinks will people work hard if I’m not watching them all the time? If I can’t see them sitting pretty at their desks typing away, are they just going to goof off and play video games or surf the web all day?
Well, if people want to slack off, they will do it even from their desks.
If you want full transparency, there are time-tracking tools like Hubstaff that take random screenshots from the employee’s desktops.
People’s homes are full of distractions
First of all, we are responsible adults.
Second, working remotely does not mean that it always has to be from home: one could work from a coffee shop, a library or a coworking place such as WeWork.
In the end, most people like to work and want to work, as long as the job is stimulating and fulfilling. If that’s the reason you can’t work from home, you probably need a new job.
Only the office can be secure
Security is a big and serious deal, but it’s also largely a solved problem.
Mostly the following security measures will be enough:
- 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?
The trick is to be available for your clients at all times: that doesn’t mean everyone has to be working at the same time though. If you have to be available from 9 to 18, nothing stops you from having people working from 9 to 13, someone working from 12 to 15 and someone else working from 14 to 18.
Working remotely isn’t without complication. Just remember it’s about making things better for more people most of the time.
Big businesses are terribly 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:
- Johnson & Son
Since I can work remotely, I should sacrifice my freedom so that someone else doesn’t feel bad? So we can suffer together?
“Everyone must be bound by the same policy”. We are on the same team, and our goal is to find the best combination for making us happier and more productive.
Culture is not having fun together.
- How we talk to our customers
- What quality is acceptable
- How we talk to each other
- Workload: too little, normal or too much
- Risk-taking: bet-the-company or slow growth
What remote work helps with is getting rid of the idea that a company’s culture is having beer on a Friday afterwork.
What’s the biggest problem in traditional offices? Too many interruptions.
Most questions can be managed by:
- Phone call
If I can see them, I can control them
The best approach is to take small steps: start working from home on Wednesday. Not only the world did not fall apart, but look at all this extra stuff I have done!
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.
It worked for:
- Customer service
- Film production
Real companies like:
- HSBC UK
- British Telecom
- DreamWorks Animation
- US Department of Education
- Virgin Atlantic
When you’re working remotely, there’s nothing worse than waiting a full day for getting some feedback. You need at least four hours of overlap to avoid collaboration delays.
Thankfully 9 to 5 is not the only way to work: it helps also if some people are really productive at night or crazy early in the morning.
But explaining things on the phone is hard, right?
Well, we can share a screen with Skype or Google Hangout.
Obviously we can’t work if we don’t know where the materials are, what we are going to do next and if someone is available to work with us.
Examples of useful tools are Basecamp, ClickUp (our favorite), Dropbox, Github & Google Calendar.
The point is that the information should always be available and not locked inside a single person’s computer or inbox.
Working remotely is all fun and all, but you can’t work 8 hours straight. You need to take a break from time to time. This is also a great time to spend some time with your team. In real life, the place is a water cooler, a coffee machine or a tea maker. In the remote world, this place is a chatroom like Campfire or Slack.
To instill a sense of company cohesion and to 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 and what you’re
intending to work on can keep everyone up to date and on track.
The best benefit of hiring remote workers is that you judge them just for the work they are doing.
So we don’t care when they come into the office in the morning, or how many coffee breaks they take, but just the work produced. That gives much more clarity in judging employees’ performance.
Remote just means you’re not in the office from 9-5, all day long. Letting local people work remotely is a great way of seeing if remote working will work for you.
If you’re going to give it a shot, give it a real shot. Try it for at least three
months. There’s going to be an adjustment period, so let everyone settle into their new rhythm. You can even start with two days remote, three days in the office. Work up to a full week out of the office.
The two major complaints 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, the first resort, the go-to tool to discuss, debate, and solve every problem, 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. [FARID’S NOTE: Workers are overwhelmed by unnecessary meetings in Sweden, where our main office is. Even the least significant decisions are put up to discussion and voting here.]
Is there someone who would like more meetings?
Unless you’re a manager, the answer is NO.
Remember, there is no one-hour meeting. If you are in a meeting with four other people, it is a five-hour meeting. If you think about the last meeting you had, was it worth five hours?
What about managers? Management is essential, but micro-management is awful. If the manager is constantly asking people updates on the status of the project, they are subtracting precious time from actually doing it.
So, go easy on the M&Ms.
Hell: other people.
Isolation: not heaven.
But human interaction does not have to come from coworkers. They could be your family, your neighbors or even complete strangers in a coffee shop or a co-working space.
The problem with working remotely is that it is hard to keep a work-life balance: you wake up, check some emails, then have breakfast; then work all morning, then make yourself a sandwich and work through lunch. After dinner, you log in just to check a quick thing with the guys in New York.
The irony is that passionate people work more when they’re working remotely.
The fact is that people burn out due to overworking. From time to time, there may be a need for a short sprint, but your job is a marathon. It’s fundamental to find a good pace. One way to help set a healthy boundary is to encourage employees to think of a “good day’s work.” Look at your progress toward the end of the day and ask yourself: “Have I done a
good day’s work?” Often, if the answer is an easy “yes,” you can stop working feeling satisfied that something important got accomplished, if not entirely “done.”
If you’re not careful, remote makes you fat. Find excuses to move— for example, instead of just eating lunch at your desk, walk to a café.
You can’t experiment with working remotely by sending one or two people to Siberia. To give it a proper try, you need to set free at least an entire team— including project management and key stakeholders! And then you need to give it longer than it takes to break in a new pair of shoes.
Give remote work a real chance or don’t bother at all. It’s okay to start small, but make sure it’s meaningful
- Tell them you’re remote
- Give them references before they ask
- Show them work often
- Be very available
- Get the client involved
Thinking internationally increases drastically the talent pool 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, and most people with so-and-so written communication skills are a poor fit in the remote work scenario.
Given how hard it is to find great 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. Because they know everyone. They know how things work and they know what they need to do.
Keeping a solid team together for a long time is the key to peak performance. People grow closer and more comfortable with each other and do even better work.
Given that it’s much harder to understand irony and sarcasm remotely, you need that many people in your team have an optimistic attitude. Sentiments are infectious!
No assholes allowed. No drama allowed. No bad vibes allowed.
Another problem with working remotely is that there is the risk of having someone working at home from dawn till dusk and think about nothing else than work.
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.
Instead of smart quizzes, ask them to show you their design or their code.
The main way you will communicate is through the work itself.
It’s the work that matters. Look at the work and forget the abstractions.
Remote working shouldn’t be a way to pay people less: instead, pay them the same salary and you will have the most loyal employees.
The companies which offer remote work are at an unfair advantage in attracting and retaining the best people in the world.
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. Great remote workers have two qualities:
- They are smart
- They get things done
When the work product is there in the open, it’s much easier to see who’s actually smart, as opposed to who simply sounds smart.
When you work with someone in an office it’s much harder to see this. In general, if she is in the office from 9 to 5 and is nice, then we assume, she must be a good worker.
Remote work speeds up the process of getting the wrong people off the bus and the right people on board.
Being a good writer is an essential part of being a good remote worker. When most arguments are settled over email or chat or discussion boards, you’d better show up equipped for the task. So, as a company owner or manager, you might as well filter for this quality right from the get-go.
When evaluating candidates, we should judge their work, not their résumé. The best way you can do is to hire the person to do a little work before we hire them. Start with a small project, about a week, and pay them a fair amount.
Hire remotely? No, thanks.
From meeting them in person, we get to know 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.
If there’s an ideal training regimen for remote workers, it’s being a contractor for a while. As a contractor, you have to be able to set a reasonable schedule, show good progress at regular intervals, and convert an often fuzzy definition of the work into a deliverable. All these are skills perfectly suited for remote work.
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 up with remote workers.
That said, if you do have a company that’s well established, you can always introduce remote workers to the mix. It won’t be as easy, but lots of things that are worth doing aren’t easy.
So start early if you can, but if you can’t, start small. Take a tiny step with a few trusted current employees. Let them work outside the office a couple of days a week. See what happens. It’s low risk and you’ll immediately start learning whether the policy makes sense.
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?”
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.
Just because you don’t have to be in the office all the time, there is no reason not to get together once in a while 🙂
In fact, it’s a great way to meet people you have been working with, in “real life”.
If Linux, MySQL, PHP and Ruby on Rails managed to do it, why shouldn’t you?
- Do things because you love them
- All out in the open
- Meeting occasionally
So if you’re in doubt about trying remote work, just think: Well, at least I’m not trying to coordinate the work of 3000 people across the globe on a single project.
If you treat remote workers as they’re second-level citizens, you’re all going to have a bad time.
The best trick is to have some of your top employees work remotely: people with the power to change things need to feel the same problems as those who can only deal with them.
While we advocate frequent check-ins with all your employees, it’s a good
idea to check in a bit more frequently with remote workers.
The goal here is really just to keep a consistent, open line of communication.
Pick up the phone and have a chat, it can be casual and conversational but
get a guide of how they are doing, what they are working on and keep them
Nobody wants to have to waste time simply waiting for someone to approve something or wait for something to get the ‘go-ahead’.
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. If the company is full of people whom nobody trusts to make decisions without layers of managerial review, then the company is full of the wrong people.
It’s much hard to keep a life-work balance when your home is your office.
My girlfriend is out with her friends tonight, I might as well finish that SQL query
The problem is that if work is all-consuming, the worker is far more likely to burn out. This is especially true for people loving their job, since they won’t see it as a problem until it’s too late.
We don’t want people to work too little, or too much. Just right: 40 hours a week usually does the trick.
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 great, 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.
- Find a routine to work at home
- Change your clothing for work
- Divide the day in chunks, i.e. Catch-up, Collaboration, Serious Work
- Use the layout of your house as a switch: work only in your home office!
Remote work isn’t all or nothing. You can find slices thinner than a day to work from home.
Use a computer for work and one for fun.
Getting away from the office is great for your productivity because nobody can disturb you in person. They can send you an email or try chatting but they just can’t barge in your flow.
Still, some people might find hard to start working in complete isolation. The trick is to take your laptop and go to the nearest coffee shop with WiFi.
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 lack of motivation will blame themselves first: “Ah, it’s because I’m such a procrastinator”, “Why can’t I just get myself together?”. The truth most of the time is that you are not the problem: it’s the world you’re working in.
“When I retire, I’m going to travel the world”.
Why wait for retirement? If seeing 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, such as good writing skills and overlapping time zones.
Routine tends to numb creativity. On the other hand, changes of scenery lead to all sorts of new ideas.
Don’t think of working remotely as just 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 every day.
Go to a coworking space. We are in one.
“If I’m not seen, will I be heard?”
- You could make noise
- You could make exceptional work
“In thirty years time, as technology moves forward even further, people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed.”
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