Remote - Critical summary review - David Heinemeier Hansson

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Remote - critical summary review

Remote Critical summary review Start your free trial
Corporate Culture & Communication, Startups & Entrepreneurship and Productivity & Time Management

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Office Not Required

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0804137501

Publisher: Currency

Critical summary review

Ever since the technology made it possible, working from home has seen steady growth, year after year. But still, as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in “Remote,” “adoption of remote work has not been nearly as universal or commonsensical as many would have thought.” The missing upgrade, feel the authors, isn’t technological, but psychological. And their book aims to provide that upgrade. 

So, get ready to tackle all those criticisms against telecommuting floating around and prepare to discover the many benefits of remote work – while learning how to excel at it!

The time is right for remote work

If you are like most people, you probably can’t really get too much work done at work. At least not if you don’t come early, stay late, or sneak in on the weekends. Offices have become “interruption factories”: what all those meetings, calls and water cooler chats do is they chop your day into tiny bits. Meaningful work, however, “takes stretches of uninterrupted time”: that’s the only way one can get into the zone.

Unfortunately, as much as modern workplaces are stressful, getting there might be even worse. Studies have shown that long commutes make people “fat, stressed, and miserable.” Even if that wasn’t the case, the math says they are killing us in a much more literal way: if you need just 45 minutes to get to work and just as many to get back home, over the course of an average work career spanning 30 years, you will have spent about one full year of your life commuting! That’s not only bad for you – it’s also bad for business. After all, lost time is lost money as well. For everybody.

Because of this, many companies are turning to teleworking, not only allowing their employees to work from home – but encouraging them as well. The most progressive among them have already saved fortunes thanks to their farsightedness. For example, according to a 2009 white paper by IBM, the IT giant has managed to reduce office space by a total of 78 million square feet thanks to its telework strategy dating back to 1995! And 58 million square feet of this space has already been sold at a gain of $1.9 billion! No wonder that, at present, almost half of IBM’s 400,000 employees are remote workers.

Teleworking, however, is not only about the money – it is much more about quality of life. The beneficial impact of remote working goes beyond employers and workers – it also benefits society in general and our environment. Less commuting doesn’t only mean less pollution, it also means fewer people in the cities, and more of them breathing fresh air in the countryside. Even though it might seem cheesy saying this, teleworking really looks like one of the few real-life win-win-win arrangements.

Dealing with excuses

But, if remote working is so great, why aren’t more companies practicing it? It seems like a competitive advantage. The technology exists. The time is right. And the excuses are outdated at best. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • If I can’t see them, how do I know they’re working? Not really an issue of teleworking: it is a trust issue, directly related to the hiring process and some poor management decisions. “Either learn to trust the people you’re working with or find some other people to work with,” write Fried and Hansson. It’s that simple.
  • People’s homes are full of distractions. That’s true – but, as explained above, so are offices. Another truth: most people actually want to work as long as the task at hand is stimulating and fulfilling. And they are much more productive when they are the ones picking and arranging their own distractions.
  • Only the office can be secure. Remote work security is an issue only for those who are not up to date with modern technology. If you can leave your credit card number with Amazon, you can surely find a way to safely disperse project tasks around the globe. Security issues are nothing that a few protocols and algorithms won’t solve.
  • Big business doesn’t do it, so why should we? If your industry’s leaders aren’t already doing it, you should be happy, because this should make it easier for you to beat them. But that is probably not actually true: IBM, Accenture, and eBay are just a few of the companies that have been practicing remote working for decades. And it’s not like they are losing markets.
  • But I’ll lose control. Sometimes losing control is actually nice – because it empowers employees to make choices on their own, and autonomy is one of the most important elements of job satisfaction. Just look at Wikipedia: the best and most informed encyclopedia in history grew organically out of open-source communities – and precisely because of loosened control.
  • We paid a lot of money for this office. Well, that’s one of the reasons why you should get rid of it. IBM did the math, and you should do it as well. And even if you’re stuck with your office, more productivity means more money in the long run. So, the only thing that matters is whether your employees are more productive working from home or in the office. And it’s probably the former.

How to collaborate remotely

It’s one thing to decide on going remote, but another thing completely to employ the best practices. Fortunately, over the course of building Basecamp – one of the most successful remote software companies in the world – Fried and Hansson were able to discern the myths from the facts and learn the essential rules of telecommuting. Here they are:

  • Thou shalt overlap. There is no easy way around this: from time to time, employees will have to compromise with their working hours, so there is at least some overlap. Unconventional work schedules are a small price to pay for real-time collaboration and future success. Fortunately, we are creatures of habits – and Fried and Hansson have discovered that this is not an issue at all for most people.
  • Seeing is believing. There are many screen-sharing tools available now. Use them to collaborate when necessary. Not only it saves time but also recreates one of the magic attributes of the office: the ability to see and interact with the same stuff.
  • All out in the open. Make everything available to everyone at all times. Content management systems such as WordPress or code depositories such as GitHub have made version control quite easy – virtually demolishing the differences between an office worker and a freelancer across many industries.
  • The virtual water cooler. Everybody needs mindless breaks. In a regular workplace, that’s what the water cooler is for. In a remote work environment, that’s what separate channels in your chat program can do for your employees. Allow workers to share cat pics and discuss the latest episodes of their favorite TV shows – whenever they want. It’s a waste of time – but it’s a quality waste of time.
  • Forward motion. To share a forward motion, you need to instill a sense of company cohesion. The best way to do this is by instituting a weekly discussion thread with the subject – “What have you been working on?” Make everybody feel that they’re “in the loop” and part of the same culture.
  • The work is what matters. “Was she here at 9?” is not a relevant question in the world of telecommuting. If the answer to “Did she do her tasks?” is yes,  then you don’t really need to bother how much time she has spent on Reddit, do you?
  • Not just for people who are out of town. Working remotely doesn’t mean working from home: it can also mean working from the street, the library, or a coffee shop. Encourage your employees to experiment: everyone has preferences of their own.
  • Disaster ready. Unlike regular businesses, remote companies are disaster-ready. You can work from home when your child is sick. You can work from home when your relatives come for a surprise visit. And you can even greet the repairman in the case of a plumbing problem – as opposed to coming home to find your apartment flooded.
  • Easy on the M&Ms. Meetings and managers (or the M&Ms) are what have made office work so unbearable during the past few decades. And though they are necessary from time to time, most companies can do with fewer of each. And that’s another benefit of remote work environments: they make it easier to spot the busy-looking doing-nothing managers of the “drop what you’re doing right now to entertain me!” variety.

Life as a remote worker: tackling the disadvantages

As already noted, remote work makes a lot of things easier and better for employees. However, as great as this might all sound, don’t forget it’s still a trade-off. True, you’ll get more freedom, time, and money, and that will work fine for a while – but, no matter how introverted you are, isolation will get you in time. We are simply not designed to live in solitude. Fortunately, there are many ways out! For example, you can work from a coffee shop or find a coworking facility. More importantly, if done properly, telecommuting grants far more time for social activities than regular work, not merely because it saves you at least two hours daily on account of commuting. 

So, use this time – and use it wisely. Don’t be like most telecommuters who transform their freedom into slavery by inadvertently stretching their workdays. To misappropriate a biblical verse: there’s a time to check in and a time to check out. There’s also a time – sooner rather than later – to get the ergonomic basics right. Working from the sofa for a day is one thing, but without a proper desk, a proper chair, and a proper screen – you’re risking your health in the long term. 

Speaking of health issues: working from home means far less walking than usual, and unless you constantly find some excuses to move, you’re risking obesity. So, build yourself a routine that includes a healthy habit or two. Becoming a remote workmaster is all about building a proper routine as well. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is using the same room – and the same computer – for both work and fun. Make sure to separate them: use one device to work remotely, and another to chat with your friends and play games. Otherwise, you’ll neither work nor have fun.

Final Notes

Ironically enough, “Remote” was published in the same year that Marissa Mayer, then Yahoo’s CEO, decided to dismantle the company’s remote-work program. In retrospect, she was wrong, while  Fried and Hansson were right.

Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, knew this even back in 2013. “In the near future, everyone will work remotely, including those sitting across from you,” he wrote in a review of this brief but illuminating telework manifesto. “You’ll need this farsighted book to prepare for this inversion.”

12min Tip

A tipping point for remote work was on the horizon even before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, its importance has peaked. Regardless of whether you’re a company owner or a wage earner, use this opportunity to hop on the bandwagon. Tomorrow might be too late.

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Who wrote the book?

David Heinemeier Hansson is a Danish programmer, entrepreneur, and racing driver. Best known as the creator of the Ruby on Rails web devel... (Read more)

Jason Fried is an American entrepreneur, one of the co-founders of 37signals – a Chicago-based remote software company renamed as Basecamp in 2014, after its celebrated flagship product. Together with David Heinemeier Hansson, he has written four books, all of them published under the 37signals name: “Getting R... (Read more)

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