Book Review – Remote: Office Not Required

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Right now I'm self-employed, working from my home office on my own business ventures, and freelancing for others. I read Remote: Office Not Required in anticipation of a future in which I work remotely for companies in a more full-time basis. Whether that is my own company, with multiple employees around the world, or working for another company as an employee myself.

As it turns out, a lot of what is covered in this book is relevant to my situation today. It is also highly relevant to my previous work as an employee for other companies, where remote work was rarely embraced.

Offices have become interruption factories… Ask yourself: Where do you go when you really have to get work done? Your answer won't be “the office in the afternoon.”

That quote resonated with me. At almost every job I've had over the last decade or more, I've used headphones and music to create a “cone of silence” to focus on work. Sometimes the music wasn't even playing, but the headphones were a signal to others that I shouldn't be interrupted. It didn't always work. On the occasions that I did work from home, I often found myself 1.5 to 2x more productive, primarily due to the lack of interruptions.

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.

Remote work is also about flexibility, something that has been important to me since our kids were born. Being scolded for arriving later in the morning because of a school meeting, or not being able to drive my kids to their after school activities, is something that doesn't sit well with me. And it has nothing to do with my productivity. My productive output has nothing to do with set office hours, something that is also covered in Remote.

Most fears that have to do with people working remotely stem from a lack of trust. 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, are they just going to goof off and play video games or surf the web all day?

…coming into the office just means that people have to put on pants. There’s no guarantee of productivity.

As Chris Hoffman from the IT Collective explains: “If we’re struggling with trust issues, it means we made a poor hiring decision. If a team member isn’t producing good results or can’t manage their own schedule and workload, we aren’t going to continue to work with that person. It’s as simple as that. We employ team members who are skilled professionals, capable of managing their own schedules and making a valuable contribution to the organization. We have no desire to be babysitters during the day.” That’s just it—if you can’t let your employees work from home out of fear they’ll slack off without your supervision, you’re a babysitter, not a manager.

And what I think is one of the strongest points in the book…

…the number one counter to distractions is interesting, fulfilling work.

That speaks not only to remote work, but work in general. Our happiness in our careers comes from doing interesting, fulfilling work every day. When I'm working at home I am a short distance from my big screen TV, Netflix, live NBA games, a swimming pool, my guitar, my PS4, and any number of other potential distractions. What keeps me at my desk and being productive is having interesting, fulfilling work to do. Whether that is some client work, some writing, or creating my latest training course. If it wasn't interesting, I would be on the couch playing the PS4 instead.

There's a lot more to learn from reading Remote. It goes into:

  • Effective team work
  • Productivity (individuals and teams)
  • Good hiring practices
  • Good management and leadership
  • Health (physical and mental)
  • Soft skills

None of the book is written in a bubble of how things work at 37Signals, the company co-founded by the authors of Remote. There are many examples throughout the book from other companies, including well known giants of their industries. For anyone who has worked in an office before, a lot of the insights in the book will really hit close to home. They might even help you work out why you're dissatisfied with your current job, and help you find a better job somewhere else.

Overall I consider Remote: Office Not Required to be a good read for any worker, not just those aspiring to work remotely all of the time.

Photo by Vadim Sherbakov on Unsplash

Remote Book Cover Remote
Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson,
Business & Economics
Random House
2013
256

For too long our lives have been dominated by the under one roof(tm) Industrial Revolution model of work. That era is now over. There is no longer a reason for the daily roll call, of the need to be seen with your butt on your seat in the office. The technology to work remotely and to avoid the daily grind of commuting and meetings has finally come of age, and bestselling authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson are the masters of making it work at tech company 37signals. Remote working is the future and it is rushing towards us. Remote: Office Not Required combines eye-opening ideas with entertaining narrative. It will convince you that working remotely increases productivity and innovation, and it will also teach you how to get it right, whether you are a manager, working solo or one of a team.

By Paul Cunningham

Paul is a an author, blogger, and online trainer living in Brisbane, Australia. He was the founder of Practical 365, a former Microsoft MVP, and is a Pluralsight trainer. Say hi on Twitter.

3 comments

  1. Hi Paul,

    This totally make sense with my current life. I’m travelling 2 hours every day to get at work, but I don’t feel productive.
    How can I convince my boss to allow me working from home?

    PS: Every thing of my work can be done remotely.

    1. Sounds like you should read the book! It has some strategies for convincing management of the value of remote work, and transitioning to partial or full remote work.

      The first step is to make sure that your productivity is being measured on output, not by time spent at your desk. Then, ease into the change by asking to trial remote work one day per month or even one day per week. E.g. if there’s a monthly task like reporting that you can do from home uninterrupted, then that’s a good start. Similarly I know consultants who block out one entire day of the week to work from home producing documents, no meetings or other distractions.

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