“Remote: Office Not Required” covers the benefits of remote work, the perceived obstacles, and practical tips for companies or employees who are considering or doing remote work. It builds on the authors’ experience in running 37signals (now Basecamp), a successful software company. In our Remote Book Summary, we’ll touch on the key highlights of the book and zoom in on some tips on how to get the most from remote work – be it as an employer or an employee. If you like the highlights in this article, do get our full remote book summary here, or grab a copy of the book!
Benefits of Remote Working
Working remotely hasn’t been a real option till recently, due to technological advancement (e.g. documents and screen sharing, instant messages etc.). People no longer need to live in the city to have access to information, entertainment and resources – these are accessible from anywhere in the world. In fact, having the flexibility to travel anywhere will be the new luxury.
Remote work brings many win-win benefits for employers and employees, including more productive time, saving on commuting, flexibility, cost savings (e.g. office space) with many positive benefits, attract and retain great talent etc. [More details in the book or our full 10-page book summary].
Concerns & Excuses about Remote Work
However, many companies have concerns about remote work. The authors take a closer look at some of the most common concerns—e.g. no face-to-face brainstorming, worries of people loafing on the job, distractions at home, lack of security, inaccessibility to customers, negative impact on culture etc.—and show that they they are really just excuses if examined closely.
For example, it is a myth that you can only protect confidential work information when people work in the office. Most laptops (which people bring out of the office) are unencrypted to begin with. In fact, having everyone work from one office could mean having a Single Point of Failture (SPoF) if a major disaster hits the office. If people can securely perform online banking and purchases, they can securely work from a remote location. The authors share a list of good security measures adopted by 37signals/ Basecamp (e.g. using hard-drive encryption and disabling automatic login).
There are real trade-offs involved in remote work, including reduced face-to-face time and the loss of imposed structure and regiment. This calls for greater personal commitment and new work frames. The key is to maximise the benefits and minimize the drawbacks. We’ll now zoom in on 2 of the tips for successful remote collaboration. Do check out the book or complete summary for more the remaining tips!
• Create overlap in work hours. This is important to avoid collaboration delays and to help remote workers to feel part of a team. The authors recommend about 4 hours of overlap across time zones (e.g. 11am to 7pm in Copenhagen and 8am to 5pm in Chicago, local time), so there’s a balance between time for collaboration and flexibility for staff.
• Create a “virtual water cooler”. Create chat rooms where people can “hang out” virtually and interact throughout the day on any work or non-work issue, just like how they would at a staff pantry or a water cooler in the office.
• Equal pay for quality. Even if you hire someone from a city with lower cost of living, make sure you pay them an equivalent amount to those staff from the big cities. Don’t use remote work as an option to skimp on salaries.
• Use test projects/ contracts: To truly assess a candidate’s suitability, it’s a good practice to do “pre-hiring”, i.e. hire the potential candidate for a mini project (representative of the work they’re being hired for) for 1-2 weeks, before making the hiring decision. Contract work is also a great way for both the hirer and hire to assess the remote work relationship and mutual fit.
The rise of remote work is inevitable, and you should start setting up for it as early as possible. If you’re already onboard, here are 2 useful tips on managing remote workers (do read the book or our full summary for more tips).
• Meet-ups & sprints. It is important for the team to meet up in person occasionally say, twice a year. It creates an opportunity for people to be involved in charting the company’s direction, get reacquainted with one another as individuals, or even do a sprint to finish a project.
• One-on-ones. Do regular “check-ins” or one-on-one calls with your remote employees every month/ every few months. A casual “how are things with you” call can help to keep the connection and unearth small things that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Remote work brings flexibility and new lifestyle options, but also requires some adjustment in thinking and behaviour. If you’re working remotely, then you’d love these 2 tips that we’ve selected from the book, though you can certainly get ’em all from the book or our complete 10-page summary!
• Ergonomics. Remote working means you have the freedom to work anywhere. To make it viable in the long-term, consider your equipment (chairs, tables, screens) to take care of your body anatomy, and vary your sitting/ standing positions so you are not cooped up for long periods in the same positions.
• Build a routine. Most people require some form of routine to be productive. You can use specific routines or cues (e.g. change of attire) to switch into “work mode”, divide the day into chunks (e.g. “serious work”, “catch-up” etc.), or use specific parts of your house for different activities. You can also use hybrid approaches that best suit your work/ team e.g. remote arrangements in the morning (for focused work) and going to office in the afternoon (for collaborative work).
Conclusion and Other Details in “Remote”
Like how the internet has transformed the way we communicate and do business, remote work is here to stay and will become more prevalent. The right time to get onboard is now.
The book reads somewhat like a collection of blog posts. Fried and Hansson share many examples of how they have implemented remote work at 37signals/Basecamp, such as their security measures, how they promote staff interaction and a healthy lifestyle, and how they support their staff with a company credit card and flexible vacations. They also provided a list of tools that they use in the “Remote Toolbox”. These examples and tools may not be applicable to all companies, but they certainly provide practical ideas of what can be done. Order your copy of the book, or get a detailed overview from our Remote: Office Not Required summary bundle!