I recently finished reading REMOTE: Office Not Required by Basecamp (formerly 37signals) founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. The book covers why and how companies should adopt remote work. In typical 37signals fashion the book is simple, elegant, and jam-packed with practical and useful information.
Why exactly do we REMOTE?
The timing of this read was good for me. We recently started a new schedule where my partners and I spend even less time at the warehouse, both to empower our employees and free up some productive time for ourselves. The balance of one day working/meeting with my partners, one day in the warehouse with our employees, and three days at home is ideal for me. I get that rush that comes along with collaborating, I get the social interaction, but I still get three days to dial in and program. David and Jason talk a lot about hybrid setups like ours (and theirs). Each company has a balance that works for them.
Which got me to thinking: how did we find our balance? When did we “decide” to start doing remote work? The more I pondered that question as I read the book, the more I realized that I was asking the wrong question. For us it has always been about productivity. We want to get the job done as efficiently as possible and then have plenty of time to enjoy life outside of work. We want to grow our business in the short term and in the long term, not babysit each other or our employees.
When you view it through that lens, remote work becomes a natural by product of a culture that values productivity. It would be counter-productive for us not to work from home sometimes. If I’m developing a new feature for Detailed Image, why would I waste time packing up my laptop, preparing a lunch, and commuting, just to work in an office where there are more distractions than my home office? The answer is: I wouldn’t. Not unless we had some silly quota that required us to work X number of hours at the warehouse.
What about our employees?
We try to be flexible with our employees too. Our customer service manager works shorter shifts at the warehouse and then hops back on later in the evening to answer customer inquiries. The shorter day at the warehouse allows him to watch Chelsea soccer matches on weekday afternoons. We also have a few contractors who work remotely all of the time. They’re scattered throughout the country and we only see them in person once or twice each year.
However, as an e-commerce company with products to ship, everyone can’t work remotely every day. In many cases employees have to do most or all of their work from the office. Our operations manager, for example, is managing our part-time employees and ensuring that shipments get out on time. He can’t do that work remotely. But we do give him flexibility with his schedule if he needs it, and all of our employees work from home any time we have a snow day.
Again, when it’s about getting stuff done you tend to focus on that and drop all of the other silly stuff.
The book mirrors the style of their New York Times bestselling book Rework, which I also loved. It’s comprised of short 1-3 page essays on topics such as “Why work doesn’t happen at work”, “Stop commuting your life away”, “If I can’t see them, how do I know they’re working?”, and “Building a routine”. Artist Mike Rohde returns with original artwork for each essay. It’s worth picking up the hardcover book for his artwork alone.
Because of the format, it feels like a quick, easy read. Part of the brilliance of this style is that you consume a ton of information, but you don’t really notice it because it’s in small chunks. They manage to cover every conceivably important topic related to remote work. More importantly, and somewhat surprisingly, they present both sides of the argument for organizations ranging from a sole proprietor to Fortune 500 companies. This isn’t all sunshine and cupcakes like The 4-hour Workweek, even though it presents many of the same arguments.
Who should read it? If you own a business of any size, you should read it. Even if you’re a company like us that has been practicing remote work for years, you’ll still pick up some new tips & tricks. They give you incredible insight into their successful company, and reading about successful companies is never a bad thing. If you don’t own a business, but are interested in working remotely some or all of the time (and let’s be real, who isn’t?), REMOTE will give you a variety of ideas to help start integrating it into your organization.