My key take aways from 37signals new book ‘Remote – office not required’

remote_frontWe are big fans of remote networking (we have an office where some of our team sometimes base themselves). So I was very keen to read the new book from 37 signals. What is it like?

Remote – office not required is actually four books in one.

Firstly it is a ‘manifesto’, explaining the benefits of remote working and refuting all the arguments made against it. The book actually starts with the recent decision of Yahoo to ban it, and debunks all the arguments made against it. In most cases, Remote working is not the real issue – it is questions of trust, control and openness. To work well, remote networking forces companies to asses (and often change) at how they organise, motivate, control and assess their staff – painful and introspective actions which are often easier to just ignore.

Secondly, the book debunks the myths of what Remote Networking is not. It is not necessarily having a office, or no office, working on your own or always working from home. It is far more varied and subtle.

Thirdly, it is an set of examples where companies are using Remote Networking as a major business advantage (reducing costs, improving hiring, creating more resilient organisations with more motivated staff). It includes not just 37signals but a whole host of other examples such as IBM.

Fourthly, it is a guide on introduce remote working into a company and how to make it work. There are lots of tips and recommendations of tools to try. For example, if possible you need a decent overlap window (say 4 hours) so that people can connect. And a virtual water cooler where people can gather and chat.

As I worked through the book, I made a list of key points. I do really recommend you read (or listen) to the whole book. It is worthwhile.

1. Work is not the place where work gets done now (interruption factory)
2. A lot of time is wasted commuting (400 hours a years which is how long it took 37 Signals to code their product Basecamp).
3. It is now viable to work remotely.
4. Most companies need to work flexible hours anyway to get job done (ie overseas customers, deadlines).
5. If you need to provide fixed hours (ie someone on support at certain hours), this is a time-tabling issue, not an excuse to make everyone work those hours.
6. It saves lots of time and money for company and employees
7. It is not all or nothing
8. People still need structure and social element. Boundaries are still needed.
9. Most remote issues are actually trust issues
10. It does not mean home – could be coffee shop/park
11. Ensure all machines have encryption, need password and can be remotely wiped
12. Does not work for all (ie some people will need to be onsite). But why limit everyone else?
13. Many objecting are actually over a loss of control.
14. Some overlap is really desirable (4 hour slot)
15. All files need to be shared so everyone can access.
16. People are judged on work done.
17. Forces you to sort out your internal communications
18. It makes the organisation far more resiliant.
19. When people are judged by what they do, it is all out in the open.
20. Interesting comparison of lessons for remote working from Open Source
21. Overwork is more of an issue than underwork.
22. You must avoid work becoming your hobby.

You can find out more about the book on 37signals website. There is also an excellent audiobook version read by Rebecca Lowman.

And 37Signals are running a brilliant parody of Microsofts flawed advertising campaign.

What are your experiences of remote working?

This article is part of our ‘Book Review’ Series of articles in which we review interesting books.

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Mark Stephens

System Architect and Lead Developer at IDRSolutions
Mark Stephens has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and has diversified into HTML5, SVG and JavaFX. He also enjoys speaking at conferences and has been a Speaker at user groups, Business of Software, Seybold and JavaOne conferences. He has a very dry sense of humor and an MA in Medieval History for which he has not yet found a practical use.
Markee174

About Mark Stephens

Mark Stephens has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and has diversified into HTML5, SVG and JavaFX. He also enjoys speaking at conferences and has been a Speaker at user groups, Business of Software, Seybold and JavaOne conferences. He has a very dry sense of humor and an MA in Medieval History for which he has not yet found a practical use.

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