Remote Summary (Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson)

remote summary jason fried david heinemeier hansson

Remote covers a new kind of work made possible by the wonders of digital technology.

The book addresses common concerns companies may have about letting employees off the proverbial leash, the benefits of embracing the arrangement and practical advice for ensuring healthy working arrangements.

Written by one of the founders of the hugely successful and famously remote SaaS company Basecamp (Jason Fried), this book provides the theory for how to replicate their distributed success.

So if you’re a founder or manager looking for a new company culture or you’re seeking more freedom and autonomy in your work, this Remote summary may be for you.

By adopting its principles, you may even be able to to live and work abroad, like a boss 😉

Let’s dive in.

Talent retention

Technological innovation means that all you now need for remote work is a free Skype account to stay connected.

Perhaps the main benefit of the arrangement for companies is talent attraction and retention.

Even if your company is based outside a major metropolitan area, you can still access a world class talent pool by making the job remote.

And what of your existing workforce?

Whereas you would inevitably have lost a relocating employee previously, you can now retain top performers and keep them on your team.

After all, it’s far better to keep an experienced employee than undergo the hassle and cost of hiring and training and replacement.

Freedom

Remote work is just as good for employees as their bosses.

This type of work provides much greater flexibility, allowing staff to design their lives, organise their time and be far more productive.

Whereas office work is traditionally defined by set routines, working from home provides three main benefits:

  • Employees can run errands at their own discretion, such as picking the kids up from school, making their lives easier.
  • Different people work better at different times – some of us are more effective in the morning, while others prefer the afternoon and evening, a fact ignored by 9-5 working hours. This is particularly important for those involved in creative work, who can’t guarantee when inspiration strikes.
  • No sacrifices – traditional office workers may envision a glorious retirement where they’re finally able to chase their dreams. Remote work means that employees can already can embrace their ideal life and they needn’t sacrifice their hobbies in favour of their career. For example, if you’re dream is to travel the world, all you need is your laptop and an internet connection, while you fund your adventures with a steady job.

Quality of work

Employers may fear introducing this new culture because of quality of work issues outside the office.

However, the opposite is usually true.

In the office, employees are usually subject to a myriad of distractions, from a quick coffee or a chat with an employee, and before most of the day disappears.

In an office, it’s often harder to control such distractions and get on with your own work, feeling that you must reply to questions and emails from colleagues immediately.

While your not completely free from distractions with remote working, the variables are much more controllable, leading to greater focus:

  • We’re protected from the distraction of coworkers
  • We can ignore non-urgent emails while we complete our own work
  • We can tell friends and family that we’ll be unreachable for a certain time

Remote work also means that employees are judged on the quality of their work, rather than secondary factors like punctuality and nicety.

As opposed to trying to impress the boss, employees can concentrate on creating good work.

Giving remote work a go

Despite traditional organisations like Intel and even the US Government making it work, many companies content that remote work isn’t achievable for them, without even giving it a go.

Despite this, there are often cited causes for resistance:

  • It’s difficult to build a company culture – however, this confuses culture with team building. Culture is about how well your company’s values are adopted by your employees. Positivity, productivity and customer care are all organisational values which can be fostered remotely.
  • Innovation will suffer – many companies believe that innovation can only happen face to face. Even if this is the case, it’s only one side of the equation, with implementation being essential. Remote work allows companies to capitalise on their ideas and make implementation possible.
  • Employee productivity will suffer – many managers may think that employee productivity will decline if they’re not sitting in the same building. But this is the illusion of control and the reality of remote work is far different.

So, if you’re ready to give remote work a go, how do you implement it?

Testing

You might think you’re too reliant on your office to make the change.

However, remote work needn’t be an all or nothing commitment when getting started and is available to huge companies and agile startups alike.

It doesn’t mean barring your employees from the office, but instead giving them the option to complete some of their tasks remotely.

As with anything, testing is advisable, allowing enough time to judge the results.

This might involve letting a few employees or a team work from home part of the week for a few months.

And giving trusted employees more freedom isn’t even that risky when you consider you probably already do this with outside contractors, like lawyers.

Collaboration

Communication and collaboration are key when managing a remote workforce to allow employees to tackle important issues as they arise.

This flow of information must be maintained wherever those employees are in the world.

At the author’s company, this involved maintaining a four hour overlap in working hours between employees involved in the same project.

This meant that staff had half a day freedom for themselves and at least 4 hours to contact other team members with questions of concerns.

Collaboration can also be made easier by sharing resources and company information in an online repository. The author’s company use a shared calendar to update everyone’s availability.

It’s also important to ensure that your employees are available to address clients and their needs, who may be hesitant to work with a distributed team without face to face meetings and seeing in person progress.

However, being upfront about your company culture and allowing them to see results for themselves should assuage any fears.

Relationships

Often, work acts as an important way to develop friendships and decompress outside work.

But how does this function in remote teams?

While you can take time off for a walk, there’s also the need for genuine human connection and team-building.

The author’s company have facilitated this by providing an online chat room for employees as a proxy for the type of coffee shop interaction that would occur in the office.

They’ve also implemented a policy of holding two in-person company retreats per year, allowing employees to put faces to names and develop trusting, loyal relationships.

In order to protect and maintain these relationships, it’s essential that our methods of communication are thoughtful and considered, so as not to be taken out of context.

When you can’t see someone’s body language or smile, it’s incumbent on employees and managers to craft careful online messaging and create a friendly, nurturing atmosphere.

Overworking

The inherent flexibility of remote work means that employees are often tempted to do extra work, which can easily lead to stress and burnout.

Spending too much time in the office, without the balance of healthy activities and social connections can be hugely detrimental.

Workers can also feel like they’re exploited or excluded compared to their office counterparts.

It’s essential for companies and managers to spot and address such symptoms – indeed, managers can do some remote work themselves to understand the challenges.

If you want your employees to stay happy and productive, consider some of the methods employed by the author’s company:

  • Giving employees an extra day off between May and October to enjoy the sunny weather
  • Help employees pay for health club memberships
  • Extra money for healthy groceries
  • Extra curricular pursuits – e.g. holidays gifts for travel

Remote summary

  • Remote work has many benefits for both companies and employees, made possible by technological innovation
  • Companies get to retain top talent and trusted employees
  • Employees get the freedom to work how and where they want, reducing distractions and improving efficiency/productivity
  • Despite the concerns of non-remote organisations, maintaining company values and quality of work aren’t an issue
  • Test the approach with small teams over a set period before committing
  • Ensure effective collaboration over time-zones (4 hour overlap) and using online tools
  • Nurture trusting employee relationships – online chat and two company retreats per year
  • Discourage overwork and promote sustainable work habits and investing in employee health and wellbeing

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