Thursday, April 30, 2020

Book Summary: Remote: Office Not Required

COVID-19 has pushed a lot of companies to enable remote working from immediate effect. This meant, equipping their employees with a laptop and continuing the day to day activities in the same manner as before i.e. when they were co-located.

This is not only inefficient but it is also very strenuous on everyone. To better understand how to effectively run Remote teams, I decided to read the book Remote: Office Not Required written by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried. I decided to summarise the learnings from this book so that, more and more people could embrace Remote working in the right way.

Of course it goes without saying, this summary should only inspire you to go read the actual book, if you haven't read it already. And read it again, if you have read it before :D.

Book Summary

The book starts by asking a compelling question,
If you ask people where they go when they really need to get work done?
Very few of them will say The Office. Even if someone says its the office, then they usually add a qualifier such as,

  • "I go very earlier to the office before anyone gets in to get stuff done"
  • "I stay late at night after everyone's left"
  • "I sneak in on the weekend"
Why do people feel these way? It seems like the office during the day, has become the last place where people want to be, when they really want to get work done. 

I am sure we have faced this situation many times ourselves but have either ignored it or never tried to dig into the root cause of this problem. 

The Benefits

The core reason seems to be, meaningful work needs stretches of uninterrupted time to get done. But in today's offices it's impossible to get such long stretches of uninterrupted time. The ability to be alone with your thoughts is, in fact, one of the key advantages of working remotely.

Commuting to office is another time killer. This is the time which is least productive and a complete waste for the everyone. Remote working could eliminate commuting to and from the office which could end-up saving around 300-400 hrs, thats almost 38-50 working days in a year!

Technology has made significant progress, doing a Video call with screen sharing at the same time, is no longer a distant dream. It a reality and there are more than a few options that could do it.

Biology, some people like to work early in the morning and some like to be the night owl's. Giving people this flexibility, could get a lot more work done.

Companies broaden their horizons as they could hire the best talent available from anywhere in the world. Not just from their city or even from their home country. 

How To Implement It

Remote working doesn't mean you can't have an office. Remote work is about setting your team free to be the best it can be, wherever that might be. Some people may choose to come to office and work from there, while some others could work from a Cafe or Home Office or a Co-Working space!

Communication is the backbone of successful Remote teams. It's extremely essential for each and every team member to communicate effectively. Written communication becomes super important. Your team members may not be in the same city or country but its essential that team members have a meaningful time overlap between their working hours, 4-6 hrs seems to be the sweet spot.

It's great to physically meet your team members once in a while. It has lots of positive impact, we should aim at getting everyone at one location at least 2 to 3 times a year for 3-5 days. As important as it is to have the entire company get together, it’s also a great idea to occasionally do a sprint with a smaller group to finish a specific project. If the company must make a mad dash to meet a deadline—with the unreasonable hours and pressure that implies—it can be nice to slave through the ordeal together.

For new hires, its a good idea to spend 4-6 weeks at the office. This helps them absorb the company culture easily. They get a first hand opportunity to see how things work and how people communicate and get things done. Before making the final hiring decision, it's absolutely must have to meet them in person. This allows you to get a feel for their character. Are they polite? Do they show up on time? Are they fundamentally decent? Do they treat people well? What does the rest of the team think? You can tell a lot from a quick face-to-face.

Working remotely doesn't mean working from Home. It means working from a remote setup which is free of domestic distractions. The remote setup could be in your home office, or a cafe or a co-working place near by, it needs to have consistent internet connectivity, power backup and free from domestic distractions. Invest in getting a proper desk, a proper chair, and a proper screen - 27 inches in high resolution!

Move to async mode of communication. Not every question needs an answer immediately. There’s nothing more arrogant than taking up someone else’s time with a question you don’t need an answer to right now. Questions that can wait hours, are great candidates to put in an email. Questions that require answers in the next few minutes can go into an instant message. For crises that truly merit a sky-is-falling designation, you can use that old-fashioned invention called the telephone.

Remember, in Remote teams, the work they do, is the only metric that matters.

Have a place where teams could have water cooler conversations. We all need mindless breaks, and it helps if you spend some of them with your team. That’s where the virtual water cooler comes in.

To enable constant flow of information running through the office, we could use questions like “What have you been working on?” Everyone chimes in with a few lines about what they’ve done over the past week and what’s intended for the next week. It aims to make everyone feel like they’re in the same galley and not their own little rowboat.

It’s easy to be a manager when all you have to do is manage the chairs. Making sure that the little worker bees arrive by nine in the morning and giving them an extra star on their score card if they stay past six—this is how much of management has operated since forever. Don't do this!

Remove roadblocks, empower everyone to take decisions confidently. There should be no begging to spend money on needed equipment to get the work done, and there are no expense reports to fill out.


The book has a lot more to offer, this post is only a poor attempt at summarising it. I hope that you are inspired to read the book. Do let me know how you liked it.
Have some Fun!