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Patterns
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Remote: Office Not Required (Book Review)

Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson was a quick and insightful read about the benefits and best practices of working remotely from the perspective of both the company and the individual employee. As a company with no physical office, Red Argyle has been reaping these benefits since day one, albeit having experienced and overcome many of the challenges outlined in the book.

I’ve been reading more and more books on the Amazon Kindle app on my iPad and iPhone. For those unfamiliar with the Kindle, one feature called “Popular Highlights” essentially crowdsources all the highlighted texts by all readers of a book and ranks them by popularity. I like to review Popular Highlights after finishing the book to avoid any cliff-notes effect that would keep me from reading cover-to-cover, but I think Popular Highlights are a great way to recap a book’s key points as judged by its readers. I’ve grouped together popular highlights from Remote by category and offered my reactions to them as they relate to Red Argyle and myself as a remote worker.

Work Requires Time to Think

“…offices have become interruption factories. A busy office is like a food processor – it chops your day into tiny bits. Fifteen minutes here, ten minutes there, twenty here, five there… Meaningful work, creative work, thoughtful work, important work — this type of effort takes stretches of uninterrupted time to get into the zone… The ability to be alone with your thoughts is, in fact, one of the key advantages of working remotely.”

“Meaningful work, creative work, thoughtful work, important work” is probably my favorite quote from the book, as it succinctly describes what all of us strive to do as professionals every day. Reading it in the context of its surrounding text, it becomes clear how much in conflict a typical office is with these goals. Struggling with complex tasks, conflicting schedules and deadlines is hard, but removing the layer of noise and being “alone with your thoughts” turns hard work back into interesting, satisfying work.

On Schedules

“The big transition with a distributed workforce is going from synchronous to asynchronous collaboration. Not only do we not have to be in the same spot to work together, we also don’t have to work at the same time to work together…At 37signals, we try to keep a roughly forty-hour workweek, but how our employees distribute those hours across the clock and days just isn’t important.”

37signals is much more remote than Red Argyle, with employees separated not only by time zones, but by oceans. We joke that Red Argyle is “Uni-national”, as all staff is here in the United States separated at most by one time zone. However, our customers span the country and some projects have had us working with folks in Europe. So, our approach to “asynchronous collaboration” is still similar. We take advantage of tools like Google Hangouts, Gotomeeting, and the myriad of cloud-based systems to share data, but we are also not beholden to the lens of the video camera. We meet to solve problems, then break up to get work done (see previous point). We do have standing all-staff meetings to cover obligatory company news and updates, but we don’t meet for the sake of meeting. The exception to that is the remote equivalent of the office water cooler – impromptu Google hangouts to just say “what’s up”.

Like 37signals, Red Argyle maintains a forty-hour workweek. We are somewhat more prescriptive by defining a loose start and end to the day (8:30 am to 5:00 pm eastern). We do this out of luxury now, because all staff is either on eastern or central time. It also lets everyone in the most know when people are most likely to be available. This doesn’t mean that we don’t time-shift our work days. If people need the morning off or find themselves on the west coast for meetings or a long weekend, they just shift their working hours accordingly and go into asynchronous mode. Eight hours of work in a day counts, no matter what eight hours you choose to spend doing it!

On Quality of Life

“Letting people work remotely is about promoting quality of life, about getting access to the best people wherever they are, and all the other benefits we’ll enumerate. That it may also end up reducing costs spent on offices and result in fewer-but-more-productive workers is the gravy, not the turkey… long commutes make you fat, stressed, and miserable. Even short commutes stab at your happiness.”

Going to the office is expensive for both the employee and the company. After working remotely for about a year, I started to realize the cost benefits personally. No gas, no vehicle wear and tear, a much smaller clothing budget, and no going out to lunch every day basically translated into giving myself a raise. As a business owner, no rent, no office supplies, no kitchen to stock and no maintenance and upkeep for an office means we have budget to do other things as a company.

Going to the office is also mentally and physically exhausting to the employee. Rushing around in the morning between the alarm clock and the “punch-in clock” at the office is an amazingly stressful way to start a workday where you’re expected to start being productive from the moment you walk in the buidling. Not only is being at the office in conflict with productivity, just getting to the office seems to put you a step behind mentally.

My morning commute is measured in yards and seconds, not miles and minutes (or hours). To avoid the “remote newbie effect” of rolling out of bed and rolling into your email inbox (which we’ve all done at least once), I do maintain a morning schedule that includes gym, breakfast, shower, fresh clothes, and coffee. Remote work is still work, after all (just without the noise). But instead of commuting, I make a nice breakfast and play trains with my son for a few minutes. You can’t put a physical cost on that, but the mental and emotional value is gold.

A New Definition of Luxury

“The luxury privilege of the next twenty years will be to leave the city. Not as its leashed servant in a suburb, but to wherever one wants… The new luxury is the luxury of freedom and time. Once you’ve had a taste of that life, no corner office or fancy chef will be able to drag you back.”

I translate “freedom” in this context to mean “freedom from location”. The ultimate value of remote working is that it makes time and place irrelevant. If work is getting done, it doesn’t matter if it’s happening in cottage in Scotland, a coffee shop in San Francisco, or in a car on the way to grandma’s birthday party. This year, three Red Argyle employees moved across state lines with zero impact to their ability to get work done. The world is our office.

All quotes are attributed to: Fried, Jason; Heinemeier Hansson, David (2013-10-29). Remote: Office Not Required. Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Jacket design by Jamie Dihiansan, 37signals