Remote, Office Not Required
The Time is Right for Remote Work
Why work doesn't happen at work
The office during the day has become the last place people want to be when then really want to get work done.
Offices have become interruption factories: it's just one interruption after another.
Creative and thoughtful work need a lot of time to get started: the key advantage of working remotely is to be alone with your thoughts.
Stop commuting your life away
If it takes 45 minutes to get to the office from your house, that's 1.5 hours every day, 7.5 hours a week and 330 hours a year.
It's the technology stupid
So why people didn't do it before? They couldn't.
Now we have:
- screen sharing
- to-do lists on Basecamp
- real-time chatting
- sharing files on Dropbox
To work together, not only you don't have to work in the same place, but you don't even have to work at the same time.
This makes so much easier to handle distributed teams, as long as there is some some overlap in the working hours.
End of city monopoly
Due to industrialisation, people moved to the cities. They moved to the cities because in the cities there were factories, stadiums, libraries and restaurants.
Now imagine living in a world where everyone has access to every book ever written, every album ever recorded, every movie ever made and almost every sports game that is being played. That world is now.
The new luxury
If you're lucky enough to have a job which does not require you to be in the office, then don't be there.
Talent isn't bound by the hubs
Technology only happens in the Silicon Valley. Moviemaking only happen in Hollywood. Advertising only happens in New York.
It's not about the money
When people hear 'remote working', they hear 'outsourcing'
The main advantage of remote working is to aim at a better quality of life: in the meanwhile, you and your employer will save money as a side effect.
But saving is always nice
IBM introduced remote working since 1995:
- They have reduced office space by 7.2 million m^2
- 5.4 million m^2 have been sold for $1.9B
- The sublease income from leased space was $1B
- They have 386'000 employees, of which 40% remote work
Let's say you drive your car to work every day:
- The distance is 30km * 2: 60km
- Kilometers per liter: 20km
- Price per liter: 1.7€
- Working days: 220
- Total: (60 / 20) * 1.7 * 220: 1122€
Not all or nothing
Remote working doesn't mean FUCK THE OFFICE. It means that the office is not a prerequisite for working.
Still a trade-off
You start missing talking with real people. You feel the loss of imposed structure: you have more freedom and more power, but that means more responsibility as well.
You're probably already doing it
Most people don't trust remote working.
Is your lawyer working in the office? Is your accountant working in the office? Is your payroll manager working in the office?
No? Well, they are remote working.
Is their work shit? No? Well, remote working is working.
Dealing with excuses
Magic only happens when we're all in a room
How many great ideas can one have? Most of the time we are working on making our best idea better. And for that we can use Skype or Google Hangout.
If I can't seem them, how do I know they're working?
Well, if people want to slack off, they will do it even from the office.
Anyway, are you a babysitter?
If you can't trust the people you are working with, you probably shouldn't be be working with them at all.
People's homes are full of distractions
First of all, we are responsible adults, amirite?
Second, working remotely does not mean that is always has to be the house: one could work from a coffee shop, a library or the park.
In the end, most people like to work and want to work, as long as the job is stimulating and fulfilling. If that's the reason you can't work from home, you probably need a new job.
Only the office can be secure
Mostly the following security will be enough:
- Enable hard drive encryption (FileVault)
- Disable automatic login and require password from waking from sleep
- Turn on encryption for all sites with sensitive information
- All mobile devices use lock codes and can be wiped remotely
- For each site, use a unique generated secure password
- Turn on two-factor authentication wherever you can
But who will answer the phone?
The trick is to available for your clients at all times: that doesn't mean everyone working at the same time though. If you have to be available from 9 to 18, nothing stops you from having people working from 9 to 13, someone working from 12 to 15 and someone else working from 14 to 18.
Working remotely isn't without complication, just remember it's about making things better for more people most of the time.
Big business doesn't do it, so why should we?
Big businesses are terribly inefficient.
Looking at big businesses for innovation and productivity tips is probably a bad idea.
Moreover some big companies are doing it, like:
- Johnson & Son
Others would get jealous
So other would get jealous. Well, we are doing different jobs, right?
Since I can work remotely, I should sacrifice my freedom so that someone else doesn't feel bad? So we can suffer together?
"Everyone must be bound by the same policy": we are on the same team, and our goal is to find the best combination for making us more happy and productive and successful.
What about culture=
Culture is not having fun together, that's just having fun.
- How we talk to our customers?
- What quality is acceptable?
- How we talk to each other?
- Workload: too little, normal or too much?
- Risk taking: bet-the-company or slow growth?
What remote work helps with is getting rid of the idea that a company's culture is having beer on Friday night.
I need an answer now!
What's the biggest problem in traditional offices? Too many interruptions.
Most questions can be managed by:
- Phone call
But I'll lose control
If I can see them, I can control them
The best approach is to take small steps: start working from home on Wednesday. Not only the world did not fall apart, but look at all this extra stuff I have done!
We paid a lot of money for this office
The money you've spent on the office is a sunk cost: it has already been spent. Now it is only a matter of deciding if working in that office makes the team more or less happy and productive.
That wouldn't work for our size or industry
It worked for:
- Customer service
- Film production
Real companies like:
- HSBC UK
- British Telecom
- DreamWorks Animation
- US Department of Education
- Virgin Atlantic
How to collaborate remotely
Thou shalt overlap
When you're working remotely, there's nothing worse than waiting a full day for getting some feedback. You need at least four hours of overlap to avoid collaboration delays.
Thankfully 9 to 5 is not the only way to work: it helps also if some people are really productive at night or crazy early in the morning.
Seeing is believing
But explaining things on the phone is hard, right?
Well, we can share a screen: Skype, Google Hangout, Mikogo and ScreenHero.
All out in the open
Obviously we can't work if we don't know where the materials are, what are we going to do next and if something will be able to work with me.
Basecamp, Github && Google Calendar.
The point is that the information should always be available and not locked inside a single person's computer or inbox.
The virtual water cooler
Working remotely is all fun and all, but one can't work 8 hours straight: we need to take a break from time to time. This is also a great time to spend some time with them team: in real life the place is a water cooler, a coffee machine or a tea maker. In the remote world, this is place is a chat:
Campfire, IRC, jabber, Hipchat, Flowdoc, Slack.
When working remotely, there isn't the same flow on information going around as easily: we need to keep everyone in the loop and to keep everyone up to speed with the latest progress we need some tools:
Email thread, IDoneThis
Progress is a joy best shared with coworkers
The work is what matters
The best benefit of hiring remote workers is that you judge them just for the work they are doing.
So we don't care when they come in the office in the morning, or how many coffee breaks do they take, but just on the work produced. That gives much more clarity in judging employees' performance.
Not just for people who are out of town
Remote just means you're not in the office 9am-5pm, all day long. Letting local people work remotely is a great way of seeing if remote working will work for you.
In systems design, we learn to build our systems so that they do not rely on a Single Point of Failure. Well, your office is your single point of failure.
Easy on the M&Ms
The two major complaints against remote working are:
- You can't have face-to-face meetings
- Managers can't tell if people are working
Well, is there someone who would like more meetings? Remember: there is no one-hour meeting. If you are in a meeting with 4 other people, it is a five hour meeting. If you think about the last meeting you had, was it worth five hours?
What about managers? Management is essential, but micro-management is awful: if the manager are constantly asking people updates on the status of the project, they are subtracting precious time from actually doing it.
So, go easy on the M&Ms.
Beware the dragons
Hell: other people.
Isolation: not heaven.
But human interaction does not have to come from coworkers. They could be your family, your neighbours or even complete strangers in a coffee shop or a co-working space.
The problem with working remotely is that it is hard to keep a life work balance: you wake up, check some emails, then have breakfast; then work all morning, then make yourself a sandwich and work through lunch. After dinner, you login just to check a quick thing with the guys in New York.
The irony is that passionate people work more when they're working remotely.
The fact is that people burnout due to overworking. From time to time, there may be the need for a short sprint, but your job is a marathon. It's fundamental to find a good pace.
Mind the gut
If you're not careful, remote makes you fat.
The lone output
Remote doesn't work if there is only one person who's doing it. The whole team has to embrace it. The best approach would be to try it on a team first, managers and stakeholders included: then, if it works rollout to the whole company.
Give remote work a real change or don't bother at all. It's ok to start small, but make sure it is meaningful.
Working with clients
- Tell them you're remote
- Give them references before they ask
- Show them work often
- Be very available
- Get the client involved
Hiring and keeping the best
It's a big world
Thinking internationally increases drastically the talent pool and makes you a better fit for tackling global markets.
What you have to be very careful with are language barriers: most communication is written, and most people with so-and-so writtem communication skills are a poor fit in the remote work scenario.
Life moves on
Given how hard it is to find great people, you should be doing whatever you can to keep them.
People who've been with the company for a long time are ideal remote workers: they know everyonw, they know how things work and they know what they need to do.
Keeping a solid team together for a long time is a key to peak performance. People grow closer and more comfortable with each other and do even better work.
Keep the good times going
Given that it's much harder to understand irony and sarcasm remotely, you need that many people in your team have a optimistic attitude. Sentiments are infectious!
No assholes allowed. No drama allowed. No bad vibes allowed.
Seeking a human
Another problem with working remotely is that there is the risk of having someone working at home from dawn till dusk and think about nothing else then work.
The trick is to assemble a team of people which are naturally interested in more than just their work. Magic and creativity thrive in diverse cultures.
No parlor tricks
Instead of smart quizzes, ask them to show you their design or their code: the main way you will communicate is through the work itself.
It's the work that matters. Look at the work and forget the abstractions.
The cost of thriving
Remote working shouldn't be a way to pay people less: instead, pay them the same salary and you will have the most loyal employees.
The companies which offer remote work are at an unfair advantage in attracting and retaining the best people in the world.
Great remote workers are simply great workers
It's a lot harder to fake your way as a remote worker. At the same time, this gives back the edge to quiet-but-productive work. Great remote workers have two qualities:
- They are smart
- They get things done
When the work product is there in the open, it's much easier to see who's actually smart, as opposed to who simply sounds smart.
When you work with someone in a office it's much harder to see this: in general, if he is in the office from 9 to 5 and is nice, then we assume it must be a good worker. Moreover, it's very hard to tell on a colleague unless something serious happens...
Remote work speeds up the process of getting the wrong people off the bus and the right people on board.
On writing well
Being a good writer is an essential part of being a good remote worker.
You should read, read and read some more. Study how good writers make their case. Focus on clarity first, style second. Read On Writing Well
When evaluating candidates, we should judge their work, not their résumé. The best way you can do is to hire the person to do a little work before we hire them. Start with a small project, about a week, and pay them a fair amount.
Meeting them in person
Hire remotely? No, thanks.
From meeting them in person, we get to know a lot more information about the candidate:
- Are they polite?
- Do they show up on time?
- Are they decent human beings?
- Do they treat people well?
- What does the rest of the team think?
You can tell a lot from a quick face-to-face.
Contractors know the drill
If there is an ideal test drive for a remote position, it's being a contractor for a while.
Managing remote workers
When's the right time to go remote?
Start as early as possible. Cultures grow slowly over time and it will be much easier if you culture grows up with remote workers.
If you have a well established company, just tell your best employees that they can work from home a couple of days a week if they'd like.
If you treat remote work as a little experiment, you will be able to iterate, adjust and find out what works best for you.
Start early if you, but if you can't, start small.
Stop managing the chairs
It's easy to be a manager if you just have to manage the chairs: just check that the employees get in the office by nine in the morning and give them an extra if they stay past six.
If I can't see my employees, how I can make sure they're actually working? asks the manager. Well, the job of a manager is to lead and verify the work done, not the chairs.
This unfortunately requires that the manager understands what his team is doing, and in the finer details: you can't effectively manage a team if you don't know the intricacies of what they're working on.
Meetups and sprints
Just because you don't have to be in the office all the time, there is no reason not to get together once in a while :)
In fact, it's a great way to meet people you have been working with in "real life".
Lessons from open source
If Linux, MySQL, PHP and Ruby on Rails managed to do it, why shouldn't you?
- Do things because you love them
- All out in the open
- Meeting occasionally
So when if you're in doubt about trying remote working, just think: Well, at least I'm not trying to coordinate the work of 3'000 people across the globe on a single project
Level the playing field
If you treat remote workers like they're second level citizens, you're all going to have a bad time.
The best trick is to have some of your top employees work remotely: people with the power to change things need to feel the same problems as thos who can only deal with them.
Remove the roadblocks
Be on the lookout for overwork, not underwork
It's much hard to keep a life-work balance when your home is your office.
My girlfriend is out with her friends tonight, I might as well finish that SQL query
The problem is that if work is all-consuming, the worker is far more likely to burn out. This is especially true for people loving their job, since they won't see it as a problem until it's too late.
We don't want people to work too little, or too much. Just right: fourty hours a week usually does the trick.
Using scarcity to your advantage
When something's scarce, we tend to conserve and appreciate it more. When something is abundant, we rarely think twice about how we use or spend it.
Face-to-face communication is great, but overabundance of meetings make them a complete waste of time.
Remote work solves this problem by forcing people to rely on email, phone, chat or video calls. Face to face time becomes valuable again.
Life as a remote worker
Building a routine
- Find a routine to work at home
- Change your clothing for work
- Divide the day in chunks, i.e. Catch-up, Collaboration, Serious Work
- Use the layout of your house as a switch: work only in your home office!
Morning remote, afternoon local
Remote work isn't all or nothing. You can find slices thinner than a day to work from home.
Use a computer for work and one for fun.
Working alone in a crowd
Getting away from the office is great for your productivity because nobody can disturb you in person. They can send you an email or try chatting but they just can't barge in your flow.
Still, some people might find hard to start working in complete isolation. The trick is to take your laptop and go to the nearest coffee shof with WiFi.
The only reliable way to motivate people is to encourage them to work on the stuff they like and care about.
Most people suffering from lack of motivation will blame themselves first: "Ah, it's because I'm such a procrastinator", "Why can't I just get myself together?". The truth most of the times is that you are not the problem: it's the world you're working in.
"When I retire, I'm going to travel the world".
Why wait for retirement? If seeing the world is your passion, you shouldn't wait until old age to pursue it. Creative work that can be done remotely requires a computer and an Internet connection.
You still have to respect the laws of remote collaboration, such as good writing skills and overlapping time zones.
A change of scenery
Routine tends to numb creativity. On the other hand, changes of scenery lead to all sorts of new ideas.
Don't think of working remotely as just shifting your routine from the office to your home. Look at remote working as an opportunity to work from wherever you like, and explore a new coffee shop every day.
No extra space at home
Go to a coworking space. We are in one.
Making sure you're not ignored
"If I'm not seen, will I be heard?"
- You could make noise
- You could make exceptional work
"In thirty years time, as technology moves forward even further, people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed."