Notes on a book: Remote: Office Not Required by 37signals

I first heard about Remote: Office Not Required when my friend, John Leach, mentioned on social media he’d been interviewed for it.

Remote: Office not Required
Remote: Office Not Required

Interested enough to see what it was he was interviewed about, I ordered a copy, and finally finished reading it yesterday.

In short, the book is a persuasive set of mini-essays about why teleworking works well for 37signals, and various of their friends.

Written by Jason Fried (co-founder of 37signals) and David Heinemeier Hansson (author of Ruby on Rails & 37signals person), the book basically assumes that you aren’t already remote working, and perhaps, are seeking to convince your boss/management or your workforce, it then goes on to explain various different advantages of remote working, and techniques 37signals (and friends) have used to work effectively.

Personally, I already work from home… (at the very least, one morning a week), and many of the people I work with are geographically dispersed, so online collaboration and chat is something I’m used to.

Even in my personal life, as I write this, I’m watching my girlfriend makes silly faces in a different city on my second monitor, through the power of web:rtc video chat.

Reading the book, I had various thoughts:

  • There’s a chapter called “The New Luxury” which contrasts the luxury perks of “old” companies in days gone by with the perks of “new” large tech companies:
      • Old:  “a nice company car, an office on the top floor of a high rise and a secretary”
      • New “fancy chef & free meals, rooms of arcade machines, free laundry, massages”
    • The chapter goes on to say they’re both ways to make you trade hours at home/doing your hobbies/with your family, for time at work.
    • I think there’s a lot to be said for this – whatever you think of free food etc (I think it’d jolly nice – I <3 free food!) if you have hobbies you can’t take part in, because of work, or family, friends, you rarely see or you’re prevented from living the lifestyle you dream of living because you’re forced to live within commuting distance of a specific office building, then remote work may work for you.
  • When they talk about talent not being bound to hubs, I’m reminded that one of the strong drawing points (after friends/family) that means I remain in Manchester – rather than say, London – is the proximity to mountains of an interesting nature.
  • I was intrigued to read about their 6 monthly retreats – it seems like a sensible way to get their whole organisation in one place for some time, and intensely do all the face to face collaboration, team building and strategy setting, and then dissipate back to their different parts of the world refreshed with enthusiasm and socialisation
  • Thinking about their hiring process, clearly, they have a problem with having to sift through a great deal of talent to find the person they want, but I feel their approach of giving people 1-2 week paid breakable projects to demonstrate themselves on, is a good way to let a candidate’s personality show through.
  • Their idea of a check-in – speaking to every employee every 1-2 weeks (outside the pattern of any project-based communication) and this seems very wise – in their words: “These quick calls prevent issues and concerns from piling up wiithout being addressed…. Waiting six months or a year for the next formal review is too long”.
  • They talk a great deal about tools – Basecamp their self-written workflow product, email, IM, etc. but the most important tool they talk about is the ability to communicate clearly through written language – the largest proportion of their debate and conversation is text based, so it makes sense that this is actually the most important skill for any of their employees to have, and to develop.
  • It’s somewhat unfair to mention, but I was struck (as I often am) by the cultural differences between UK & US companies. 37signals is a very progressive US based company, no question, but even their ‘unlimited’ vacation policy would probably make me feel self-conscious about taking the minimum statutory UK holiday time.
  • I like their idea of semi-digital nomads – and I raised my eyebrows hearing how many of their employees had relocated around their countries or the world, whilst working for 37signals – that seemed very appealing. (Other people are also doing this)
  • For an occasional remote worker like myself, I found their suggestions of external co-working spaces, coffee shops, and libraries as a way of sustaining motivation and getting a change of scenario, provoked various thoughts – I should probably give it a try.
  • One of the really cool things they did, was that every week, they created a thread on the company forum/mailing list and wrote a few sentences about what they’d been up to that week – so everyone knew what their colleagues (remotely distributed) were up to, even if they were in different parts of company, and the world!

I didn’t find the book groundbreaking. Lots of it, like their evangelism of 40 hour work weeks, giving a shit about staff, online collaboration and in essence remote working, is stuff I already agree with and (to some degree) know about.

I think, if you’re considering trialing remote working in your organisation, or you want to start a globally distributed company, or you’re interested in how remote working might practically work, then this is the book for you.

If you already remote work, or allow teleworking, you may like to read it to understand how 37signals do things, and how 37signals deal with problems you’re familiar with – it seems like the book speaks lots of common sense – yet no knowledge is common until is shared – so grab a copy and familiarise yourself with their approach.

So if that appeals, grab yourself a copy!

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