Remote by Jason Fried & DHH: Summary, Notes & Lessons

My rating: 3/5

Advantages to Remote Work

  • The ability to be alone with your thoughts is, in fact, one of the key advantages of working remotely.
  • long commutes make you fat, stressed, and miserable. Even short commutes stab at your happiness.
  • The new luxury is to shed the shackles of deferred living—to pursue your passions now, while you’re still working. What’s the point in wasting time daydreaming about how great it’ll be when you finally quit?
  • Besides, the key intellectual pursuits that are the primary fit for remote working—writing, programming, designing, advising, and customer support, to mention just a few—have little to do with the cutthroat margin wars of, say, manufacturing.
  • Squeezing slightly more words per hour out of a copywriter is not going to make anyone rich. Writing the best ad just very well might.

Shed the trappings of in-person work.

  • Acknowledging that the office is there to impress clients sets an owner or manager free to make it the best theater experience it can be—and employees can remain free to work from home when they’re not needed as extras for the scene.
  • As Sir Richard Branson commented in his ode to working remotely: “To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision.”
  • Keep in mind, the number one counter to distractions is interesting, fulfilling work.
  • The best way to defuse the “everyone must be bound by the same policy” line of argument is to remind your boss, yourself, and any other concerned party that you’re all on the same team. You’re all in the game to find the best way to work: the most productive and happiness-inducing setup wins.
  • The best cultures derive from actions people actually take, not the ones they write about in a mission statement.

How can remote workers communicate more effectively?

  • Questions you can wait hours to learn the answers to are fine 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.
  • At 37signals, we use a chat program we created called Campfire. Other techy shops use IRC servers to achieve the same. The idea is to have a single, permanent chat room where everyone hangs out all day to shoot the breeze, post funny pictures, and generally goof around. Yes, it can also be used to answer questions about work, but its primary function is to provide social cohesion.
  • So instead of asking a remote worker “what did you do today?” you can now just say “show me what you did today.”
  • We believe that these staples of work life—meetings and managers—are actually the greatest causes of work not getting done at the office. That, in fact, the further away you are from meetings and managers, the more work gets done.
  • Well, in the same way that New York cracked down in the ’90s on even innocuous offenses like throwing rocks through windows or jumping the turnstile, a manager of remote workers needs to make an example of even the small stuff—things like snippy comments or passive-aggressive responses. While this responsibility naturally falls to those in charge, it works even better if policed by everyone in the company.
  • The old adage still applies: No assholes allowed. But for remote work, you need to extend it to no asshole-y behavior allowed, no drama allowed, no bad vibes allowed.
  • The main way you’ll communicate is through the work itself. If the quality just isn’t there, it’ll be apparent from the second the person starts—and you’ll have wasted everyone’s time by hiring on circumstantial evidence.

Basecamp's approach to remote work requires excellent writing.

  • Being a good writer is an essential part of being a good remote worker.
  • There’s simply no getting around it: in hiring for remote-working positions, managers should be ruthless in filtering out poor writers.
  • Book recommendations to improve your writing:
    • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
    • The Elements of Style by William Strunk
    • Revising Prose by Richard Lanham

What about motivating your employees?

  • Start by empowering everyone to make decisions on their own. If the company is full of people whom nobody trusts to make decisions without layers of managerial review, then the company is full of the wrong people.
  • Another hack is to divide the day into chunks like Catch-up, Collaboration, and Serious Work.
  • Trying to conjure motivation by means of rewards or threats is terribly ineffective. In fact, it’s downright counterproductive. Rather, the only reliable way to muster motivation is by encouraging people to work on the stuff they like and care about, with people they like and care about. There are no shortcuts.