Book Review: Finished reading on
I've been wanting to work remotely for years and now I finally am! I'm really excited to be working remotely from home. In preparation for my first stab at full-time remote work, I read what might be the most popular book on working remotely: Remote.
I have heard rave reviews from my colleagues about this book over the years, so I had high expectations. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed in the depth of the book - it seemed to me that the authors only skimmed the surface on each topic that they covered. Perhaps my perspective is just a reflection of the fact that for several years I've been talking to people who have previously worked remotely or are currently working remotely. Because I've already heard so much about the pros and cons of working remotely, this book in the end did not contain much new information for me. A fair amount of the book was spent making the case for remote work, so perhaps that was another part of the reason why I didn't get the depth I was expecting.
Despite there not being much new information for me, there is a lot of good information. I think it's worthwhile to capture the ideas that are presented. There are details about each of these ideas in the book. A page number is listed in brackets for each point.
Remote Work Basics
- The technology exists for effective remote work; the only remaining barrier is company culture. [3, 13-17]
- The typical workplace is an incredibly ineffective environment to work in. [7-8]
- "Nobody likes commuting." They reference an article that suggest commuting is actually bad for you. [10-11]
- The industrial age luxuries were a corner office and a company Cadillac. Many of the luxuries of tech companies from Silicon Valley reflect this same mentality, but take the form of catered meals and foosball tables. The luxuries of remote work are the freedom to live wherever you want and spend your time when you're not working doing what you want instead of commuting. [22-23]
- Talented people can be found all over the world. Allowing remote work enables tapping the entire world for the best talent. [25, 137-139]
- Working remotely saves the employee money (commuting costs) and saves the employer money (providing and maintaining office space). [31-32]
- Remote work does not have to be all or nothing. [34, 207]
- Remote work will not work for all types of employment. Remote work is suited the very best for creative work. It will not work at all for manufacturing, service providers, etc. [35, 59-60, 79-82]
- A person who works remotely must be responsible for creating and sticking to a schedule so that they can ensure that they are truly productive. [37-38]
Common Concerns with Remote Work
There are a number of common concerns that people have with working remotely. Here are a few points to think about:
- Many job roles already function essentially remotely - think about your legal team, HR team, etc. Any function that is outsourced to another company is essentially remote work. If you trust another company you have hired to work remotely, why not trust the employees you have hired to work remotely? [40-41]
- "If we're struggling with trust issues, it means we made a poor hiring decision. If a team member isn't producing good results or can't manage their own schedule and workload, we aren't going to continue to work with that person. ... We have no desire to be babysitters during the day." 
- What about collaboration? In most cases, collaboration is just as effective via video conferencing as in person. In person meetings can be helpful though and should be scheduled periodically. [45-46]
- People's homes are full of distractions! How can they work? Indeed, that is true. A person must manage his own schedule. Another way to look at this, is to recognize that people get distracted when they're bored. If an employee is having a hard time staying on task, they're likely not engaged with their work. Rather than treat the symptoms (distractions), the cause (disengagement) should be treated. [52-53]
- Security. [55-57] Sometimes managers think that the office is inherently secure. This may be true for certain high security facilities, like Fort Knox, but that is typically not true. All employees, whether remote or in an office, should follow these basic security practices:
- Use hard drive encryption.
- Disable automatic login on the computer.
- Require a password after the computer sleeps.
- Ensure that phones / tablets have lock codes.
- Ensure that phones / tablets can be wiped remotely.
- Use a password manager.
- Use 2FA whenever possible.
- Others would be jealous. Perhaps so. Open up the option to work remotely to everyone whose job role will support it. If certain people prefer to be in the office, let them be in the office. If they prefer to be at home, let them be at home. Judge everyone based on the work they do, not based on where they work. [65-66]
- Just to add my own comment here, while this sounds nice in theory, I don't think that it would work in practice. At a bare minimum, an entire team needs to be remote together. Having some teams remote may also cause issues, and may require at least one team member to be in the office to represent the team. The communication mechanisms are different for remote workers, and it is easy to forget to jump on a call when most people are in the office.
- Culture. [68-69] Many people think of culture as the ping pong table in the break room. Culture is truly the way in which people typically act. The real culture is not influenced by location, but rather by the way in which the employees conduct themselves.
- I need an answer now! Well, most questions don't actually require attention this very second and only serve to distract and disrupt the flow of the person who has to stop what they're doing to answer the question. Most questions can be answered asynchronously. For something that needs attention quickly, a direct message can be useful. Something that truly needs attention this very moment, a phone/video call is very effective and can often times be faster because you don't have to leave your desk to find someone. [71-72]
- Some managers feel a need to "be in control". This impulse needs to be relinquished. Good managers should spend their time orchestrating not dictating. [74-75]
- We spent a lot of money on this office! Well, might need to look at the office as a sunk cost. The money is spent and it's not coming back. 
Making Remote Work Succeed
- Thou shalt overlap. For at least 4 hours each day, everyone should be online at the same time. 
- Actually use the available technology. Use video calls, screen sharing, instant messaging, etc. [88-89, 186-187]
- Have things out in the open. Store files in the cloud, use a shared online calendar, etc. [91-92]
- Have a virtual water cooler where employees can casually interact. [94-95]
- Have a way to check in with each other. Brief daily and weekly meetings can be helpful. [97-98]
- Avoid cabin fever. Each person needs to make sure he gets the social interaction he needs. [113-114]
- Pick a schedule and stick to it. [116-117]
- Provide an ergonomic work environment for yourself. [119-120]
- Take care of your body. Eat healthy and exercise. [122-123]
- A lone remote worker will fail. At least an entire team needs to work remotely. [125-126]
- When working with clients remotely [128-130]:
- Let them know upfront that communication will be virtual, not in person.
- Provide references before being asked for them.
- Show your clients frequently where you're at. They'll feel better seeing the progress you're making.
- Be available. For people who aren't used to working remotely, they might feel uneasy if they feel like they can't get in touch with you. Make sure that you are very available via the means you have provided for getting in touch.
- Involve the client as much as possible.
- Manage taxes. In the US, having a remote employee in a given state usually creates a nexus for the company (a taxable presence). For states or countries that you don't want to have a tax presence in, instead of hiring employees, hire contractors. The "employee" is set up as a contractor where the employee sends a bill to the company each month for the work that he's done. [132-134]
- "I can get amazing people from Kansas and make them feel valued and well-compensated if I pay them New York salaries. If your entire workforce is located in a hot hub and you pay market salaries, you'll be under constant attack from poachers." 
- Remote workers need to be able to write well. [161-162]
- Have frequent check-ins with each employee, "one-on-ones". [189-190]
- Empower everyone to make decisions. [192-194]
- Be on the lookout for overwork, not underwork. [196-197]
- Do what you need to do to get into a work mindset. [203-205]
- If you find being alone in an office is not working for you, try a co-working space or a coffee shop. [212-213] Co-working space companies: Regus, LiquidSpace
- Give yourself a change of scenery regularly if that helps keep your creative juices flowing. 
- Use separate computers / devices for work and personal use. [209-210]
- Make yourself "heard" by consistenly producing excellent work. 
Advantages of Remote Work
- "Working remotely makes it easier to spot managers drumming up busywork for themselves and others." Managers and meetings (M&Ms) tend to be among the biggest killers of productivity. [108-110, 176-177] There is a TED Talk by one of the authors on this topic specifically.
- When an employee moves, he can continue to work for the company regardless of where he moves to. [141-142]
- "It's a lot harder to fake your way as a remote worker." [158-159]
- Remote employees can live wherever they want, including being nomadic. 
Ideas for Hiring a Remote Employee
- Give the candidate a test project and pay them for it. [164-165]
- Fly the candidate out and meet them in person before extending the offer. [167-168]
Ideas for Managers
- If you notice an employee is dropping off in productivity, look for the cause of disengagement. 
- Give your employees a sabbatical of 2-4 weeks once a year if you can, in addition to PTO, so that they can recharge. 
Companies that Embrace Remote Work
This is a list of companies that have whole-heartedly embraced working remotely. Some of these companies are mentioned in the book, but this list of companies is not provided in the book. It is a highly related topic so I figured I would include the list here.