Business Book Series: Remote — Office Not Required

The future of the workplace may be no workplace. And that could be a good thing.

You've probably heard about the pros and cons of remote work. Maybe your team is thinking about transitioning to a remote structure, but you have reservations. Or maybe you just joined a remote team and you're wondering how to do your best work. Whatever the case, if you've ever thought about remote work, you're joining a very large and active conversation. If you haven't thought about remote work, it's time to listen up.

In their bestselling book, Remote: Office Not Required, 37signals co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson discuss the benefits of remote work and debunk some myths that dissuade companies from embracing it. They also provide valuable models that explain:

  • How a remote structure can make teams happier and more productive
  • Ways to manage a remote team
  • Tips for building a strong remote company culture

Here's what any team—remote or not—needs to know.

The Right Time to Talk Remote

“Office not required” isn't just the future—it's the present.

Jason Fried said this in 2013. Now in 2017, it's more relevant than ever. An increasingly diverse group of companies—from small tech startups to Amazon—are embracing the benefits of a work from home policy, including:

  • Less office-related distractions, leading to longer stretches of uninterrupted, productive work time
  • Better work-life balance, thanks to a more flexible schedule
  • No more soul-crushing, time-sucking commute

The remote structure has clear benefits. Offering it as an option may soon be a requirement if companies want to stay competitive and attract the best talent.

But there are still misconceptions about a remote team structure that make businesses hesitate. In Remote: Office Not Required, Jason and David dismantle these myths and explain why remote team structures are a valuable asset for companies that want to build the best teams.

Here are some of the most thought-provoking points from the book:

Give Team Members the Space to Thrive

The office isn't an ideal space for great work to happen.

Decades of traditional work in office spaces have cemented the idea that team members can only work in a Designated Working Space. But many of the reasons to have teams working together in an office—collaboration, project oversight, team camaraderie—are negated by the internet and the many SaaS workplace tools that now exist.

Myth: Employees Are Only Productive in an Office

Reality: The notion that the best ideas happen in a cubicle is outdated.

People have sparks of inspiration in the shower, while they're grocery shopping, and when they first wake up in the morning. Not all of those places are sustainable places to do work, but the office isn't the only spot where great ideas happen. And when team members have the option to do work *where it's best for them*, they're going to do better work and feel happier doing it.

Offices are distracting and can make it hard to be productive. When allowed to work wherever they choose, team members can get long stretches of meaningful work done on their own terms.

Myth: Face-To-Face Meetings Are the Best Way to Ensure Creativity and Communication

Reality: Meetings are a huge drag on productivity and creativity.

This isn't because meetings are inherently bad—it's because of the way they're usually implemented in an office setting. Meetings in an office have to be synchronous. In order for people to meet, everyone involved has to drop what they're doing and break their workflow.

Creative and meaningful communication can happen between team members even when they're not working together in the same place. Tools like Slack, Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, and Gliffy (!) allow team members to work together in real time or asynchronously, so that collaboration doesn't affect their workflow. Face-to-face meetings, if necessary, are still possible with video calling.

When team members have the time and space to do their best quality work, they can feel more accomplished at the end of each day and more satisfied in the work they're doing. A remote work structure doesn't just lend itself to increased individual productivity—it promotes employee fulfillment and happiness.

Less Helicopter Management Makes for a Stronger Company

When your team is working from an apartment in San Francisco, a living room in Toronto, and a sidewalk cafe in Paris, you don't have as much oversight as when they're sitting in cubicles in front of you. But that's actually a good thing.

That's not to say there aren't challenges to managing a remote team. But with the right knowledge, managers can overcome them for the benefit of the company as a whole.

Myth: It's Hard to Manage When You Can't See the Work That's Being Done

Reality: Most management activities that are more difficult with a remote structure are actually micromanagements for a competent team.

People are capable of tracking their own progress. Shifting these responsibilities to a manger undermines their abilities and erodes trust.

Managers are still necessary and important—it's good for people to be able to check in with someone or know who to turn to for support. But the micromanaging that isn't as easy in a remote team can give team members more control over their work and help them feel more empowered in their position.

Myth: Remote Team Members Will Slack off Without Someone Looking over Their Shoulders

Reality: Employees that are responsible and care about the work they're doing will put in an honest day's work whether or not someone is hovering over them. These are the kinds of people managers should want on their team anyway. You need to hire people you trust.

Remote managers' real concern should be about remote team members overworking themselves. Without imposed hours in the office, it can be hard to mentally draw the line and disconnect from work. Passionate people working from home have a tendency to stretch out their workday—and burnout is less noticeable when you don't consistently see your teammates in person.

The fix is for managers to encourage their team to think in terms of “a good day's work,” rather than “the most work that they can possibly do in a day.” Then everyone can view the company's efforts as a sprint rather than a marathon. This is much more sustainable in the long term.

Remote Teams Can Build Their Own Unique Culture

Great team culture won't look the same for every team. That means in-office culture isn't necessarily the best and only way for a team to feel connected.

Remote culture probably won't look like office culture. But drilling down to what's really important to people can make it meaningful and inspiring.

Myth: Great Company Culture Is Built from Random Social Events That Can Only Happen in Person

Reality: Company culture goes deeper than random social events, and a remote team structure encourages you to think about what's really important.

It's true that connections can form in the random, day-to-day interactions that happen in an office: chatting by the water cooler, grabbing lunch at the same time, or getting a spur-of-the-moment drink together after a long day. But these events don't necessarily mean that team members are united towards a common goal or connected over company values.

The best way to build company culture is to practice what you preach. That creates a culture of trust, respect, and accountability—which should be at the foundation of any strong team.

Myth: Team Members Will Get Lonely or Go Crazy Without Human Interaction During Work

Reality: “Human interaction” can come in all forms.

Though team members might not be getting coffee with their co-workers every morning, there are many ways that they can build relationships. Encourage team members to chat on messenger apps, post photos of themselves with family and friends, share calendars and work schedules, and organize informal “water cooler chats” to talk about social topics.

Some people will enjoy the peace and quiet of an individual workspace—while others might feel more comfortable with a shared space. If that's the case, team members can have meaningful interactions throughout the day in a co-working space, at a cafe, or by being around family or friends.

People work best with different levels of interaction throughout the day. Giving a team the opportunity to work remotely gives employees the flexibility to choose the right level for them from one day to the next.

Don't Knock It Until You Try It

A remote structure helps a company cut away the superficial trappings of “good work” and drill down to what's really important: quality, creativity, and teamwork. It's daunting because it's a departure from the traditional office space that people have known for decades. But remote work is becoming more prevalent as people realize its value. The future of great work might just be remote.

Remote: Office Not Required is required reading for any company that's interested in how to succeed with a remote team. In addition to the advice and tips, Jason and David include a list of specific tools they use at 37signals—now Basecamp—to manage remote work.

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts on Remote: Office Not Required, and your team's experience with remote work.