Remote: Office Not Required


Right now, as COVID changes the way we work, it’s the ideal time to relook the ideas in the book. I found three ideas in the book to be particularly meaningful:

1. Virtual Water Cooler

Create casual-product-tech slack channel. Like random, but just for our team.

Have a Permanent Chat room where everyone hangs out all day to shoot the breeze, post funny pictures, and generally goof around.

2. Forward Motion

Weekly discussion thread with the subject: What Have you been working on?

Each person writes a few lines on what they have done over the past week and what’s intended for next week. It’s not a precise, rigorous estimation process and doesn’t attempt to deal with coordination. It simply aims to make everyone feel like they are in the same galley and not their own little rowboat.

It also serves as a friendly reminder that we are all in it to make progress. If you bullshit in the open for other programmers, you won’t pass the smell test.

3. Remove the Roadblocks

Start by empowering everyone to make decisions on their own.

One part of getting stuff done remotely is to be able to make progress at all hours. It is no good twiddling your thumbs for three hours waiting for a manager to grant you permission, or hoping a coworker gets up soon so he or she can show you how something works in the remote world.

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. But that’s rarely the case. What is the case is that people are often scared to make a decision because they work in an environment of retribution and blame. That style of work is incompatible with remote work. Mistakes are the price of learning and self-sufficiency.

Second, make sure that people have access, by default, to everything they need.

Part of the problem is the occasional pride that managers take in being Mr or Mrs Roadblock.

Other Ideas

I need an answer now!

Most questions do not need immediate answers. Not everything is equally important.

When everyone is sitting in the same office, it is easy to fall into the habit of bothering anyone for anything at any time, with no regard for personal productivity. Recognise that not every question needs an answer immediately - There is nothing more arrogant than taking up someone else’s time with a question you don’t need an answer to right now. That means realising that not everything is equally important. 80% of your questions aren’t so time sensitive after all. 80% by email. 15% by chat. 5 % phone call.

Magic only happens when we are all in a room

There is only so much brainstorming you can do. Most of our work should be the work of work.

Feeling a loss. Even with substitutes, there are times when nothing beats talking to your manager in person or sitting in a room with your colleagues, brainstorming on the next big thing.

How many breakthrough ideas can a company actually digest? Far fewer than you imagine. Most work is not coming up with the next big thing. Rather, it is making better the thing you already thought of six months - or six years - ago. It’s the work of work.

Given that, you’re only going to frustrate yourself and everyone else if you summon the brain trust too frequently for those Kodak moments. Because either it means giving up on the last great idea (the one that still requires follow-up) or it means further stuffing the backlog of great ideas. A stuffed backlog is a stale backlog.

Tools

  1. Shared Screen
  2. Voice Communications

By rationing in-person meetings, their stature is elevated to that of a rare treat. They become something to be savored, something special.

Trust

People have an amazing ability to live down to low expectations. If you run your ship with he conviction that everyone’s a slack, your employees will put all their ingenuity into proving you right. If you view those who work under you as capable adults who will push themselves to excel even when you are not breathing down their necks, they will delight you in return. The number one counter to distractions is interesting, fulfilling work.

One-on-ones

Once every few months check-ins. Morale and motivation stuff.

Open Source

37signals created Ruby On Rails. Close to 3000 people from dozens of countries have contributed to that code base over time.

Intrinsic Motivation: Working on exciting problems you are personally interested in means you don’t need a manager breathing down your neck and constantly looking over your shoulder

All out in the open: Much of open source is coordinated on GitHub. All the info is available for anyone to self-select into participating, and the people with the most knowledge about an issue thus get easy access.

“At least I am not trying to corral and merge the work of 3,000 people across the globe on a single project.”

Check in Check out

The real worry is that there is too much that will likely get done and the person burns out. A culture of reasonable expectations needs to be set. To set healthy boundary to encourage employees to think of a “good day’s work.” Look at your progress towards the end of the day and ask yourself: Have I don’t a good days’ work

Be On The Lookout for Overwork, Not Underwork

The fact is that it is easy to turn work into your predominant hobby.

Photo: “Her refurbished 15” Macbook pro (2016) was getting hot and her knees were feeling uncomfortably clammy. But in that moment in that cafe stool, the business lady could only think to herself: “Must stay still, only then will the hipsters accept me as one of them” “

Read the PDF version: here