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Remote working

syndicated from on May 1, 2018

Recently I read Ouarzy's review of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson's "Remote - Office Not Required". I'd read their previous books, "Getting Real" and "Rework". They're all a joy to read. Short chapters, nice little cartoons. Just a lot of fun, and inspiring too. Not many authors make as much of an effort as they do to condense their message and reward the reader for taking the time to read an actual book. It's insulting how much work some authors expect you to put in before they will reveal their secrets!

Since I've been working remotely since last October, I was curious to read more about it in a book by people who have a thriving business with lots of remote workers. At least there should be some useful suggestions in it, and some reassurance that some of my own remote working troubles were nothing special. I found both in this book. Together with some powerful quotes from the book, I wanted to share some of my own discoveries about remote working with you in this post.


A big part of the book is about countering some common arguments against letting people work remotely. There's a lot of resistance to it, which ultimately boils down to trust issues. Managers all too often seem to be "managing chairs" as Fried and Hansson call it. Employees should be behind their desks, hands on the keyboard, from 9 to 5 every weekday. Preferably longer, or you'll be marked as "unmotivated".

There are many flavors of management-level trust issues, and letting people do remote work would be many a manager's nightmare. I think it's safe to conclude that Fried and Hansson mainly see advantages in it though. The starting point should be to realize that "Most people want to work, as long as it's stimulating and fulfilling". If an employee is slacking at home, unmotivated to do work, they will be unmotivated at the office too. The effort should not be in keeping the employee behind their desk for 40 hours a week, but to re-motivate them for their job.

As a contractor I've been demotivated several times, but this was a long time ago, when I was paid much less, and the tasks I had to do were quite boring (often because they were never-ending exercises in pointlessness). And with being demotivated came procrastination, lack of communication, and severely decreased effectiveness.

Distractions, focus

For the project I'm currently working on, I don't need any more motivation. This quote from the book really hit home: "In reality, it's overwork, not underwork, that's the real enemy in a successful remote-working environment. [...] The fact is, it's easy to turn work into your predominant hobby." Remote working has me working very hard. I think the main issue is focus: since my working environment at home is quiet, and away from other family member's activities in the house, I can really concentrate on something and "fix it".

In a regular office working environment with some kind of "open floor" plan (the managers can watch you sit behind your desk...), there are so many things that disturb me. No matter if a phone call is interesting or not, I will consciously or unconsciously follow it and get the gist of it. Same for conversations between co-workers. Any discussion that developers will start, runs in my own mind in the background, and when I get invited to join the conversation, I already know what it's about. This may seem nice, but the cost is high: I can only focus with half my brain capacity on the problem I'm currently working on.

All of these pretty standard "office life" distractions are not to be found in my personal office. But highly focused working comes with a cost. I can't do 40 hours a week of it. Which is why I often have to remind myself to take things a bit easier.

Private and professional life

Even though I work hard, I rarely make more than 40 hours, more often it's between 32 and 36. But I sneak in some hours for open source coding, or blogging. Sometimes my son voices his concerns about that. And last week he said: finally! You're chilling! (I had taken off my shoes and socks and was watching TV on the couch...) I think these are good signals; they're telling me that I'm not pulling the plug hard enough.

The other way around never happens by the way. "If you don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time, you can easily end up lying in bed until close to noon, just casually working away on the laptop. Or you can let work drift into that evening you’re supposed to share with your spouse and kids." Routine comes easily with a family. The youngest will be awake well before 7:00, and I'm usually the one who gets up with her, so it's only natural to open my laptop at around 8:30.

Still, it will always be hard to close the laptop

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