Book Review: ‘Remote’ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

If you are managing a technology company you might have asked yourself at various stages of your company’s growth whether allowing your employees to work remotely is feasible.

Will their productivity diminish as a result? How will I be able to watch over their shoulders? How do I know they’re working 9am to 5pm? Can I simply trust my employees? Wait a minute, how about meetings?

If you have asked yourself one or several of the above questions, and you’re still not sure whether giving remote work a try, I recommend you read Remote.

Written by Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, and David Heinemeier Hansson, a well-known Ruby on Rails evangelist, the book gives practical tips that will allow your team to resort to remote work effectively.

Let me start with the bad news first. If you have read Rework, written few years ago by the same authors, you will be disappointed to find out that Remote is not as revolutionary in nature. This is expected as their previous book treated all aspects of running a profitable technology company but their current book- while it borrowed few lines from the parent book- only focuses on one aspect, that is how to make remote work work.

With this out of the way, I can say that the book presents powerful arguments in favor of telecommuting, in general, and in favor of remote work in particular. The authors start the book by convincingly making the case that productivity will actually increase, citing for example the savings on commute time to the office, a fact anyone can hardly dispute. The most compelling example they cite is that of the Open Source Software (OSS) movement. Only three decades old, this movement was able to mature to a level at which the technology bulls felt the heat.

It is not a hidden secret that OSS was only made possible by loosely managed software developers living in different continents and working asynchronously in different time zones. After citing few notable OSS examples, such as Linux and MySQL, the authors rightly state that “compared to your average business or consumer package, all these open source examples are endlessly more complex and involve far more people in their production”.

One interesting observation the authors make is that a company that is built around remote work is proof against natural disasters when and where they strike, a fact of life we rarely think of (remember hurricane Katrina). This is because the physical office is no longer required for the day-to-day operation and continuation of the business. I must add that the authors don’t advocate for not establishing an office at all. What they keep repeating through out the book is that the dependence on a physical location should be minimized to the bare minimum (such as for quarterly, annual gatherings or training).

While reading the book you can easily feel the passion the authors have for remote work, a work trend that is feared by traditional managers. The authors acknowledge the reluctance on the part of some managers, and for that they suggest the team take baby steps such as trying remote work certain days of the week, or even certain hours of the day.

It should be emphasized that techniques mentioned in the book are not academic or philosophical in nature; they have been tried by the team at 37signals, and they work. One advice they have for managers is to give remote work a serious try and to not give up quickly.

With respect to the trust issue here’s what the authors say “if you’re not trusted to work remotely, why are you trusted to do anything at all?”.

The book is an eye-opener to the endless benefits that come with remote work. And even if there’s a remote possibility that you will adopt remote work in your company I believe you still need to read Remote. It will be a worthwhile investment of your time and money.