posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 12, 2014, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

I finally finished reading Remote, the book from the 37signals dudes about working remotely. Like their previous book, Rework, it spends a lot of time challenging assumptions that businesses have made for decades about the way things should be in the workplace. This time they're spending all of their time talking about the "place" in workplace, and making the case that it doesn't have to be one centralized location.

They're slightly more humble about their position this time, and say up front that there are obvious situations where remote working doesn't work. Beyond that, they go to great lengths explaining why the classic assumptions are not always right, and offer advice on trying out the remote worker thing at your place.

Of course one of the core tenants of those who object to a distributed workforce is that a command and control structure is necessary, and that physical presence is the first indicator of identifying a good worker. I've never understood how that myth has become so entrenched in American work culture, because we've all worked with people who put in 9 to 5 without fail and contributed exactly zero.

The bigger theme that overlaps with Rework is the general desire to treat people like adults, because that works better. Netflix is a big advocate of that. It's a completely strange situation that in office-presence jobs, we are willing to consider the personality and attendance of a worker and completely ignore the results of their work. With remote folks, the result are all you have to go on.

I'm no stranger to remote work, because I did it for a year working for Humana. It took a little bit of getting used to, but with a forward-thinking manager who trusted me to do my job, the distance was not a factor in my success. When he moved to a new position and a new manager came on board, my gradual disenchantment had little do with the remote situation, and everything to do with her decision making. Colocation wouldn't have changed the outcome.

And Humana, for being one of those stereotypical giant companies with deep pockets that could be "slow and dumb," it did get a few fundamental truths. The first is that having a body in the building is expensive. I forget what the averages are (they vary by market), but the cost to have an employee occupy 100 square feet of class-A office space is ridiculous. The second fundamental truth is that geography is not your friend when it comes to hiring the best people. Don't get me wrong, Louisville struck me as a very up-and-coming kind of city, but the depth of software professional talent is not going to be deep if you limit your search to the local space.

I enjoyed the book, but admittedly, that's partly because I identify with it. Even in my line of work, I see endless technical problems that are completely solvable, but it's usually the people problems that are hard. To that end, these books that attempt to throw business processes on end are a great source of energy for me.


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