Remote: No Office Required

In thirty years’ time, as technology moves forward even further, people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed.
— Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group

The time is right for remote work

Why work doesn’t happen at work

If you ask people where they go when they really need to get work done, very few will respond “the office.” If they do say the office, they’ll include a qualifier such as “super early in the morning before anyone gets in” or “I stay late at night after everyone’s left” or “I sneak in on the weekend.” What they’re trying to tell you is that they can’t get work done at work. The office during the day has become the last place people want to be when they really want to get work done. That’s because offices have become interruption factories. A busy office is like a food processor— it chops your day into tiny bits. Fifteen minutes here, ten minutes there, twenty here, five there.

Even short commutes stab at your happiness. According to the research, commuting is associated with an increased risk of obesity, insomnia, stress, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, and other stress-related ills such as heart attacks and depression, and even divorce.

Say you spend thirty minutes driving in rush hour every morning and another fifteen getting to your car and into the office. That’s 1.5 hours a day, 7.5 hours per week, or somewhere between 300 and 400 hours per year, give or take holidays and vacation. Four hundred hours is exactly the amount of programmer time we spent building Basecamp, our most popular product. Imagine what you could do with 400 extra hours a year. Commuting isn’t just bad for you, your relationships, and the environment—it’s bad for business.

Stop commuting your life away

According to the research,* commuting is associated with an increased risk of obesity, insomnia, stress, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, and other stress-related ills such as heart attacks and depression, and even divorce.

The new luxury

Your life no longer needs to be divided into arbitrary phases of work and retirement. You can blend the two for fun and profit— design a better lifestyle that makes work enjoyable because it’s not the only thing on the menu. Shed the resentment of golden handcuffs that keep you from living how you really want to live.

Talent isn’t bound by the hubs

When you have dozens, even hundreds, of competitors within walking distance of your office, it should come as no surprise when your employees cross the street and join the next hot thing.

Dealing with excuses

Magic only happens when we’re all in a room

You’d be amazed how much quality collective thought can be captured using two simple tools: a voice connection and a shared screen.

If I can’t see them, how do I know they’re working?

People have an amazing ability to live down to low expectations. If you run your ship with the conviction that everyone’s a slacker, your employees will put all their ingenuity into proving you right.

If you can’t let your employees work from home out of fear they’ll slack off without your supervision, you’re a babysitter, not a manager. Remote work is very likely the least of your problems.

I need an answer now!

First, it takes recognizing that not every question needs an answer immediately— there’s nothing more arrogant than taking up someone else’s time with a question you don’t need an answer to right now. That means realizing that not everything is equally important.

“Once you’re ASAP-free, however, you’ll be amazed at how your former self was able to get anything done in the face of constant in-person interruptions. It’s almost zen-like to let go of the frenzy, to let answers flow back to you when the other party is ready to assist. Use that calm to be even more productive.”

How to collaborate remotely

Thou shalt overlap

At 37signals, we’ve found that we need a good four hours of overlap to avoid collaboration delays and feel like a team.

Seeing is believing

When someone wants to demonstrate a new feature they’re working on at 37signals, often the easiest way is to record a screencast and narrate the experience. A screencast is basically just a recording of your screen that others can play back later as a movie. It can be used in several ways, including for presenting the latest sales figures or elaborating on a new marketing strategy.

Disaster ready

Forcing everyone into the office every day is an organizational SPoF (Single Point of Failure). If the office loses power or Internet or air conditioning, it's no longer functional as a place to do work. If a company doesn't have any training or infrastructure to work around that, it means it's going to be unavailable to its customers.

Hiring and keeping the best

Test project

The best way we’ve found to accurately judge work is to hire the person to do a little work before we take the plunge and hire them to do a lot of work. Call it “pre-hiring.” Pre-hiring takes the form of a one- or two-week mini-project. We usually pay around \$ 1,500 for the mini-project. We never ask people to work for free. If we wouldn’t do it for free, why would we ask someone else to do it?

Managing remote workers

Stop managing the chairs

The job of a manager is not to herd cats, but to lead and verify the work. The trouble with that job description is that it requires knowledge of the work itself. You can’t effectively manage a team if you don’t know the intricacies of what they’re working on.

Be on the lookout for overwork, not underwork

In the same way that you don’t want a gang of slackers, you also don’t want a band of supermen. The best workers over the long term are people who put in sustainable hours. Not too much, not too little— just right. Forty hours a week on average usually does the trick.

Life as a remote worker

A change of scenery

Routine has a tendency to numb your creativity. Waking up at the same time, taking the same transportation, traveling the same route, plopping down in the same chair at the same desk in the same office over and over and over isn’t exactly a prescription for inspiration.