I’ve been working remotely for the last 5 or 6 years. I started as a freelancer while at grad school. I didn’t really know what I was doing at the beginning: initially, it was just a way to keep my skills up to date. I worked on several dozen projects, learning valuable lessons along the way at the school of hard knocks. At one point, I got lucky: one of my freelancing clients ended up hiring me part-time, and that transformed into a full-time position after I graduated. Much of the book I’m reviewing today consists of things I wish I knew when I first started working remotely.
The office during the day has become the last place people want to be when they really want to get work done. Many big businesses get away with staggering amounts of inefficiency and bureaucracy and seem fine for years.
A large part of Remote: Office Not Required is about the benefits of working remotely, and how to make a case for switching to a remote position from a non-remote one. To me, these parts felt like preaching to the choir, but they were still worth a read nonetheless. The book also addressed my main worry of working remotely: not getting enough personal interaction.
The book offers some tips for working interactively. I’m already doing some of these, whereas others require future attention. It’s good to make an explicit list of at least some of them, so here they are:
- Make sure there’s an overlap in time zones between you and other team members
- Keep information out in the open: shared documents folder, git repository, issue tracking
- Have a place to chat - the “virtual water cooler”
- Have regular discussions with your team: what are you guys working on?
- Keep meetings to a minimum
- … but also meet face to face from time to time
Another great section of the book lists common pitfalls for remote developers. For example, working around the clock is a big one, and especially easy to run into if you enjoy your work. Don’t let your work turn into your predominant hobby: knowing when to stop is important. This leads in to being able to enjoy some of the main benefits of remote work: time with the family, a chance to exercise, travel, explore hobbies, and so on.
The book also lightly touches upon the practice of hiring good remote workers, with the main factors being trust and good communication. Building this trust at the beginning of the relationship is incredibly important. The author also describes a practice of “pre-hiring”: candidates get paid to do a small assignment before getting actually hired for the job. Interestingly, the authors recommend meeting the selected candidate face-to-face before actually hiring them, in order to get a feel for their character.
If we’re struggling with trust issues, it means we made a poor hiring decision. If a team member isn’t producing good results or can’t manage their own schedule and workload, we aren’t going to continue to work with that person.
Finally, another part of the book I found particularly useful concentrates on managing remote workers:
- Check in with your workers frequently. A phone call every few months works better than chat.
- Maintain a friendly climate free of retribution and blame, so that people can contribute without worry
- Be on the lookout for overwork, not underwork
In summary, this a book that would have saved me many troubles along my journey from freelancer to remote worker. An absolute goldmine of ideas and best practices. I wish I had read it earlier, but as the saying goes: it’s better late than never.