Book Review: Remote: Office Not Required, by 37Signals
In writing The Year Without Pants, about my year working for the 100% remote organization at WordPress.com, I deliberately avoided exclusively writing a manifesto about remote work. I figured anyone could, and would, write a manifesto style book on the subject, but few would ever have the chance at a deep insider story of the trials and tribulations of a real team, with a real leader, on a real project of WordPress.com’s importance, where 100% remote workers and dozens of other new ideas about work, were in practice simultaneously. That’s the path I chose.
When I heard the founders of 37signals, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, were writing a book called Remote: Office Not Required, I was relieved. I finally knew who was writing a manifesto style book on the subject and they’re good folks to do it. I like the spirit of their other books.
I finished Remote last week and I recommend it. I’m happy to say it’s a clear, short, solid book of arguments for using remote work to your advantage. It has a nice section of common excuses, with refutations, and sound arguments about how many opportunities there are to help your company by allowing remote workers. They discuss the unnecessary pain of commuting, the improved access to talent from other places and how the right kinds of employees benefit from greater flexibility. All things I observed at WordPress.com, and which I argue for at times in my own book.
Like their other books they focus heavily on stories from their own experience running 37signals, a very successful software company. There are references and mentions of other data and organizations, but they presume most organizations have the same attitudes, talents and businesses that they do, which I doubt is true. They’re an amazing and compact company, but I would have preferred the story of other companies to have had the central stage. From my recent book tour for The Year Without Pants I’ve learned much of convincing executives to try anything new depends on them seeing an example of a company like their own that has succeeded with the method you’re suggesting. Culture change of any kind is hard, and I’d recommend reading my post How To Change A Company for advice on starting with remote work, or any new idea, in your organization. Books open doors but someone has to lead the charge to open them all the way and keep them open.
It’s a common failing of manifesto type books to presume the world is uniform, and therefore uniformly malleable, but at least in 37signal’s case they are always practicing what they preach, which is commendable. I’d prefer to read what they have to say over “experts” who haven’t managed a team or a business in far too long.
I’m very pleased to say Remote: Office not Required and The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com & The Future of Work make excellent companions. They take complementary approaches (and even have the same colors). Remote has a broad, manifesto style list of proclamations, and The Year Without Pants captures a deep, specific examination of remote work from the perspective of a specific team and team manager in an important company in a fascinating work culture.
Books look like they’re cousins–both in terms of content and color scheme.
I just finished The Year Without Pants, Scott. And I just ordered Remote: Office Not Required. I plan to do a joint book review of the books, also discussing Parse.ly’s experience as a distributed team, over on the Parse.ly blog in coming weeks. Will let you know when we post it!
Excellent. I look forward to your review.
I loved both The Year Without Pants and REMOTE. I just read your article above and you’re right about the challenge of changing the minds of executives when it comes to remote work, especially those in large companies. I would love to see your next book be about specific success stories of large companies (IBM, American Express) that have large portions of their teams distributed remotely. REMOTE mentions IBM briefly, but I’d love to see an “observer from within” case study of one of the large corporations that has embraced and profited from remote work. An in-depth “how they did it” case study about one of those giant corporations succeeding with remote work just might change some more minds in corporate America and could possibly change the world at the same time. Are you up for the challenge? I promise to buy the book!