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Pandabook Club #5: Remote: Office Not Required

By Petra Gönczi | June 2021

You’re probably already doing it: remote work - that’s one statement from our May pick for the Pandabook Club: Remote: Office Not Required by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried. In this Pandabook Club review we dig into how remote working really works, whether it’s possible (not just during a pandemic) and what we at Pandable think of the book’s take on remote work and its future.

Pandable has been a remote agency from its conception in 2017 and we still find it to be the most enjoyable, productive, and efficient way to work. This book both confirmed and supported our ideas and vision about remote work, and made us think once again: why doesn’t everyone (those companies and teams who are able to) work this way?

Let’s take a look at some of the misconceptions surrounding remote work, along with what the book claims to be its unbeatable advantages, and what we make of it.

🌱 The sprouts of remote working are already in the office

Have you ever had to email someone back and forth who only sits three desks away? You have? Interesting. And have you ever had a chit chat at the water cooler with your office buddy or even a random colleague you otherwise never talk to? Really, you have?

The thing is, these bits of work-life are all perfectly present when you work remotely. Emailing someone instead of chatting in person or picking up the phone is one of the best parts of remote work. You’re not pushing the other for an answer right away, you’re carving out time for both of you to engage in the conversation when it best suits both of your schedules.

The water cooler chat is the easiest thing to bring alive online, and don’t tell us that sharing a carefully chosen GIF to respond to your coworker’s cat resting on her laptop isn’t better than simply discussing today’s weather standing next to six litres of water.

Now, let’s look at a few more points discussing the world of remote work taken from the book.

🍼 The babysitter syndrome: If I can’t see them, how do I know they’re working?

A manager who has only known and lived the realities of a traditional office setting will immediately start worrying about anyone bringing up the topic of remote work. Their first question will be: ‘How will I know if the team is working if I can’t see them sitting at their desks, typing away?’

There are so many things wrong with this view. First of all, if this is how you think, then you are more of a babysitter than a manager. As a manager, your job is not to hand-hold, but to create an environment where your team can work efficiently and autonomously. Watching over their shoulders is not going to help them, nor is it going to instil trust, something which we believe a good working relationship is founded upon. Second of all, what makes you think your colleagues are working when they’re sitting behind their desks hitting those buttons? Can you honestly sit there and say no one has ever chatted on Facebook Messenger with their spouse or watched a YouTube video during work hours?

“Some managers may only accept remote work if employees accept the use of surveillance software that enables their superiors to monitor their work from a distance and even take screenshots of whatever they’re doing at the moment. Nobody should suggest or accept this kind of method. Why would you hire someone, regardless of their location, who you don’t trust to deliver work at the end of the day? Aren’t you hiring responsible people who would like to do their jobs? If not, problems are elsewhere, not with the concept or practice of remote work.”

🌓 Everything has to be available to everyone at all times

In order for an efficient remote setup to work everything has to be available, to everyone, at all times. This requires significant preparation in order to build systems and craft processes that result in an environment where a remote team can operate seamlessly. The formula here is one part technology and one part good culture, as the book summarises it, and we couldn’t agree more.

Every workplace has to have its cultural compass that determines the way employees communicate with each other, from the appropriate use of digital channels to speaking a shared, inclusive language promoting equality. This is true whether you work in an office or remotely. As for technology, remote workers have no option but to rely on digital tools but if that sounds like a less popular mandatory duty, let’s redefine it.

Technology doesn’t just enable remote work, it makes it possible for people to find their freedom in the workday. They can create and follow their own schedules efficiently, such as deciding what tasks they want to tackle that day and when (moving cards in Trello brings true satisfaction!) or choosing to respond to a colleague when they actually have the time (let that red notification on Slack chill until you can engage with it). This latter example teaches everyone what ‘urgent’ really means and how to be mindful of other people’s time.

In order for this to happen, you have to make sure that everyone has access to everything, when they need it. Projects and tasks have to be visible to the entire team, be well-documented, precise and up-to-date. If and when you want to jump onto your next task, you should be able to without any issues. This ‘openness’ brings us to our next point.

👀 Everything is visible in remote work

In a remote working environment, transparency, communication and visibility are crucial. Everything you do within your working day that could have an impact on another team member should be made visible to the whole team. If in doubt, document it. Creating efficient documentation processes that everyone is following to ensure their work is visible online for the whole team is paramount to a seamless remote working operation. This not only impacts you and your colleagues, it impacts the clients too, as this way nothing gets missed, lost or unnecessarily repeated. This way of working is great for many reasons, as the book highlights, including:

  • It doesn’t (as it cannot) matter anymore if someone was here at 9 in the morning. What matters is what they produce and put down on the table in front of their manager or the client. The focus changes to what’s really important.
  • People can’t just schmooze their way out of things anymore. We all had coworkers who are great at avoiding doing meaningful work by the power of chit chats or simply due to their celebrated personalities. They are nice people, good to be friends with but that’s not really what counts at work, does it? In remote, they cannot hide.
  • For the above reason, remote work can be great for people who had a hard time showing their performance in a traditional office setting as now the quality and quantity of their work speaks for itself (and that’s all that is needed). Remote work can give them the voice they might have lacked between those unnecessary four walls.

💻 Worry about overworking, not underworking

Considering all of the above, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that it’s not ‘underworking’ that can be a problem in a remote setting, it's overworking. If people are given the freedom and control to operate their own work hours, they will soon learn how liberating that is, especially without a babysitter-like manager tapping on their shoulders, or an arrogant coworker coming over to their desk every now and then to discuss something urgently (urgent for them, not for you, of course).

"When people are liberated at work, thanks to ‘remote’, they are more engaged, more productive and yes, sometimes they can even slip over the line, forgetting when a workday should start and end. This is why it’s especially important to keep up a healthy lifestyle in remote, to build up a personal routine, have a dedicated workspace or a change of scenery from time to time. Even a pair of work slippers can do wonders in signalling your brain: ‘Okay, now we work, and when we slip out of these at a reasonable time in the day, we’re back to our personal life."

Remote: Office not required is essentially a collection of tips for those who would like to try remote working and need a list of arguments to line up for their managers to convince them. You’ll also find some great advice in the book for explaining to your clients how the remote setup would work with them or how remote hiring can be successful when your candidate is across the world. This book is a good starting point for people who would like to understand what true remote work means, and how they can give it a go, and a helpful addition to those already doing it, giving them some extra ideas to perfect the system.

At Pandable, we believe in remote work. We live it every day and we never stop evolving how to make it work for everyone on the team and our clients.

We’re planning an article series on what we think about remote work; what are the good practices, what should be avoided and why we believe it should already be everyone’s present, and definitely their future. It’s going to be great. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears to the ground. We’ll be making some noise and posting about it very soon!

Our Pandabook for June: Matthew Walker: Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams