The Entire World On Remote

Lessons from Basecamp’s “REMOTE: Office Not Required”, and of course, the COVID-19 world crisis.

Daniel Cardona
Apr 4, 2020 · 8 min read

I’m going to be completely honest with you: I struggled quite a bit in deciding whether this was good timing to review this book or not.

Please allow me to elaborate.

REMOTE: Office Not Required” is a book about working remotely and the wonders it has not only for employees but also for employers as well. Many companies in the world do it, and there are benefits all across the board for those organizations that take on the challenge and end up reaping great fruits.

I work at a company that does not allow remote working. Well, that’s of course during ‘peace’ times.

Right now, this post is being written 5 weeks into self-confinement in my room. As a response to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, my employer decided to do the right thing and sent us all to work from home around mid-February.

In that context, REMOTE stood as the perfect next read from my backlog of unread books.

Right?

Many companies that for years have rejected remote work with a bunch of excuses were all of the sudden forced by mother nature to embrace this form of work.

“I don’t know what my employees are doing?” “How can I guarantee they’ll get the work done?” “What if they don’t log in at the time our company stipulates?” — The Babysitter Manager

REMOTE called me from the bookshelf as a compelling case in favor of remote working, with the golden opportunity of a massive, worldwide telework experiment happening as we speak, as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis.

But as I gathered ideas and organized the afterthoughts of the book I noticed how insensitive it would be to give you a summary of the wonders of telework without acknowledging the cruel reality we face today: there are jobs that simply can’t be done remotely, and for people doing those jobs today, the current crisis means unemployment.

And that’s when my all in positiveness about this topic was shattered. The excitement that filled my head as I was reading each page accompanied by my euphoric rooting for every new argument in favor of remote work was suddenly dwarfed by the terrible reality that the current COVID-19 crisis represents for millions all over the world.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe that remote work IS, in fact, the (oh very near) future of work. Reading this book on top of my current confinement has absolutely convinced me about that.

But it just didn’t feel right to open a discussion about a marginal improvement in the way we work, in the face of millions who are not even given the option and have to either expose themselves to the virus or are simply laid off because their jobs require them physically present and in contact with people.

Ok… so what’s gonna happen today?

Given the unprecedented circumstances that threaten our welfare in 2020, this is what we’re going to do today: we will present you with the findings and afterthoughts about the book (because that’s what you came for), and we’ll open a discussion about our experiences during the current COVID-19 crisis and the remote life that it has triggered.

That being said, this is today’s agenda:

1. Companies should embrace remote work after the crisis.

2. Many, many jobs are not eligible for remote work, so what lessons can we extract from that, especially when going remote becomes a matter of life and death?

Alright? Let’s get going.

1. Companies should embrace remote work after the crisis

Hey Mr. big corporation, just grow up and go full remote.

Let’s state something loud and clear from the beginning: remote is all about work, nothing else.

Many companies are filled with mediocre managers who think that their jobs consist of baby-sitting their subordinates into coming to the office on time and making sure they stay in their seats all day looking at their computers. Such a manager has always pushed back against remote work and will always do because she misguidedly thinks that her authority derives from her faculty to physically intervene in the lives of her subordinates. I can tell you about my experience in Rakuten, which is a great employer, but at the same time, it’s surprisingly retrograde in some aspects of its peoples’ management. For example, it doesn’t allow remote work. At least not during ‘peace’ times. At least not for the regular employees (but it does use a huge network of 3rd party vendors and contractors that range from partial to full remote on different scales).

Companies need to get a grip on the processes they manage so that they can track work and productivity through OKRs and actual pieces of work getting done. Forget about the HR vanity metrics of time spent on the chair and focus on the amount of work done in relation to the cost it leaves behind.

So… what actually IS good about remote work?

  • No office needed so less fixed costs in rent, utilities, maintenance, furniture, commuting expenses for employees, amenities, etc.
  • No physical constraints as of where your employees are, so you can hire from a larger pool of workers (the entire world, as opposed to the city where your HQ is located), which gives you access to better skillsets and stronger applicants for your openings.
  • Employee satisfaction goes through the roof because people are allowed to (a) live lifestyles that better match their own tastes, (b) be closer to their families or hobbies, organically achieving a healthier work-life balance, (c) spend zero time commuting to the workplace (assuming they work from home), which gives them back an extra couple of hours a day. Just to name a few.
  • The change is not all that complicated since many companies already do it with all sorts of 3rd party vendors (legal, accounting, advertising, software development, design, quality assurance, etc.)

Sounds fantastic… so what’s the opportunity here?

The big fat chance mother nature has given us here is that by the moment companies ask their employees to come back to the office, they’ll be armed with invaluable datasets on work productivity and business results from a period during which, to one extent or another, the business was run remotely.

Think about the power of such data set when it comes to debunking all those myths about the dangers of remote work. In their book, the people from Basecamp suggest companies flirting with the idea do precisely that: run an experiment. Usually such trials involver timid efforts from HR departments during ‘peace’ times in which they send a couple of people to work from home once or twice a week so they can data on productivity and other metrics under those conditions.

This time we’re talking about a data set that, depending on what percentage of the workforce is actually working during the crisis, gives a full picture of how the business would perform if the company was run without a physical office that we all have to commute to every day.

— WARNING! Look at the data set responsibly

For the sake of fairness, we also need to think about some critical considerations as we look through the data set.

  • Not every employee was ready to suddenly start working from home: many of us didn’t even have a desk at home, don’t even mention a second screen, which to different extents, does impact our ability to work to our fullest.
  • Many of us have additional distractions at home that can’t be avoided given the special circumstances of how this crisis has unfolded: schools are closed so kids staying at home might hammer a parent’s productivity.
  • Productivity is to be evaluated on a cost/performance basis, which means that you need a way to evaluate whether a certain piece of work got done or not, and what was the cost of getting it done. If your company doesn’t track that sort of information (oh my!), start coming up with rough estimates now so that you can end up with some kind of data to analyze after this whole mess is over.
  • Use a mix of qualitative and quantitative measures to build an index, out of your business-specific knowledge, to account for the differences that working remotely might have on different kinds of jobs across your organization so that comparisons across the board are fair.

Finally, learn from your employees. Ask them how they felt. Ask them for ideas. How could this whole experience improve your organization’s working environment?

Your people are the most important resource and they are all now growing exponentially faster due to the unprecedented circumstances: teams are getting stronger or they’re just falling apart (in which case the team was probably not a good fit to begin with and such breakage was meant to happen anyway.)

Now… on to the ‘war’ times conversation…

2. Millions can’t do remote… so how can we help?

The world we live in was clearly not ready to deal with the current situation without suddenly leaving millions of people uncovered from economic safety.

Roughly speaking, jobs that allow for remote work are those in which a person would typically spend her day sitting in an office desk or cubicle in front of a computer.

Of course, you can’t prepare a hamburger remotely, clean a hotel room, receive some guests in a restaurant, attend the cabin of a plane, drive a truck, care for a patient, fix a broken faucet, build a house, fulfill an Amazon order, delivery a package, give a massage, etc.

So… how can we help? How can we make this whole situation less painful for everyone?

WE STAY HOME.

Official page of the UK’s Government.

We can make this whole mess shorter.

Eventually, we are all going to contract this virus, but if we work together and we’re lucky, we’ll be able to minimize the overall pain by preventing the spread of the virus by staying home and avoiding contact. One day the cure will be out and this will be a story to learn from. In the meantime we call can contribute to making the situation less painful by staying home.

Wait but if we all stay home shops and all sorts of brick and mortar commerce are going to close… how is that good for these people who can’t work remotely?

If we stay home, the pandemic might be controlled after 1–2 months… not 4–5, or even longer. The sooner we’re back to normal the sooner the unprotected people will be able to get back on their feet.

This is a crisis that we need to weather out through communal collaboration and government subsidies.

Visit your local government’s website and check out for subsidies, many countries are implementing those.

And remember,

If we stay home, the pandemic might be controlled after 1–2 months… not 4–5, or even longer.

What do you think?

Book references by that seem pretty worthwhile

  • Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn.
  • The Elements of Style, William Strunk, and E.B. White.

Thank you for reading and if you found this interesting, don’t hesitate to comment or reach out. I’ve found that a healthy discussion about a topic of our interest is the best way to digest the content.

We don’t do this for the money but if you’re considering buying the book and you found this insightful, don’t hesitate to use this link to purchase so that we can keep the books flowing in.

Amazon Affiliate Referral Link: https://amzn.to/2X8hPlR

I’m a Product Manager in Rakuten EXPRESS with a proclivity for web design and programming. I’m a proud contributor in the Product Management podcast “Afterwork en Español”. Happy to connect on LinkedIn or Instagram. And while you’re at it, here’s my website.

Reading as a habit

Let’ fight back those fast reading”1-book-a-day” people on…

Reading as a habit

Let’ fight back those fast reading”1-book-a-day” people on the internet! Enjoy a book? Read it and share about it and discuss. That’s how you make the most of it!

Daniel Cardona

Written by

Product Manager @ Rappi, ex-Rakuten | Reading as a habit and putting it to practice | www.danielcardona.co

Reading as a habit

Let’ fight back those fast reading”1-book-a-day” people on the internet! Enjoy a book? Read it and share about it and discuss. That’s how you make the most of it!

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