Book Review: Remote: Office Not Required

Some months ago, i saw a post about a new book that the guys at 37signals were working on. As soon as I read the description, I jumped over to Amazon and put in a pre-order for it.

There were a few reasons for this, not the least of which was that I’ve always found all of the 37Signals books insightful and concise. Beyond that, “Remote” spoke to a broader acceptance of an idea that I’ve believed for many decades: That top-notch work can be achieved with remote work more easily, effectively and sustainably than in the traditional in-office environment in many cases.

Part of this belief comes personal experience: I’ve done remote development work for the bulk of my thirty year career as a developer, and I’ve had the pleasure to work with a large and varied group of other excellent developers who had the same advantage.

I was born and raised in Bermuda, a place which, although surprising tech-savvy, is hardly a worldwide software development hub. Early on, I realized that technology had already progressed to the point where I didn’t need to be physically at my client’s offices most of the time, if ever.

Even for local customers, who were fifteen minutes away by moped, it was much more effective to simply turn around in my chair, connect to their computer, do what I needed to do, and go on to the next task.

Years later, I migrated to Freeport, Bahamas, and continued the same process. Although I did do on-site from time to time, most of my work with both my clients and my co-workers was remote, with increasingly faster bandwidths to boot.

At one point I went for a face-to-face meeting with a developer I had been collaborating with on for over ten years, who I considered one of my most valued colleagues. We were to meet at Dallas airport, and it occurred to both of us at the last moment to send a picture, as we had never met in person before.

This came almost as a shock to both of us, as we had worked together on many different projects on and off for a decade. It had simply never come up before (and this was before the days when profile pictures on social media abounded, so we literally didn’t know what each other looked like).

I’ve since moved again, now to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, yet again not the first place that comes to mind when you think of advanced software development. And yet again, that doesn’t matter.

In “Remote”, there are many other descriptions of people who move where their life takes them, instead of where the job lives, and how that works with their business existence.

In years past, the perception of remote work was that it was fine for the low-level stuff: data entry, maybe support desk, but that the struggle for anything more sophisticated would be to get the level of effectiveness up to some percentage of what it would be if the person was in a “real” office.

My experience was always quite the opposite: that the remote worker, in my case the remote developer, had unique and powerful advantages compared to the programmer who worked in an office, and that those advantages didn’t just add up to results that were “almost” as good as those of the worker in the office, but that they were far better. This improvement was not only in the quality and quantity of results, but in the overall life experience of the developers themselves.

In “Remote”, the authors describe some of the many reasons this might be so. It’s almost a relief to read that I’m not alone in my perceptions – that other people see how remote work can be much more than a poor substitute for “in person” work, it can be a superior alternative, given the right approach.

Filled with many examples and real-life stories, “Remote” is as concise and yet complete picture of the many advantages and opportunities for remote work.

Highly Recommended!

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Published: November 02 2013

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