Weekly Head Voices #79: Remote-controlled mushrooms.


I’m a few days late, but I did bring you this free mind trip:

Click me for an even heavier trip!

On Tuesday, I had an unexpected (I somehow read over a critical paragraph in an email) but brilliant lunch at Rust en Vreede wine estate in the erudite company of three bubbly personalities. Having a bunch of vineyards like this within lunching distance is a perk of living in these parts; The superb company was just lovely serendipity.

Right next to Rust en Vreede is a vineyard that my inner nerd could not resist taking this photo of:

It might not be the prettiest, but it’s definitely functional!

I finally got around to buying and reading REMOTE: Office not Required by Fried and Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37signals. 37signals is the company that brought us the hipster web-framework of choice, Ruby on Rails. As if producing RoR, having a turnover of a few million dollars per year and writing the best-seller book REWORK was not enough, they had to go and write yet another bestseller documenting their experiences building a company based on mostly remote-working employees.

The book is full of valuable messages; Even if you’re absolutely NOT into remote working (yet), many of these observations apply to the office situation and can be used to improve matter. I’d like to summarise some of them very briefly in this post. Please discuss in the comments!

  • It seems that managers are under the impression that if they can see you at the office typing away, that you must be working, and conversely, that if you’re not there, you’re most probably goofing off. Let me start with HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA LOL LOL LOL LOLS. (that was me, not the book. For more lols, go to hackertyper, preferably in chrome, press F11 for fullscreen, and just type away on the keyboard as if you’re a monkey.) What the book explains very diplomatically, is that goofing off can happen anywhere, especially under the noses of said managers. A situation where employees are self-motivated, and know that they get judged on their actual output and not the amount of noise they make, is obviously desirable.
  • Working remotely, communication is for the largest part limited to channels that are controlled by both sender and receiver. In other words, employees get to determine when they get interrupted or not, by scheduling email or chat activity. This also means that one pays more attention to information that gets sent to and fro. Remember that interruptions are absolutely toxic to people in the zone. In an office environment, it’s hard to resist the temptation of walking over to colleague X and interrupting them with a question that could have waited until said colleague was ready to be interrupted. This is something that I’ll definitely try to apply at the new offices: Try to limit communication to chat and email, only interrupt people when it’s clear that they are interruptible.
  • They compare meetings to salt. When salt is used sparingly, it does wonders for your food. Too much, and everything is spoilt. In the remote situation, meetings do happen, but because they have to be planned much more carefully, they are perceived to be much more valuable, and the signal to noise ratio is much higher than is usually the case.
  • 37signals must be great employer. Besides all the other perks, they pay all of their employees big city salaries, even those that choose to work from lower cost rural areas. One of the important advantages for companies supporting remote working, as that they get to pick the most talented people, no matter what geography thinks. Paying everyone the same big city salary, means that they have shown an incredibly high employee and talent retention.
  • By getting your remote game on, you can eliminate and/or alleviate a whole bunch of commute problems. This is great for the employees in question (more time, less road rage), for the environment, for the company (more effective work time), but even for your fellow humans who really, for some or other reason, do need to be on the road during peak hours.

There’s much more in the book, but these are the issues that my memory decided to retain. I’m not convinced that 100% remote is the final answer though. Personally, I go to the office every day because I want to (I really don’t have to): There are a bunch of great people and friends hanging out together futzing on their computers in an awesome new lair and there’s a great deal of knowledge diffusion going on. I do think that having one’s systems and protocols configured fully to enable mixed remote working when convenient or required would give one a significant competitive edge.