What are the secrets to making remote work work?
As remote working becomes the new norm, companies are under pressure to adjust–or else, lose out on top talent. But making the change to remote working isn’t without its challenges. How can you manage those challenges to the benefit of your company and your employees–so that everybody wins?
Jason Fried is cofounder and CEO of Basecamp, a Chicago-based software company formerly known as 37 Signals. His blog Signal Versus Noise is considered “must reading” by the tech industry elite. He's the co-author of Getting Real, Rework, and his newest book is Remote: Office Not Required.
I recently interviewed Jason to get his advice on making remote work a success. (The transcript below has been edited lightly for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Should we ditch the traditional office? What are the pros to the company and what are the benefits to the individual workers?
Jason Fried: Great question; I'll take it from both sides.
Starting with the employees: Not everybody works the same way. The idea that everybody has to be in an office space between certain hours that appeals to some people but to many people it doesn't. Some people prefer silence, some people prefer a lot of noise, some people prefer a lot of chaos, some people prefer a lot of calm. Why not let them work where they're most comfortable where they can do their best work? The other side of that is also that people want to, they don't want their lives to be tied to a physical location necessarily.
For example, let’s say you're married and your wife moves, she gets another job opportunity somewhere else and she has to take it because her career encourages her to do this and this is the next step in her career and you have to move. In many cases, normally you would have to lose your job. But I don't feel like that's fair either so I love that people can move around and be in different places no matter where they want to be and they can still do great work. It's great for mobility and flexibility in people's lives on the employee’s side.
On the employer’s side, what's great about hiring remote people is you have the pick of the world. You can hire the best people in the world. The truth is, is there's lots of great people all over the place so we all might have great people. The chance that the best people in the world are within a 20-mile radius of your office doesn't really make a lot of sense.
So, one of our best designers lives outside of Oklahoma City. One of our best programmers has lived in four or five different cities around the US. We have people overseas. I just want to hire great people. They can work wherever they want and it gives me the flexibility to find them and not to be stuck in a zip code or an area code. So, I think it's a win-win for everybody.
Kruse: A common manager objection is, “If I can't see them, how do I know they're working?” How would you answer that?
Fried: That just comes from doing something one way for a long period of time. You assume there's no other way.
The truth is, just because somebody's at their desk in front of a computer typing away or whatever they're doing, it doesn't mean they're working. The only way to tell if somebody is doing their work is to look at the work itself: It's words, it's graphic design, it's programming, it's customer service. It's things that you can evaluate from far away.
People can do work anywhere and you can evaluate it the same way. How do I know a programmer who lives outside of Scottsdale is doing his work? We look at the work and it's not that he's sitting at a desk, that doesn't mean anything, the only thing that means something is what someone actually is producing and you can see that from anywhere.
You’ve got to look at the work at the end of the day.
Kruse: How can leaders make sure remote workers are just as engaged as in-house workers?
Fried: Let’s say you have a company of 50 people, three being remote probably isn't going to work. No matter what you do, they are going to feel separate and different because 47 are local and three are far away.
Our company has about 50 people in the company. About 14 of them work in Chicago and the rest work across 30 different cities around the world. So, we're primarily remote and even the people in Chicago rarely come into the office and any one day you may find three or four or five people at the office. Some people come in two days a week.
The first step is coming up with a balanced approach. The other thing though is the culture you build should work extremely well for both remote and locals. One way to achieve this is for the locals to work as if they're remote. For example, every day in Basecamp, our Basecamp account automatically asks people what they're working on–and those answers are automatically published back to Basecamp for everybody else in the company to see. So, we don't have standup meetings locally where people talk about what they're doing and what they did.
Everyone responds and reports on what they're working on the same way. Everybody pitches ideas the same way. We don't get into a room if you're local to pitch an idea to somebody else. You write the idea up and you post it to Basecamp just as if you were 4,000 miles away. You have to all work the same way. You can't have different working cultures. Once you do that, you have splinters in the system and certain people have different advantages then others and that's where it starts to fall apart.
So, everyone should be working the same way regardless of where they are.
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