CXO

4 books about remote work that every tech leader should read

Bynder named August 4 Global Work Remote Day. Here are four tech leaders' books that will help you start the conversation about remote work tools, places, practices, and culture.

Left photo: Andy Wolber in office; right photo: coffee and iPad in Starbucks; overlay text: #remoteday
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

Bynder, a maker of digital asset management software, celebrates August 4 as Global Work Remote Day. A page on the company's site, https://info.bynder.com/remote-day, promotes #remoteday as a time for companies to encourage people to work "out of the office."

If you're in IT, you're no doubt familiar with remote work. Job sites such as We Work Remotely, Remote OK, and RemoteBase list many jobs for tech-savvy remote workers in the fields of software development, customer support, and marketing. And what sysadmin hasn't used an SSH, RDP, and other remote tools? Any job that involves data, information, communication, and/or ideas may feasibly be done anywhere.

Not surprisingly, software executives are at the forefront of practicing and writing about remote work.

But how do you help people get started with remote work? I suggest you begin a conversation about tools, places, practices, and culture. Here are four books that do just that.

Image: Cover of No Office Apps book.

Michael Sliwinski suggests teams diversify their remote work tools.

Tools

Michael Sliwinski (@msliwinski), CEO and founder of Nozbe, wrote, "...I strongly believe that people NOT working remotely should also try to diversify the range of communication media they employ in order to get meetings, discussions and projects done efficiently," in No Office Apps. Sliwinski goes on to explain the tools and techniques his team uses to support five distinct types of work:

  • Deep work, by which he means individually focused work
  • Feedback
  • Back and forth
  • Talk to me
  • Meetings

In my work, I've learned to look for tools that allow everyone to see, discuss, and complete work anywhere. Collaborative suites, such as G Suite, Office 365, or Zoho One let multiple people view, comment, and/or edit documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more.

Multi-user apps, like Quip, Slack, and Trello, that work on all sorts of devices—in a browser, on Android, iOS, Windows, or macOS—also help remote workers. (For more tools, take a look at the Remote Starter Kit of tools from the Hanno team.)

Cover of Remote: Office Not Required book

The founders of Basecamp share how each team member can work together effectively from home — or elsewhere.

Places

In Remote: Office Not Required, Jason Fried (@jasonfried) and Dave Heinemeier Hansson (@dhh), founders of Basecamp, addressed the importance of finding a place. "Not everyone has a spare bedroom to turn into a home office, but that doesn't mean you can't work remotely," they wrote. "Plenty of people work full-time from an array of coffee shops. But if you want something more permanent, you can also look into renting just a single desk from another company. There're also a growing number of co-working facilities popping up in major cities."

Like many remote workers, I tend to choose a spot to work based on two things: The type of work I need to complete and the speed of the internet connection. I'll prefer any location with reliable, fast internet—WiFi or LTE—over a site that lacks it. And I'll also choose a quiet, private place when I need to have a video or voice conversation.

Cover of The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work

Wade Foster, Zapier CEO, with several colleagues, describes how Zapier has evolved workplace practices to support remote collaboration.

Practices

With several team members, Wade Foster (@wadefoster), the CEO and founder of Zapier, created The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work. For example, in "How to Run a Remote Team Meeting," Foster explains how Zapier team meetings work. "Before the weekly meeting, each teammate writes a short bit about what they are working on that week and what's on their mid term roadmap in a shared Google Doc. ...Teammates aren't required to read these posts before the meeting. Instead, the first 10 minutes of our meeting is complete silence. During the silence everyone reads through all the updates from each team member."

And the team flipped the standard way that questions work. "Each person gets 5 minutes to ask questions," Foster continues, "but they aren't required to use all 5 minutes if they don't need it. Since it's time-constrained, team members make sure to only ask pertinent questions and ask their questions in order of importance."

Book cover of The Year Without Pants. Yes, it features an image of men's briefs.

Scott Berkun contrasts the distinct culture of a remote-first company like Automattic with more conventional place-centric organizations.

Culture

In The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, Scott Berkun (@berkun), who had previously worked several years with Microsoft, detailed the culture at Automattic, a company best known as the company behind Wordpress.

Berkun wrote, "A central element in Automattic culture was results first. Nobody cared when you arrived at work or how long you worked. It didn't matter if you were pantless in your living room or bathing in the sun, swinging in a hammock with a martini in your hand. What mattered was your output."

Unlike traditional 20th century, place-based organizations, Automattic, Basecamp, Nozbe, and Zapier, all started and evolved with "work anywhere" structures. These are teams accustomed to time-zone distributed work and communication. So, be careful trying to replicate their practices within the structures of a conventional site-centric organization. In my experience, what works for a fully-remote team may not be well suited to a predominantly place-based group.

A distributed future

As of 2017, not every job can be done remotely. We don't yet have self-repairing plumbing, electrical systems, or self-assembling buildings and products. Someday, we may have tools to allow anyone to work anywhere: Virtual reality, robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology could each play a role.

As Berkun suggests, "The gift of unusual organizations like Automattic is a reminder to open our minds. The problem with modern work, and one that sheds light on the future, is how loaded workplaces are with cultural baggage. We faithfully follow practices we can't explain rationally."

I'll know we're living a truly remote work world when remote work is the default option—and when we start to see boutique job sites dedicated to place-based work. Until then, go ahead and celebrate #remoteday on August 4.

Does your organization support remote work? If so, share a remote tip or two — in the discussion below — or on Twitter with the #remoteday tag.

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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