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“Remote: Office Not Required” – review

I’m currently staying in the basement apartment under my blended family’s flat. We’ve recently left Molise, the southeastern Italian region where we’ve lived for the last four years, and are now back in Rome. 1 It’s easy for me to change cities because I’m a remote worker. That means I can live where I want – yes, even in a leased flat overlooking the Ha Long Bay – if there’s electricity and broadband Internet, and as long as I accept that while I’m in Vietnam most of my work is going to happen between 3pm and 11pm, when my counterparts in Italy and in the UK will be at it too.

“A spectre is haunting the world — the spectre of remote work.”
– Deliberate misquote.

That’s why I buy books with titles like Remote: Office Not Required. It’s a business book about working remotely (please consider remote as a verb in the imperative mood, here), written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, owners of 37signals – the Marx & Engels of remote workers. I got acquainted with their work from this TED Talk and subsequently read ReWork, their other business book about radical entrepreneurship approaches in today’s challenging landscape (which I also highly recommend).

Remote‘s main argument is the following: remote work is the bestest, because big office spaces full of people, noise, managers constantly tapping you on the shoulder and time-consuming staff meetings are a pain in the ass – the actual reason why most of the time productivity in big or small companies plummets. Plus, office buildings and rented spaces are also frightfully expensive, both for businesses and workers. When was the last time you asked your CFO how much is your yearly spend on rent, hardware and software? The cost is very high on the employee’s side as well. At my last workplace, I used to spend two hours a day in traffic, with an average cost for fuel of 250 € per month/3000 per year. Don’t you immediately visualise a better job for all that money, like camera gear or intercontinental flights? I know I did.

These are just a few examples of the reasons why an early adoption of remote work would be beneficial to everyone. Advantages are so many and so disproportionate compared to the disadvantages that you simply have no more excuses. It’s all delivered in eighty or so light and witty chapters (with illustrations, in case you were wondering).

remote_gorilla

The argument is adequately covered by many interviews and a wealth of meaningful, researched examples, successfully implanting you the idea that work is not a place you go to, but a thing you do.

A quite obvious thing to bear in mind, but which has apparently escaped the attention of a few reviewers criticizing the text, is this: this book is not for everyone. It’s aimed at those professionals who – thanks to modern technology – no longer need to be (or rarely need to be) at a certain place to do their job, with a special focus on productivity-oriented, measurable jobs (which happen to be the most affected by noise and disruptions). So to set this straight: software developers, not doctors; graphic designers, not bank tellers; writers, not workers in an assembly line; phone sex operators, not flight attendants.

“If you can’t let your employees work from home out of fear they’ll slack off without your supervision, you’re a babysitter, not a manager. Remote work is very likely the least of your problems.”
 Jason Fried, Remote: Office Not Required

But primarily, its ideal audience are recalcitrant managers and business owners who fear the loss of (illusory) control over their workforce, and workers who are considering going partially or fully remote but cannot imagine the full import of such a life-changing choice. If, like myself, you’ve been a remote worker for years, you already know the risks and the rewards it addresses. So you’ll probably spend most of the time knowingly nodding or elatedly quoting parts of the text to your significant other.

So, to wrap it all up: this is not so much a practical guide as a manifesto. Its aim is changing mindsets, not teaching you something. And I don’t see this as a shortcoming: in the end, why would you try to sell something to somebody who has already bought it?

“In thirty years’ time, as technology moves forward even further, people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed.”Sir Richard Branson, Remote: Office Not Required


  1. We’ll be staying in the basement until D settles into his new Dilbert-like workplace or quits it altogether after deliberately deleting half of the business-critical data and peeing in the new servers in a fit of hysterical laughter.

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to work [wɜːk]

 • intr.v.  

1 Toil, knuckle down, roll up one's sleeves.

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Like each and every mythical city of gold worthy of the name, the road to El Dorado is paved with danger. To begin with, isolation enhances weirdness and if you don’t set some boundaries you’ll run the risk of turning unknowingly into a dickensian character, one of those who surround themselves with cats and stop going out of their houses and whose part is eventually played by Helena Bonham-Carter. It only takes a moment! Read More

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It’s 7 PM, but I know that I can write to Federica in Lucca or Paola in London and send them stuff to translate with a Monday SOB delivery[1. Start Of Business, a more or less arbitrary thing which for some of my colleagues means 7 AM but for me, if all goes well, is at 10.15.]. And I know that they’d probably accept. Read More

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“Loca-what?”

My neighbour Caterina’s kids shout all the time. In summer afternoons, she places an inflatable pool just outside the entrance, under my windows, letting Marica (her eldest) tease the young Mario for hours, stealing his toys or splashing water in his face. The acoustic effect is that of a beast that’s being flayed alive, given that Mario is still 5 and has a shrill, high-impact voice and nobody to stop him. Ever. Those are hard afternoons that make me wish to scratch my face or pluck my eyes out. Until I decided to go to Caterina and try to explain with all the kindness I have in my body that I work at home and FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY I can’t stand this any longer.

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