Book Review: Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson


I’ve long admired Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals. Among other accomplishments, Jason and David have created phenomenally useful software for better collaboration and project management (we’ve used Basecamp and Campfire at crowdSPRING for many years).

Jason and David have helped shaped my views on many topics, including remote work. If you haven’t read their blog, Signal v. Noise, I recommend that you do so.

Their prior book, Rework was a collection of short essays focusing on doing less and embracing constraints.

Their latest book, Remote, persuasively argues that companies should not restrict hiring to a small geographic region.

The book is a quick read. When working remotely, I  ride my exercise bike indoors for 75 minutes and use that time to read. I started and finished Remote during one ride last week.

Remote is directed mostly to companies that have rejected or that have only modestly experimented with remote work. Weaving through examples from their own experience with remote employees, and the experience of other big and small companies, Jason and David present  a compelling argument urging companies to ignore geographies and focus on skill and culture-fit instead.

You’ll recall the media storm when Marissa Mayer ended Yahoo’s work-from-home policy. To me and many others, Mayer’s decision seemed incredibly short-sighted. Among other things, Jason and David point out that:

  • work in an office is subject to constant interruptions.
  • commuting wastes a lot of time, energy and natural resources.
  • technology has made remote work functionally similar to being in the office.
  • people collaborate asynchronously and remote work is a perfect complement.
  • requiring office face time is often a red-herring masking deeper workplace problems.

I’m a fan of remote teams. Although we initially hired only in our Chicago office when we started in 2007, we quickly changed course and have, for the past five years, hired people from all over the world. Half of the crowdSPRING team is remote, and even those who work out of our Chicago office sometimes work remotely. By removing geographic constraints, we’ve hired the most qualified people and have made our team much stronger.

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Collaboration and Security

A few days ago, I hosted a Google+ Hangout. Dell paid me to host the Hangout, but the opinions in this post and in the Hangout are entirely my own.

I’ve previously talked about ways that companies can promote better collaboration among their employees. Collaborative teams are typically more successful, more agile, more innovative, and happier than teams that silo people.

But collaboration isn’t without risk. Smart companies encourage collaboration and also look for ways to ensure that collaboration doesn’t compromise the security of the company’s systems, devices and data.

Ultimately, IT security is a balancing act. Too much security can hinder innovation and collaboration. Too little security can create unacceptable risks that important information can be easily stolen or lost.

Which collaboration tools can be trusted with your company’s data? How can you secure client systems and devices while providing flexibility for collaboration and innovation? How can you ensure that you don’t lose important data?

A few days ago, I hosted an informative Google+ Hangout with experts from Dell and McAfee focusing on collaboration and security. You’ll find lots of good insight in their conversation. Here’s the full video:

To Innovate, You Have To Stay Dissatisfied

Success makes some people complacent. Other people expect to continue to succeed by doing the things that made them successful. This is not always possible, however. To innovate, you have to stay dissatisfied. Here’s why:

Do you agree?

Startup Tip: The Dirty Secret About Features

I have little doubt that every investor has heard an entrepreneur touting how their new product or service will “crush” the competition with great features that the competition hasn’t yet seen. Many entrepreneurs – especially aspiring entrepreneurs – believe that product or service features represent a great competitive advantage.

There’s a dirty secret about features – they’re rarely a competitive advantage. I discuss why in the following short video.

What do you think?

Apply Agile Thinking To Everything You Do

Some of you have heard the term “agile software development”, which refers to a process of software development based on frequent, iterative development. crowdSPRING has been applying the principles of agile development to our own software development efforts for the past year.

We were bogged down throughout much of 2009 launching new products in part because our thinking was too grand. As a result, we ran into too many roadblocks that require further discussion, research, debate, and planning. This caused us to be less effective – and delayed product launches and improvements.

About six months ago, we looked at our non-software development processes (business, strategy, finance, etc.) and wondered why we also couldn’t apply many of the same principles (of agility) to those processes.If you read the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto, you quickly realize that the same principles can apply to many things outside of software development.

About 6 months ago, we started applying principles of agility to everything we do. This has helped us immensely to streamline our processes, to reach quicker decisions, and to iterate our policies and practices much quicker than we had done in the past. We see clear advantages to this approach – I discuss some of these advantages in the following video.

Startup Tip – What I Would Have Wanted To Know About Data Migration

This is the last of a 3 part video series discussing software technologies and data migration. In part 1, I talked about selecting software technologies for your startup. In part 2, I talked about what to do if your existing software technology just isn’t good enough. In this video, I share what I would have wanted to know about data migration before refactoring our software to a new language and platform.

Startup Tip: What To Do If Your Existing Software Technology Just Isn’t Good Enough

In yesterday’s video, I offered five suggestions to help you pick the best technologies for your startup. But what do you do if the technology you pick doesn’t work for you later on? We recently struggled with this issue at crowdSPRING and completely refactored 100% of our code, moving from PHP to Python. In this video, I offer suggestions on what to do when you find that your existing technology just isn’t good enough.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the challenge of migrating customer data – something that any established startup must face when changing software and/or platforms.

Startup Tip: Selecting Software Technologies For Your Startup

You have a great idea for an Internet startup – and maybe even seed funding – but how do you pick the right software to power your startup? I offer 5 suggestions in the following video, based on my experience with crowdSPRING.

Over the next two days, I plan to cover two closely related topics for technology startups: knowing when it’s time to make a change to a better platform (when you realize your initial software doesn’t scale well), and the challenge of migrating customer data.

And if you have additional suggestions or questions – please feel free to leave a comment.

Startup Tip: Pick Three Highest Priorities

Startups face many challenges, including the need to prioritize what gets done in any given day. If your startup is like crowdSPRING, you’ll nearly always have dozens of things that you can call “high” priority. But having dozens of high priority items means you have no priorities – it’s not possible to do everything at once. To help focus, as I discuss in the video below, we’ve recently started to identify our three highest technical/development priorities for the day.

How do you identify or manage your highest priorities?

Startup Tip: Importance of Information & Pace When Things Go Wrong

When a startup experiences serious technical problems, things may seem pretty chaotic. Two of the most important things to keep in mind when dealing with such situations is information and pace. It’s important to keep your own team and your customers informed about what’s going on and it’s important to pace yourself as you fix problems – or you can become overwhelmed and paralyzed pretty quickly. I discuss why in this video.