David Heinemeier Hansson is the creator of the Ruby on Rails web development framework and a partner at the web-based software development firm 37signals. His new book, REMOTE, explores how remote work benefits both employees and employers.
Heinemeier Hansson started working remotely for 37signals a decade ago. He was working in Denmark with a partner in Chicago, and he was shocked at how much more productive he was at home than when he worked in an office.
He learned that the “notion that you had to be in an office together to be productive turned out to be completely false. We built our company around the notion that remote work allows us to be more productive.” As he grew his company, he found freedom in being able to hire the best talent, without any geographic boundaries. And, those remote employees excelled: “When he best talent can do their work and live the life they decide, it’s a powerful combination.”
If your organization is considering offering remote work, here are a few of Heinemeier Hansson’s tips for successfully managing employees from a distance.
Hire employees you trust and respect — and then trust and respect them to do good work.
When you hire reasonable, intelligent people who do good work, trust them to do just that. If employees sense that their manager doesn’t trust and respect them, they will live up to those negative expectations.
Heinemeier Hansson says that over the past decade that he’s been a part of a remote workforce, he’s never had a problem with underwork. In fact, he finds that the opposite is true. When you give remote workers trust and flexibility, they often can end up working too much to repay you for the opportunity.
Provide tools for remote employees to communicate and collaborate.
Remote work can feel isolating, and that’s one of the main fears people have about working from home: “Am I going to sit all alone and be lonely without anyone to talk to?” Basic tools like company chatrooms can give employees the sense of a virtual water cooler. 37signals offers a collaboration tool called Campfire, and the company’s employees use it to stay connected during the work day. Heinemeier Hansson also recommends Google Hangouts and WebEx meetings to stay in touch with coworkers and get interaction beyond text emails and IMs.
Schedule in-person meetings a few times a year.
How many employees (or their managers) look forward to work meetings? Here’s the secret about teams that work remotely: They actually look forward to in-person meetings, since meetings are such rare events. 37signals hosts in-person employee meetings a few times a year in Chicago, and Heinemeier Hansson refers to them as “jolts of energy” that are exciting and special. Getting together in person is still an important part of remote work, because it helps employees get to know each other and feel connected during the rest of the year.
Treat the need for social interaction seriously.
“Humans are social creatures. We get energy from other people. Otherwise, you can burn out from being lonely and isolated. Working alone does not mean being a hermit introvert.” Heinemeier Hansson encourages managers to help remote employees think through how they will meet basic social needs when working from home. Maybe it’s working in a co-working space in their city or getting out of the house for lunch every day. He notes that workers with families may actually have an easier time adjusting compared to employees who are single and don’t have that social interaction at home.