Most of the time when you hear people opining about why remote work won't work, they point to two things in particular: One, you can't have face-to-face meetings when people aren't in the office. And two, managers can't tell if people are getting work done if they can't see them working.
Our position? These two staples of work life--meetings and managers--are actually the greatest causes of work not getting done at the office. In fact, the further away you are from both meetings and managers, the more work gets done. This is one of the key reasons we're so enthusiastic about remote work.
What exactly is wrong with meetings and managers (or M&Ms, as we call them)? Well, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with them. What's wrong is how often they're applied in office situations.
Meetings. Ah, meetings. Know anyone out there who wishes they had more meetings? We don't either. Why is that? Meetings should be great--they're opportunities for a group of people sitting together around a table to directly communicate. That should be a good thing. And it is, but only if treated as a rare delicacy.
When meetings are the norm--the first resort, the go-to tool to discuss, debate, and solve every problem-- they no longer work. Meetings should be like salt--a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.
Further, meetings are major distractions. They require multiple people to drop whatever it is they're doing and instead do something else. If you're calling a meeting, you better be sure pulling seven people away from their work for an hour is worth seven hours of lost productivity. How often can you say that a given meeting was worth it? Remember, there's no such thing as a one-hour meeting. If you're in a room with five people for an hour, it's a five-hour meeting.
Now what about managers? Managers are essential. But management, like meetings, should be used sparingly. Constantly asking people what they're working on prevents them from actually doing the work they're describing. And since managers are often the people who call meetings, their very presence leads to less productive workdays.
Part of the problem is the perceived need to fill a whole day with management stuff, whether it's called for or not. All those dreaded status meetings, interruptions for estimates, and planning sessions have a curious way of adding up to a manager's work week. While monitoring output is sometimes quite im- portant, it's rarely a 40-hour-per-week position. Ten hours maybe, but few full-time managers have the courage to limit their presence to that.
Working remotely makes it easier to spot managers drumming up busywork for themselves and others. The act of pulling people into a conference room or walk- ing to their desks leaves no evidence of interruption, and it's all of the synchronous "drop what you're doing right now to entertain me!" variety. But when management is forced to manage remotely using email, IM, and chat, its intervention is much more purposeful and compressed, and we can just get on with the actual work.
M&Ms continue to have a place in the remote-working world, but you'll be more conscious about how many you consume when everything has a paper trail online. That's a good thing. We can all do with fewer M&Ms.
Reprinted from the book Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Copyright 2013 by 37Signals, LLC. Published by Crown Business, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. For more information, go to http://37signals.com/remote/