Summer is here and for many that means either vacation time, or at least a slower pace at the office - both enable time to do some readings and broaden your horizons. We’ve selected two different books, which we can recommend for your summer.
The first book is considered somewhat of a classic, an easy read and inspirational book. The second book calls for a bit more effort to take in, but is at the same time also more rewarding in terms of tools, examples and scientific foundation.
Remote – Office not required - by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
This book is considered as somewhat classic within the more easy-read literature on working virtual, and it calls for a recommendation. That said, we do have mixed feelings about it.
If you are just starting out either letting your employees work from home, or if you yourself want to convince your boss to let you work from home, the book offers a number of very compelling arguments.
The authors present nicely how working virtual does not mean all or nothing – you do not need to hide in a basement all on your own or be all into open-offices. There are configurations in between – which they nicely elaborate and exemplifies. Their reasoning lined up is so simple that it’s difficult not to be convinced (although we of course might also be somewhat biased). The language is simple and funny and spiced up with great short real-life examples, such as how one of their own employees have work-slippers and “off-the-clock” slippers to make sure he can separate work life and private life.
This book was somewhat ahead of its time. One of the central arguments relate not so much to the benefits of working remotely (flexibility, saving the commute, retention of talent etc.), but is an underlining of the possibility of undisturbed work-time. In a time where we, writing 2019, are slowly starting to question if open offices really do any good, they already saw that in 2010 – how knowledge workers of course need interaction to be creative, but they also need quiet time to actually immerse and produce the things they know a lot about. This is where working virtually becomes handy.
In many ways the book is rather convincing and additionally provides good argumentation for you to bring to the table, when you need to argue your case for working remote. That said, the book falls short when actually considering how to implement remote work – either individually or in organizations at large. The authors provide a number of somewhat half-hearted suggestions such as: “if your employee seems in lack of motivation, just schedule a one-to-one and ask what you can do” or “make sure your remote workers don’t burn out, because work and private life melt together – what we do is to give an additional day off during the summer to enjoy the good weather”. Well, that would definitely fix it for the workaholics, or what? So, the book lacks the how-to advice, which you can use to take the next step to actually make remote work work.
That said, this book is very inspirational. It’s easily read – a one-way long haul should be enough, and once you’re done reading it, you are highly motivated to throw yourself into working virtually, at which point we would recommend reading the next book on our summer reading list (suggested below).
Virtual Leadership – practical strategies for getting the best out of virtual work and virtual teams - by Penny Pullan.
What we missed in the book on Remote Work, Pullan somewhat addresses in her book. Pullan goes beyond just praising virtual work to actually deliver some specific advice. Where a lot of this type of literature mainly focuses on the challenges, Pullan succeeds with, sneaking in some of the benefits of working virtually together in combination with the advice she suggest to meet the challenges of this way of working.
In general, this books wants to achieve a lot. It provides an excellent overview of the many challenges present in a virtual team. The chapters are divided into small sections with good headings, making it very easy to navigate in. But, with the short sections and quick advices, there is also the risk of sweeping over some of the topics too quickly. In chapter 2 for example she discusses the mindset of the virtual leader. She abstain from providing a fully detailed personality description of the perfect virtual leader (which is otherwise, problematically, found in a lot of other literature within the field) and instead emphasizes the importance of knowing yourself and your own values as a point of departure to lead well. So far so good. Then she advices that to achieve this, you can just follow her quick guide, and boom, you’re ready to move on to fulfill your leadership potential. This is of course a great place to start, and this is what makes this book really good, but be aware that this is just the beginning – an inward journey to find your own true self calls for a bit more than five bullets in a list. In her book Pullan provides you with this sort of short guides, lists and quick-fixes, which is a fantastic place to start out. But remember, this is only a beginning. To actually use this knowledge reflexively, you need to understand, why this is important, and how you can put it into play – and this you cannot find in Pullan’s book.
Pullan presents her book as “Practical strategies”. We do not reckon that “strategies” is the right term for the advices she provides. Strategies, we would argue, is generic plans, which can be implemented in a broad sense. One of the complications with virtual work and leadership hereof is the huge degree of diversity in each team, each project, and for each leader, which makes generalizations so difficult. As a consequent, we would argue, there is no such thing as a predetermined strategy. Nonetheless, what we find this book does really well is to point towards some practical advice, which will be relevant for most people working in virtual teams and adapt to your context.
Not having received any training or education in leading a virtual team, this book is a fantastic place to start; it provides a great and easy accessible overview of some of the challenges you might face leading a virtual team, together with suggestions for possible solutions. The book does not offer its reader a deeper understanding of what lies behind the challenges present in a virtual teams; an understanding which we believe is crucial to move beyond “just managing” virtual teams, to a place where you can lead reflexively and start to develop an extraordinary team.
Enjoy your summer and happy reading!