5 Must-Read Books for Remote Teams and Leaders
What's one thing many top business leaders have in common? They read. A lot.
From Warren Buffett (who devotes about 80% of his day to reading) to Bill Gates (who reads about 50 books per year, or one per week), reading—or more specifically, learning through reading—is a priority for professional development and success.
When asked about the key to his success, Buffet pointed to a stack of books and gave this advice: “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
For those who want to succeed, learning never stops. So in the interest of topping up your knowledge quotient, we’ve curated a list of five must-read business books for remote teams and leaders. (Don’t worry, we won’t judge if you don’t make the 500-pages-a-day mark.)
With each selection, you’ll find a summary of the book, an excerpt to get a preview of the content and writing style, and links to more information and where you can download (some are free!) or buy the book for yourself.
Remote: Office Not Required shows employers and employees how teams can (and should) work together from anywhere in the world, and how both groups are restricting their options if they’re not embracing the remote future of work.
Written by Jason Fried and David Hansson, the co-founders of the software company Basecamp (formerly called 37signals—and, yes, the same Basecamp as the popular project management software used by many a remote team), the book offers lessons learned from running their business remotely. It also covers the benefits and challenges of remote work, debunks common arguments against it, and provides tips and recommended tools to help both managers and employees collaborate successfully.
Excerpt from the chapter titled “The Time is Right for Remote Work”
If you ask people where they go when they really need to get work done, very few will respond “the office.” If they do say the office, they'll include a qualifier such as “super-early in the morning before anyone gets in,” or “I stay late at night after everyone's left,” or “I sneak in on the weekend.”
What they're trying to tell you is that they can't get work done at work. The office during the day has become the last place people want to be when they really want to get work done. In fact, offices have become interruption factories. A busy office is like a food processor—it chops your day into tiny bits. Fifteen minutes here, 10 minutes there, 20 here, five there. Each segment is filled with a conference call, a meeting, another meeting, or some other institutionalized unnecessary interruption.
It's incredibly hard to get meaningful work done when your workday has been shredded into work moments.
With a subtitle like “Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long,” it’s pretty clear why the concepts covered in Your Brain at Work are relevant for remote teams.
David Rock, a leadership coach and the co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, wrote the book to help readers understand how their brains function, and then apply that knowledge to improve their focus and productivity at work. He draws on interviews with 30 leading neuroscientists and more than 300 research papers based on brain and psychological studies conducted in recent years.
The book is broken into “scenes,” where we watch two characters (Emily, a VP of marketing at a large company, and Paul, who works from home as an IT consultant) juggle their personal and professional responsibilities. Each scene explains their behavior according to what’s happening in their brains, and then shows what they could have done to improve each situation. Through these demonstrations, Rock teaches readers the smartest techniques for handling common workplace challenges like endless emails, interruptions, and stress.
Excerpt from Scene I: The Morning Email Overwhelm
Workers everywhere are experiencing an epidemic of overwhelm. For some people, it’s the pressure of a promotion; for others, a downsizing or reorganization; but for many, every day involves a constant, massive, and overwhelming volume of work. As the world digitizes, globalizes, unplugs, and reorganizes, having too much to do has become our biggest complaint.
The trouble is, when it comes to making decisions and solving problems … the brain has some surprising performance limitations. While the brain is exquisitely powerful even the brain of a Harvard graduate can be turned into that of an eight-year-old simply by being made to do two things at once.
This free e-book, distributed by Rocket Matter and written by Tim Baran, outlines the advantages of working remotely. With chapters like “Traits of an Effective Telecommuter,” “Managing Solitude,” “A Productive Home Office,” and “How to Manage Work-at-Home Employees,” Working Remotely: The Telecommuter's Guide to the Galaxy includes helpful information for both workers and managers and also covers some of the challenges of remote teamwork, offering solutions to try.
Though the advice presented here is generally applicable, some sections present information particularly applicable for lawyers and legal practices interested in working remotely.
Excerpt from Chapter 8: Managing Time, Boundaries, and Balance
There's no shortage of discussion, lamentations, and gnashing of teeth about trying (and often failing) to achieve a balance between your work and personal life; one that's rewarding and productive at work, but also happy and fulfilling at home. For remote workers, that discussion is amplified.
When working from home, free from typical office interruptions, you can be lulled into a false sense of time and give into distractions, or engage your attention deficit tendencies. Then you look up and panic because there's been a time warp, and you only have a couple hours to finish a deadline project. Or, maybe you don't panic, because, hey, you have all evening to finish the project. This is a slippery slope, as you'll develop less than productive work habits which will end up stealing your evenings and nights. Sure, you get the work done, but there goes your work-life balance.
When Scott Berkun accepted a position to lead a team of programmers at Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com), he did so on the condition that he could write a book about his experiences there. The result is The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, which argues that WordPress’ model—which involves 100% remote, distributed teams collaborating both online and occasionally in person at team and all-hands meetups—may be the future of work.
The book offers a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of an extremely successful remote company, as well as what Berkun learned about creativity, productivity, and leadership from his time there.
Excerpt from Chapter 4: Why Culture Always Wins
The very idea of working remotely seems strange to most people until they consider how much time at traditional workplaces is spent working purely through computers. If 50 percent of your interaction with coworkers is online, perhaps through e-mail and web browsers, you’re not far from what WordPress.com does. The difference is that work at WordPress.com is done primarily, often entirely, online. Some people work together for months without ever being on the same continent. Teams are allowed to travel to meet a few times a year to recharge the intangibles that technology can’t capture.
Cal Newport, a writer and professor of computer science at Georgetown University, has coined the phrase “deep work” to refer to “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” According to Newport and the research he cites, this type of work is hard to replicate, but when you are able to tap into it, you can improve your skills, dramatically increase your productivity, and boost your creativity.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is divided into two parts. Part 1 is research-based and makes the argument for the importance of deep work (as opposed to our tendencies towards multitasking, task switching, and dealing with constant interruptions). Part 2 offers actionable steps for training yourself to work more intently and productively. The book is a Wall Street Journal Business Bestseller and was an Amazon Best Business Book for January 2016.
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Deep Work Is Valuable
High-speed data networks and collaboration tools like e-mail and virtual meeting software have destroyed regionalism in many sectors of knowledge work. It no longer makes sense, for example, to hire a full-time programmer, put aside office space, and pay benefits, when you can instead pay one of the world’s best programmers, like Hansson [the co-founder of Basecamp and creator of the Ruby on Rails development framework], for just enough time to complete the project at hand.
The fact that Hansson might be working remotely from Marbella, Spain, while your office is in Des Moines, Iowa, doesn’t matter to your company, as advances in communication and collaboration technology make the process near seamless…. The same trend holds for the growing number of fields where technology makes productive remote work possible—consulting, marketing, writing, design, and so on.
Like what you’ve seen so far? Don’t forget to download our complete reading guide, with all 10 business books for remote teams and leaders, plus a special section just for remote managers. It’s a resource that can direct you to advice and lessons learned from top business leaders who know what it takes—the preparation, potential, and pitfalls to avoid—of working remotely and building a productive remote team.