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Lisette Sutherland quoted in The New York Times:
[F]or many [remote] workers, [now] separated from the interpersonal exchange of traditional offices, mobility has left them feeling disoriented. People want autonomy but, it turns out, they still crave structure and social interaction....
Newer collaboration technology, however, can enable the very feedback loops young workers are missing, said Lisette Sutherland, an expert on working remotely and the author of the book Work Together Anywhere.
“You have to make communicating with each other so easy that it’s like talking to someone right next to you,” Sutherland said. “It sounds really simple, but most multinational workers don’t even have headsets. Another big part of it is turning the video on. People don’t realize how much team building you can do just by turning on the screen.”
Sutherland said that the richer, real-time interface provided by a new wave of technological advances will help quell the isolation people feel when working at home. Robotic cameras that move through the halls of an office and pivot to look around a conference room will help remote workers feel more connected.
“What we’re trying to do is replicate the human experience as much as possible,” she said.
“We All Knew Tech Would Make Work Better—Has It?,” The New York Times
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In 2006, I lived in California and belonged to a social community interested in technology, the future, and staying healthy. Every Sunday we went hiking together. One person in the group particularly interested me because he was working on a peculiar start-up idea: he wanted to eradicate death.
I learned there are a lot of longevity devotees out there experimenting with and researching anti-aging: rocket scientists, theoretical physicists, entrepreneurs, software developers. Some practice calorie restriction. Some research cryonics. Some work on nanotechnologies. Through his networks, my death-defying hiking friend was introduced to others working toward the same goal—but no one was talking regularly or sharing data. So he dreamed of building an online project management tool to enable longevity scientists from all over the world to collaborate and solve the problem of aging.
It was an aha! experience for me. For centuries, employers have hired the most qualified workers who were able to convene at a central location. The location was by necessity the constant; the variable was the most qualified workers able to convene. That didn’t necessarily mean the team was populated by “the best and the brightest”—just the best who were nearby or willing to relocate. Of course, that’s the employer’s view. From the employees’ view, the job offers they accepted were the best they could get at the time—whether or not those jobs made them excited to get up in the morning.
But if instead we found a way to make location the variable—indeed, immaterial—then we could have the constant be the far more important concern: qualification, including enthusiasm. Employers could hire the best, the brightest, and the most dedicated—wherever those workers happen to be.
I love this concept. I’ve held a job that I took on because it was a “good job”—despite the fact that it didn’t excite me. And every day, when I arrived at what I called my gray cube (a cubicle like in a Dilbert cartoon), a part of me thought, Ugh. This is not the life I envisioned for myself. After several years, being rather young and naive, I quit my stable, good-paying job and pursued work that allowed greater self-expression, work that made me feel more alive. It wasn’t glamorous and it didn’t pay well for a long time, but I eventually found my niche and my own version of success.
It just thrills me to think that technology could make it so that everyone can engage in work that jazzes them. So I started talking to others who were thinking this way too, and I found a lot of people to talk to. I’ve interviewed directors and managers from more than eighty companies whose business models depend on successfully bridging distance—companies that, for example, provide consulting services, outsource work, and offer training courses. In addition I’ve talked with hundreds of people—from software developers to HR directors to neuroscientists. Everyone had a lot to say about how they make working remotely work for them or their teams. Some things I already knew or had guessed, like the need for regular contact and team building. Some things really surprised me, like how much connection can be created just by turning on the video camera, as well as how reluctant we all can be to try new things.
One of the biggest takeaways I got from all those conversations is that there is no “one solution fits all” for remote working, no single formula to follow. Each person, each company, will need to experiment with various tools and processes to find what makes him, her, or them most productive. But what are the tools available? What processes are effective for different kinds of remote teams? I rustled the virtual bushes to learn everything I could about how to make working remotely not just workable, but undeniably productive—and, in some cases, even preferable. All that and more has been collected in these pages.
To best help you navigate this terrain, this book is divided into parts and chapters suited to different kinds of readers at different stages in the going-remote process. If all this is completely new to you, start with Part I, which offers a bird’s-eye view of the current landscape of remote working, detailing some of the who, what, where, and why of it all. Part II is for individuals, whether you’re considering going remote or you’re ready to start out (chapter 3), or you’re perfecting your game (chapter 4). Parts III and IV are for team leaders and managers/owners: those transitioning to the remote option (chapter 5), those hiring remote workers (chapter 6), and those looking to perfect their game (chapters 7 through 10). Following the chapters in each part are Part EXTRAS: additional resources particularly applicable to that group. After Part IV is the RESOURCES section, which includes additions applicable to many—especially “Technology & Tools.” And for those who would benefit from more personalized guidance, you’ll also find information about the Work Together Anywhere Workshop, which is available both online and in person.
Be sure not to miss the conclusion, where I wax poetic about how people from all corners of the globe have figured out how to flourish working remotely—and how in so doing have achieved marvels previously thought impossible. And, finally, I want to give a shout-out to the remote-working experts I interviewed for the Collaboration Superpowers podcasts—which as of this writing has aired its 175th unique episode. In the “Interviewees” section I share a bit of what each professional has to offer—as well as information on how to further your acquaintance should you wish to learn more.
ONE of the premises of this book is that to be better informed is to be better prepared. So I strongly recommend that you at least skim the portions written for those you’ll be interacting with. The more you understand their perspective, and they yours, the better you’ll be able to forge something undeniably productive together. This broader perspective magnifies everyone’s understanding of how to make it all work well.
For those who haven’t yet made the leap, the prospect of going remote can feel daunting—but it doesn’t have to. Whether you’re an individual, a manager, or an owner, in the pages that follow you’ll find all you need not just to get started but also to get ahead. The information collected here paints a bright picture of the possibilities available to us today. Plus, given that businesses are constantly adapting, and the technology of remote collaboration is always improving, the future looks even more promising.
As I continue to interview people who work remotely, I meet ever more people from all over the world who actively pursue work they love. When I think back to my gray days in that cubicle, I think about all the people who currently view their work equally dimly. But they don’t have to—the technology exists to bridge distance between a dedicated worker and a job worth getting up for in the morning. In the pages to come, I’ll share how to do just that.
By the end of our journey, it’s unlikely we’ll have eradicated death, as my ambitious colleague aspires to do. But with the tips, tools, and to-do lists that follow, I hope to open your eyes to the possibilities that exist right now for working remotely—and to inspire you to do great things too. Just think of what we could accomplish when we get the right people working together!
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“If I could reach back through time and hand my early-millennial self a copy of Work Together Anywhere, it would have been a priceless gift…. It’s a really comprehensive manual of checklists, considerations and questions … a book to dip in and out of regularly, taking pride of place on any workspace bookshelf—wherever it is.”
—Maya Middlemiss: “Universal Collaboration: A Review of Work Together Anywhere by Lisette Sutherland,” LinkedIn Pulse
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