Remote Work is a Craft

From “Remote work is a platform” over on Signal vs. Noise:

When something’s ported, it’s obvious.

Stuff that’s ported lacks the native sensibilities of the receiving platform. It doesn’t celebrate the advantages, it only meets the lowest possible bar. Everyone knows it. Sometimes we’re simply glad to have it because it’s either that or nothing, but there’s rarely a ringing endorsement of something that’s so obviously moved from A to B without consideration for what makes B, B.

What we’re seeing today is history repeat itself. This time we’re not talking about porting software or technology, we’re talking about porting a way to work.

In-person office work is a platform...Remote work is another platform...In-office and remote work are different platforms of work. And right now, what we’re seeing a lot of companies attempt to port local work methods to working remotely...Simulating in-person office work remotely does both approaches a disservice...Work remotely, don’t port the office.

The “porting software” metaphor works really well here to illustrate the author’s point. I wonder how many non-technology people would grasp it though? There’s probably a lot of people who work in technology that wouldn’t grasp it; or at least they’d think “porting isn’t so bad!”

This article really got me thinking that remote work is a kind of craft. If you do it “right”, if you do “native” remote work, it’s very possible many people won’t even notice and they’ll think you’re doing the same kind of work that anyone who works from home does. Like the debate between Electron apps and Mac-assed Mac apps: people who really care about the craft of software note the difference, but not everyone does.

For example: instead of dropping a couple sentences in Slack, you could spend a chunk of time writing a detailed, thoughtful piece of prose to communicate the background, rationale, and proposed solution to a problem. People in your org might review that document and say “looks good” and not give a second thought to the kind of contribution you just made. But if you value the craft of working remotely and building software as a team of people, you’ll notice the difference—and so will people who also value the craft of this style of working. You’ll be a joy to work with.

I think COVID is making us realize there’s a subset of folks in the world who truly think about remote work as a craft, something not to be confused with merely porting in-office work to a remote environment. It has its own set of sensibilities that make it distinct. You have to really care about remote work—know its ins and outs intimately—to notice its differences from office work.

Remote work is a craft. I wouldn’t be surprised if, going forward, more companies like Basecamp really dug in on this fact and re-oriented their business practices around it. How? By really beginning to ask questions like:

  • How do we celebrate remote work?
  • How do we communicate our craft around remote work?
  • How do we find other people who value the craft of remote work like we do and how do we hire them, wherever they are in the world?