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Work Can Wait (37signals.com)
147 points by wlll on Nov 18, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments


>REMOTE, the new book by 37signals, shows both employers and employees how they can work together, remotely, from any desk, in any space, in any place, anytime, anywhere.

Maybe attacking Microsoft for the exposure works as a marketing strategy, but it's a particularly bizarre one considering their own take on remote work. Scott Hanselman had an excellent take on the whole thing yesterday:


> Maybe attacking Microsoft for the exposure works as a marketing strategy,

Bingo: it's straight out of their book:


If you can't reconcile this 37signals campaign against Office365 with their book on remote working, then maybe this explanation will help:

* 37signals believes that empowering employees to work remotely is a good thing (see Remote[1] and We Work Remotely[2]).

* 37signals also believes that a live/work balance is important and it's critically important to confine work to work hours whenever possible (see Rework[3] and various blog posts[4,5]).

* The problem with the Office365 campaign is that it sells remote access to managers with the promise that they can increase productivity by expecting their employees to work from dawn to dusk, and even while in the bathroom or eating meals.

Remote work and employee availability are orthogonal concepts. While remote work may enable more flexible work hours, granting remote access to employees should not come with the expectation that they are available 24/7.

I'm surprised that more people cannot grok this distinction, and if that's true here at HN then I really worry that Microsoft's Office365 campaign may turn out to be prescient.

[1] https://37signals.com/remote/

[2] https://weworkremotely.com

[3] http://37signals.com/rework/

[4] https://37signals.com/svn/posts/3180-a-good-days-work

[5] http://37signals.com/svn/posts/902-fire-the-workaholics

Edit: Fixed grammar issue. Added references.

The book's subtitle is "Office not required." It's about being able to work without having to live the same city or country, and not having to work together with everyone in the same office.

Microsoft's campaign quite obviously shows 9-5 office workers getting things done while away from the office outside of office hours, when -- in 37signals' view -- they ought to be living their lives.

The full quote from your URL: "As an employer, restricting your hiring to a small geographic region means you’re not getting the best people you can. As an employee, restricting your job search to companies within a reasonable commute means you’re not working for the best company you can. REMOTE, the new book by 37signals, shows both employers and employees how they can work together, remotely, from any desk, in any space, in any place, anytime, anywhere."

I do like that he's pointed out Google stating the exact same thing on their Google Apps pitch page. Sometimes it feels like our outrage is mostly fueled by preconceptions (Google = free thinkers! Microsoft = baaaad)

I genuinely love Scott's style of blogging. He has a real knack of putting across a cool and thoughtful article whilst not pandering to any one tech following...despite being a Microsoft employee.

"Maybe attacking Microsoft for the exposure works as a marketing strategy"

Watch and learn. I just got more exposure to the 37signals brand.

"but it's a particularly bizarre"

Bizarre gets plenty of attention. Hence why something like this would be known as a marketing ploy. The irony of it all is very attractive.

Might also be that some people actually like to work. I'm sure many hackers reading HN and/or spending time on side projects don't consider that work (although their significant other might).

Likewise some people do like to work and are interested in trading short term enjoyment for (what they think could be) future gain.

Nothing wrong with that.

Guess what? I don't find it enjoyable to be at a sports even (some people do of course and I recognize that) I'd rather be "working" (if you want to call it that). I'm not suffering at all.

I think there's a difference between remote work in general and remote work done during time that should be personal (i.e. during weekends, during dates, before sleep). Just because someone is working remotely doesn't mean that they're working during their off-hours. In fact, I think a lot of what 37S espouses is a work life balance given to you by remote work -- just look at the ad for the book. It doesn't show people working during personal activities.

If you want deeper insights on this specific issue, read the actual paper on the survey details [1].

A few excerpts from the paper:

"While two in three office workers believe there is a clear line between when their professional life stops and their personal life begins, the data from Microsoft's Get It Done survey suggests quite the opposite – that in 2013, the barrier between personal and professional is not only blurry, but in fact may no longer exist at all. In reality, more than three-quarters of office workers say they work at least occasionally at unconventional times, either on weekends or outside of normal business hours and more than 1 in 2 office workers say they are now expected to be available no matter what time it is."

"As mentioned, more than 1 in 2 office workers say it is now an expectation and a necessity to be able to get work done whenever and wherever they are."

"In fact, 44% have multi-tasked by working while watching television; 36% while eating a meal at home; 19% while going to the bathroom; 9% while taking a shower or bath; and 4% while having sex!"

"In thinking back over your career, we would like to know how technology, that allows you to work outside the traditional office, has changed your work life: 74% responded with, 'I work more hours.'"

[1] http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/presskits/office/docs/mi...


It seems that this is the employer driving the culture, rather than the employees. I mean, if the expectation is there, then of course the culture is going to shift toward "always available" accommodations. Also, speaking as a developer here, I cannot imagine being productive in many of the described scenarios. I need quiet, large (4 to 8 hour) blocks of time to solve the type of problems that I am working; that's not going to happen at a recital, at a soccer match, while watching a program, etc.

Moreover, if I was at one of those events, then, wait for it... I'm there to enjoy that event.

I also recognize that this is part of our culture (speaking as an American here). But, personally, I don't work on vacation. I've never understood it. Vacation is that sacrosanct time when you get to breathe that rarefied air of truly unplugging and dropping out.

In the view of management, remote is becoming synonymous with always available.

Thank you for this. I could re-work all of their graphics from Remote in similar fashion which would make their advice seem similarly insane to MS's.

Holy crap. That Microsoft 365 campaign is one of the most tone-deaf things I've seen from them...

Please, Microsoft, those "20% of people working while at their kid's event" and "27% working while out to eat" numbers are way too low. Let's build a world where I can never get away from work! You don't have to put off making love to your girlfriend when you can work anywhere! You don't have to put off having that stress-induced stroke when you can work anywhere!

For starters, I think all these complaints against the ads are completely valid, but it's still an effective campaign.

I'll play the devil here --

The people this campaign is trying to reach are the decision makers and managers in companies; the people that will be writing the check to Microsoft...

So with that in mind, when they see these ads and think "Sweet, I can get a hold of my team anytime, anywhere, and have them do a quick bit of work, this is awesome" the message is clear.

Argue all you want about how terrible this seems, but these ads will definitely plant that seed in the mind of management.

You hit the nail on the head.

Percentages appear to be validating this behaviour: others are making their resources to work in the bathroom, on vacations, in their free time. Why not you?

Seriously, I thought the Microsoft images were the parody for a second there.

I think I would be more open to the idea if regular working hours are accosted -- the constraints of 40 hour workweeks and the 9-5 daily grind is fairly unpleasant. It's common-place, but why? Are we just so accustomed to it that we cannot fathom anything beyond it?

I've seen DHH's twitter posts on this, and they're amusing, but I also feel like it misses the point.

Microsoft isn't advocating that you should work 24/7/365, rather, that you can work 24/7/365. It's a pretty big distinction, and frankly, despite being the average marketing rhetoric, not a bad one.

I would posit that DHH's message and Microsoft's are in total agreement. If you can work whenever, then sure, that means you can work more, but it also means that you can work more flexibly. The implication strikes me as one in which I can pause work to go to my daughter's piano recital, then resume work later -- not one in which I have to work from my daughter's recital.

> but I also feel like it misses the point.

I think you're missing their point. Their point is that it isn't okay to be on the phone blabbing away about business during your kid's soccer game. It isn't okay to be on your laptop editing work spreadsheets during family movie night, and so on.

Ads are used to shift perceptions to control an audience. In this case, the message is that you should be working more and that it's ok to integrate work into family/personal time.

It just isn't okay. At least in the world I do live and want to live in.

And in the world I live in, I sometimes have to make choices between attending social events and having some work availability. More mobile access means not having to make that choice as often. That's the point that Microsoft is trying to make (poorly).

The ads are ridiculous because no one wants to have to work at their kid's soccer game. But there are, I'd suggest, a fair number of people who'd like to attend the game but don't have that choice. Framed that way, remote work is freeing. The trouble with the ads is that they frame that work as some kind of virtuous shackle-extension rather than an arguably-necessary evil. That's a frame well worth pushing back on.

> But there are, I'd suggest, a fair number of people who'd like to attend the game but don't have that choice.

Even more nefariously, I've worked (mostly in DC) with a large swath of people who would prioritize a work meeting over their kid's soccer game. Something like this allows them to add in some work-life balance to their (ahem) lives without forcing them to miss a business opportunity unnecessarily.

Once you enable companies with the means and the norm to make people work while they are on the toilet, companies will use them and you won't be able to put the genie back in the bottle.

The idea that the evil corporation can enslave people is, I think, somewhat naive. Certainly, there are companies that don't respect or appreciate an appropriate work life balance. Also, there are certainly employees who are happy to trade an appropriate work life balance for a certain amount of money.

In the field of IT though, companies are frequently seeking out more and more ways to entice workers, and offering to chain them to their desk is seldom an appealing offer in isolation. Chaining someone to their desk for triple the market rate might work, but if it ever stops working as incentive, the employees are free to leave.

I've worked in environments where the work was put first, and the demands of the job are indeed intense. For that sacrifice, I was paid very, very well. When I realized the impact it was having on my personal life, I was no longer willing to make that trade, and opted for a change. Now, I still work hard, but I'm better able to dictate the 'when' and 'where' of it, and am overall more productive. That is a choice that everyone is free to make.

For what it's worth, even in the 'evil' corporation I described, nobody would have bothered to force me into working harder than I wanted. The expectation was just higher, and, I might even dare say, commensurate with the pay. Had I not wanted to work as hard, they wouldn't have pushed it, they would have just lowered expectations of me, and those lowered expectations would have resulted in lower bonuses, lower pay, and perhaps a lower overall regard for my work ethic. It was rather easy for me to just take the pay cut initially rather than draw it out and ruin my reputation in the process.

I can see that as a viable interpretation, but I don't see that as the interpretation.

For a fact, there are times when it is better to listen in on a meeting from your kid's soccer game, if the alternative is missing it altogether. For sure, a day working from the park is better than working from the office.

For as much as the negative interpretation could be true, in that Microsoft seeks to engage in wage slavery whereupon all its workers are attached to the company with Office 365 as the tether, it speaks equally to the notion that those decisions don't need to be as hard any more, and that you're now free to work an appropriate amount of time from a now increased bevy of places.

Is it poorly delivered? Yes. Is Microsoft really advocating slavery through software? I think most reasonable people should be able to agree that they aren't. Is it perhaps pandering to the Type A workaholics that would rather miss their kid's soccer game than an important meeting? Yeah, I think that it is. I also don't think that's evil.

So then Microsoft should embrace full-time telecommuting for it's workers, right?

They do in some cases. Scott Hanselman is a full-time telecommuter for Microsoft:


Regardless of however Microsoft intended its vague marketing, all this is, is 37signals being smug. Just deal with it, and enjoy the tweets.

Huh? Why is 37 signal taking a PR based ad out of context? Its clear that the message of the advertisement is "You can" and not "You should". I could very well come up with 10+ reasons not to eat dinner late, yet I can clearly comprehend the message behind Taco Bell/Burger King's "Open Late" ads.

Ironically 37Signal's moto can be also be re-interpreted:

"Making collaboration productive and enjoyable for people every day." [1]

Sadly, this whole stunt makes them come across as a smug.

[1] http://37signals.com/

"You can" tends to turn into "you should". Accepted norms and all.

I submit that in the given examples of being at the kid's soccer game and family movie night that we should throw away the "you can" and instead think "you should NOT".

You should not be gabbing away on the phone about work, facing away, while your kid is scoring a soccer goal. You should not have your laptop open working on work-related spreadsheets on the couch next to your family during family movie night.

If your job somehow requires this, perhaps it's time for a career re-evaluation. And of course it ultimately comes down to it being your right and your choice, but if you do this, examine the real effect it has on your family. Don't be the dick parent who gabs away on their cell phone during their kids' soccer game.

Can, should, expected to...

When your other colleagues respond to emails 24/7 and only you don't, you're the slow to respond guy. It's like a 9-7 work culture. When it's the norm, it's also the expectation.

This is like the comments a couple of weeks ago on the daylight savings article. 'Why should you care what time the clock says it is. 'Just arrange a 13:00-21:00 schedule with your employer and arrange to have dinner with your friends @ 1am.'

37 Signals are making a comment about work culture. Culture is something we make together. And they're right. Working on the toilet, at your kids' football match, while watching TV is bad. Falling asleep into a spreadsheet it definitely bad.

That last image with the guy "passed out face down" with his tablet in his hand is indeed pretty bad.

That's not the kind of life I aspire to.

To me that was the most strikingly bizarre 'ideal' presented in Microsoft's source material.

Recently I was standing in a ridiculously long line, waiting to vote. I was using my phone to get some work done while I was waiting in the line and a very old woman behind me in line was mouthing off to another person waiting, "Can you believe these people using their phones all the time? I mean, get a life." She made sure to say it so loud that all 300+ people in line (including me) could hear it.

I just chose to ignore her while I continued working. Being able to work in a line while waiting to vote allows me to spend more time away from the office and with my kids. The elderly lady behind me lives in a very small world and doesn't understand people have different circumstances than her.

Reading this submission makes me put 37signals into the same category as the rude old lady that was standing behind me in line.

The idea of the campaign is sound, but the way in which they pitched it comes off somewhat dystopian. Rather than showing how you can now work in situations where you normally wouldn't (and it'd be considered rude), they should have emphasized that with 365 you can work wherever, whenever you want.

How about show a guy working at desk in his "office", only to get up and walk out the door of an Airstream trailer in the middle of Yosemite Valley. Maybe show someone in the zone while on the train, checking off their work to-do items, only to step off, put away the phone, and reunite with their friends happily knowing they don't have anything left to do.

But this? It just all seems a little bit backwards.

Did Microsoft really advocate for getting work done while driving?

But the MS bit still sounds very much like it's selling to upper management the potential for them to grind more work hours out of salaried employees. Which still sucks but seems less funny.

Obligatory (sorry, its a bit off topic): http://www.amazon.com/AutoExec-Wheelmate-Steering-Attachable...

The MS campaign is particularly egregious when you consider that it's targeted at managers. I've seen some HN comments asking why it's a bad thing to have the flexibility to work remote vs. needing to be at an office. From an employee's point of view, remote work is a good thing and we should promote it as an option. There is a risk, however, that managers view remote access as a tool to require employees to be available all hours of the day instead of the traditional 40 hour work week.

The reason 37signals is going after Microsoft is because that dystopian future is exactly what Microsoft is promoting.

As remote work becomes more mainstream it's important for the proponents of remote work to emphasize to press/clients/employers/colleagues that remote access ≠ 24/7 availability and live/work balance is still important.

This is just "jumping on the Microsoft hate bandwagon".

I think both companies advocate more flexibility in your work, not the fact that you should work 24/7. In fact, 37signals has a 4-day work week (http://37signals.com/svn/posts/893-workplace-experiments).

I work a total of 4 days a week, usually 1 or 2 days a week from home. It's such a great thing to be able to plan your day around your life, instead of making it about your job. This flexibility goes two ways: I get to spend more daylight time with my kids, but that also means I sometimes have to do some work in the evening. This arrangement works perfectly for me, but only because my employer doesn't think 'working more flexible' equals 'more working hours in a day'.

The idea of working at your kid's soccer game is pretty scary. I guess it's better than not showing up at all, but what about when you miss the big goal?

Hard to argue with "You should be at home eating waffles"

Which is worse? Staying at work and missing the game completely, or "working" during the game and missing maybe 25% of it.

Of course attending a kids soccer game and having to check in to work is not ideal, but it's an improvement over being locked in "cell block 9-5".

Microsoft's infographic is so bad that it is practically begging to be ridiculed or attacked.

I would quote Sun Tsu here, but I don't think Microsoft is really much of a direct competitor to 37signals.

So I think this is just the typical 37signals policy of "be opinionated - the more controversial the better" to increase their brand awareness.

I'll leave you with a different gratuitous quote: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” ~ Saul Alinsky

I've never seen MS shooting themselves in a foot that hard. I didn't believe it was MS original, but it really is! Unbelievable. In many european countries it is illegal to force employees to work overtime without prior agreements or overtime pay. I wonder if that poster will be banned in EU.

Those Office blurbs are horrific, I thought this was a joke. These are selling points in the 21st century? Are you kidding me? Technology is supposed to make things efficient so you don't have to spend your entire day pushing pencils, not facilitate an around-the-clock rat race.

Full respect to 37signals for showing big guts and with very worthy reasons, too.

Although in my personal opinion both the matras are a bit extreme (1) Get it done and (2) Work can wait, I would anytime buy 37signals' reasoning over Microsoft's.


We all get Microsoft's point, that you're able to use their technology in all kinds of ways, everywhere, any time. The whole campaign is IMO almost (humorously) taking itself too seriously with the whole 'balance your work/life with our products'. Just silly with the examples used (soccer match, and what it looks like to me: being on a date).

Is it just me or this whole thing seems to be a big misunderstanding? To me it seems that the point the ads are making is : if you really have work that needs to be done, you can do it anywhere. Not necessarily you should work everywhere. Here it feels like 37signals is just tagging along the campaign for free publicity.

> "Is it just me or this whole thing seems to be a big misunderstanding?"

When thousands upon thousands of people (maybe tens of thousands, maybe more) look at your ad and take the opposite reaction away from it, the fault isn't with the audience.

Microsoft may not have intended to produce a hilarious dystopian ad campaign, but that's what they actually did. There's no misunderstanding, only insanely incompetent execution.

But I mean, "Microsoft marketing fails to get message across and achieves opposite effect" is not even a newsworthy headline anymore.

I really hope my competitors adopt the 'work can wait' mantra.

(btw great marketing - tip of the hat to 37s)

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