“Distributed Teams”​ book now in SFO bookstores

My book “Distributed Teams” is now available at all Compass Books stores in San Francisco airport!

This photo still gives me goosebumps.

“Distributed Teams” book on display in Compass Bookstores, San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Even more exciting – the first in-store sale was just hours after the books were first put on display on the shelves that morning!?!?

Many thanks to Chris, Andrew and the rest of the staff at Compass Books for being willing to help me through the process as well as for being willing to carry this first-time author on their precious shelf space! If you are passing through SFO, and don’t already have a copy of my book, please do consider buying it here. You’ll be supporting good independent bookstores and the short actionable chapters will be good reading for your flight.

Book sales at 6 months

My “Distributed Teams” book was published six months ago, so this felt like a good time to review some metrics.

While writing my book, I had multiple people telling me that print books were dead, Amazon/kindle was the only way to go. Some literally lived on the road, with no home, so their opinion was understandable. After all, books can be heavy to carry. Maybe it was true for the specific subject matter of their books? Maybe they only used kindle, and thought others should do the same? My own reading style was different. I have a few books on my tablet, but vast majority of my books are physical books. Was I the only luddite who still skimmed over packed, curated bookshelves at home, re-reading specific helpful passages when the situation arose?

Despite all the kindle-only suggestions, I decided to create my book in multiple formats: Physical paperback, Amazon/kindle and Apple/epub. This decision delayed the release of the book, as it added significant complexity to the book creation process. But it felt like the right decision, so I did it.

Instead of writing words in the book, I found myself working on the mechanics of the book publishing process dealing with a flurry of time-consuming questions like: paperback-vs-hardback? book height and width, font size, margin size – all of which in turn change the total number of pages? How do paragraphs wrap on page boundaries? Where to put footnotes and page numbers? etc, etc, etc. I also decided that I was going to ship the book in all these formats at the same time, not one-after-another. Doing sim-ship like this is obviously harder to do, but my experience in shipping software taught me that the organizational rigor this requires has two very important side effects. 1) This avoided any perception of one format being more important or better than another. 2) This makes it easier later to track, coordinate and ship any fixes/edits to the book over the lifespan of the book. Something I’ve been thankful for with each small book update I’ve shipped since August 2018.

Six months after launch, here’s what I discovered: 72% people bought physical paperback while 28% bought kindle.

Book sales: Aug2018 – Feb2019

It is worth noting for the record that these numbers does not include physical copies of the book handed out in workshops I run on distributed team or as copies to people I’ve worked with. If I’d included those numbers too, it would have skewed the sales numbers even more towards paperback. I find it oddly great to watching people who don’t know me casually flipping open the book, politely skim a little and then stopping to lean in and start intently reading. Just like I enjoy watching people highlight passages and inserting post-it notes during workshops. My opinion, without evidence, is that this is less likely to happen with electronic versions.

I am now convinced that, as a writer, the right answer is to make your content available in whatever format(s) your readers use.

John

ps: While creating my book, I also created an epub version. However, I stopped part-way through the legal paperwork with apple, and then in the middle of everything else, I simply forgot to revisit. Earlier this week, a reader reminded me of this, so I’m now working on it again. The next six month report should include numbers for epub sales also. I’ve also had a few requests for audio-books, which I know nothing about but am starting to research.

Work From Home – in Vermont!

Starting 01January, 2019, an important new law came into force.

The State of Vermont will pay you to move to Vermont. Of course, there is a catch. You need to “work from home” (or from a co-working space) for an employer who is not based in Vermont. And the money has to help cover your costs of relocating to Vermont and/or of working “remote”. Put another way, Vermont wants to encourage people who “work from home” to move to Vermont.

You can read the entire law here. As a non-lawyer, I found it surprisingly short and easy to read. There is also additional details in coverage from The New York Times and National Public Radio.

Of course, if you prefer to work in an office, there are also employers in Vermont who are looking to hire. Everything from large corporations to scrappy startups, across a range of industries. But the incentives in this law are specifically focused on people who “work from home” (or a co-working space) as part of a distributed team, working for an employer that is physically located outside of Vermont.

This is the first US state law I know of providing job incentives to humans – not companies – and is a very exciting change in the social contract.

(Disclaimer: I do not work for the State of Vermont, but I did provide testimony, advice and helped review early drafts of this bill as it worked through the various committee meetings and became law over the last year or so. My work was unpaid but I did this because I am passionate about distributed teams and their impact in society… which readers of my blog and my book already know!)

If you could live anywhere and still have a meaningful job/career, where would you choose to live? There are many factors in deciding where to live. Everyone has different interests in their life. People who are enthusiastic surfers are unlikely to consider moving to Vermont. However, the skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking and hiking in Vermont are world-class. So too is the leaf-peeping. Housing is plentiful and great value. Crime is low. Schools are good and it has the highest number of universities per capita in the US. Overall, quality of life is good. Really good. Of the 50 states nationwide ranked by wallethub.com, Vermont ranked 4th best for raising a family and 5th best for quality of public schools. Oh, and if you do need an occasional trip to a big city office (say for client meetings or group gatherings or conferences), you are within 3-5 hours drive/bus/train of Boston, Connecticut, Manhattan(NYC) and Montreal. Too far for a daily commute, but otherwise very reasonable.

Before you decide to relocate to Vermont, I recommend you first visit and explore. Not just as a tourist, but as someone thinking of moving there – as a potential new resident who cares about the reality of day-to-day life. To help with relocating decisions, Vermont has online sites which give details about the state. Vermont is also running free “Stay-to-Stay” events, where you visit Vermont for a long weekend to meet with locals who will help answer any/all of your relocation questions. They’ll help make sure you find your way around, introduce you to other local professionals and realtors, invite you to business networking events, arrange school/college tours, etc. The idea is to help answer any questions about housing, schools, healthcare and the other details of life that people care about when relocating.

Once you know you want to move to Vermont, click here to read the rules and to apply. It is all intentionally quite straightforward and if you have any remaining questions, you can contact the organizers at remoteworker@vermont.gov.

When running my own “distributed teams” manager bootcamps, I describe how vacant job postings are filled faster, simply by adding the words “remote welcome” in the job description. I’m excited to see Vermont saying “remote welcome” at a whole new level.

It will be exciting to watch how this turns out. Last but not least: if you are reading this and do decide to relocate to Vermont, I’d love to hear from you.

ps: Another interesting part of the new law is about co-working spaces and maker spaces. Vermont already has a bunch – see a partial list here – but this new bill provides funding to encourage creating even more maker spaces and co-working spaces with high speed internet. More on this in another post.

“Distributed Teams as a Competitive Advantage” in Sydney!

On Thursday, 10jan2019, I’ll be leading a presentation and Q+A about distributed teams at Fishburners / SydneyStartupHub in Sydney, Australia. Doors open at 6pm, with formal event starting at 6.30pm and ending ~8.30pm. Click here to reserve your spot. (All proceeds from tickets go to charity.)

“Distributed Teams” in the Blue Mountains, Sydney, Australia

This presentation will build on a focus of my “Distributed Teams” book – the competitive advantages and wider economic impact of this trend to distributed teams (or “remote work” or “virtual teams” or…). Over the last ~20 years, we’ve moved from jokes about “working at home in bunny slippers” to viewing distributed teams as a competitive advantage. How did this happen? What are the cold, hard, business advantages to this trend that can help you and your organisation be more competitive and more successful? How can this trend help your organisation hire better, hire faster and improve retention? Can your organisation save money while also addressing important social, diversity, urban planning and environmental issues? How can your team or organisation work well together even when physically apart? Can you have a meaningful, well-paid career without a daily commute to a physical office?

This is usually a very interactive topic, so we’ve scheduled extra time for Q+A discussions as well as some time for networking before/after.

It is also worth noting that this will be the first presentation of 2019 in the large, newly renovated, event space at Fishburners, in SydneyStartupHub. I heard a lot about this venue earlier this year while working in Singularity University with Molly Pyle and Brian Lim, so when I arrived on holidays in Sydney and Melbourne, I had to check it out for myself.

Yes, SydneyStartupHub is a co-working space. But its like none I’ve ever seen before. This one location has ~183,000 sqft / 17,000sqm of office space across 11 floors. There’s a fantastic 110 seat theatre. There’s a large public speaking event space that can hold a few hundred people. Serious professional-grade kitchens, coffee machines and social spaces. Rock-solid internet connection. Many many many meeting rooms. Phone-booths for video-calls. Glass-walled offices and open-plan co-working desks arranged for different size startups. After a while, I just stopped counting. All renovated and stylish – yet mixed with the carefully preserved original heritage details. If you’ve never visited, you need to see it yourself to grasp the scale and great attention to detail throughout. Its mind-boggling! Oh, and the location in downtown Sydney means that it is easy to get to/from here on many different forms of public transport.

If you are now (or will be) part of a distributed team, please stop by – I hope this event will help your organization be more effective and I’d love to hear what did/didnt work for you. If you’ve never seen Fishburners or SydneyStartupHub, please use this event as an excuse to stop by and check it out. It is short notice, but I hope you can make it. 

(Note: This would not have happened without a lot of help from: Molly Pyle, Brian Lim, Fishburners, JobsForNSW, Margaret Petty @ UTS, Pandora Shelley, Georgia Marshall and Justin O’Hare. Thank you all for making this happen.)

The “Distributed Teams” book – created by a distributed team!

Here’s a little trivia about the book “Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart“. This book *about* distributed teams was created *by* a distributed team.

Catherine, Linda and I live in three different states (California, New York and Utah), in three different timezones and never once met in person during the creation of this book. Instead, we “walked the talk” – following the practices from the book while writing the book.

We held video calls instead of audio-only conference calls. We used pre-agreed Single Source of Truth to track each person’s work as well as the state of the overall project. We had crisply organized communications. Depending on the phase of the project, sometimes we co-worked on multi-hour video calls multiple days in a row and sometimes we didn’t talk all week. But we always knew the latest status of what the others were working on. These, and many other tactics, came from the “How” section of the book and were essential for helping this team work well together while physically apart.

I note for the record: Catherine and I had never worked together before. Linda and I had worked together once before, years ago, on a completely unrelated project. This team went from “forming” to “performing” (bypassing the “storming” part!) while never once meeting in person. It was a great team to be a part of and one of the highlights of the whole book writing process. We’ll be working together again, I know it!

John.

“Distributed Teams” interview on InfoQ.com

Long time readers of InfoQ.com know they cover many different aspects of working in software development: the tools, the technologies, workplace cultural aspects, conferences and yes even books.

All to say, I should not have been too surprised when Ben Linders asked to interview me about my new “Distributed Teams” book. Ben has written several posts about different aspects of distributed teams and remote work over the years, so I was delighted to do this.

We covered lots of details from the book, as well as wider impact of this changing mindset in society. This was a very detailed, thought-provoking, interview and I enjoyed working with Ben on this. The article is now live here on InfoQ.com, so pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee and have a read. Hopefully you’ll like it – and if you *do* like it, please share/tweet about it.

Thank you, Ben, for making this happen.

(oh, and of course, Ben and I did the interview about distributed teams as a distributed team with ~9 hour timezone difference between us!)

“Distributed Teams” now available!

Very late Wednesday night (technically closer to pre-dawn Thursday), I uploaded the final version of the manuscript to Amazon. Then, after I rechecked all my various todo lists one-more-time and found everything was crossed out, I quietly paused with the cursor over the “publish” button.

Took a deep breath.

And clicked “Publish”.

As of last night, you can now buy paperback and kindle versions on Amazon.com. It’s been 3 years and ~2 months since I started this book and I still find it hard to believe that I’m writing this announcement.

This book is aimed towards people working in, joining, or starting a distributed team, with easy-to-read short chapters and practical takeaways on topics like:
* Why distributed teams are good for business, diversity, employee retention, society and the environment.
* How to run efficient video calls and meetings while dealing with lots of email and group chat.
* How to handle complex interpersonal topics such as hiring, firing, one-on-ones, reviews, trust and group culture.

I’m super proud and humbled by the help from many many people who came out of their way to help me make this idea into a reality. If you find this book helpful, please tweet/blog to help spread the word!

John.

“Distributed Teams” book: Now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!


UPDATE: My book is now available on Amazon! More info here or jump straight to buy the book on Amazon by clicking on the thumbnail.

John.


Original post follows.

My book “Distributed Teams” is now available for pre-order on Amazon! Click on the thumbnail to jump straight to the pre-order page!

That was a surreal sentence to write. And daunting to re-read while looking at the remaining ToDo list.

There is a bewildering 1,001 loose details that need to get figured out before the book officially “ships”. Buying ISBN numbers. Debate hardback vs paperback vs ebook. Page margins. Font size. Font. Resolution of images in the book. Book cover design. Create Author page on Amazon. Setup copyright – globally. Decide book pricing. Decide which countries to sell the book in. Fix bugs in the artwork. I’ve been jumping from one topic to another, learning each area as I went along. In this dizzy never-ending ToDo list, “Get book listed on Amazon” was just one more ToDo item. Several attempts failed with different error messages, sending me off debugging yet another problem, until one attempt seemed to complete without any errors?!? Huh – that’s strange. Now what? How do I know if it worked? Was there a dashboard to check status? Oh, wait. Duh. I started up a new browser, went to Amazon.com and searched for “Distributed Teams”, just like a regular user. There it was. Great. That worked. Search by my name. Yep, also there, great. Search by variations of the book title, all good. And then it hit me. Wait. There it was! My book. On Amazon!

There. Is. My. Book. On. Amazon.

Pause. Deep breath. Slowly exhale.

So here we are. At a major milestone.

It feels like I’ve reached the tipping point just like in every software release – while there are always more things being noticed that need to be fixed, the new incoming ToDos with each build are less severe and people start having more discussions about “is this serious enough to hold the release”. Quietly, morale starts improving as people change from wondering “IF it will ship” to wondering “WHEN it will ship”. After all this time headsdown and focused on research, on interviews, on writing and on editing, the nature of working on the book has changed. Instead of spending all my time on the words in the book, I’ve started spending more time on the book. Excitement about finally shipping starts mixing with anxiety about whether others will like it.

Exciting stuff.

John.
ps: For those keeping count, this latest draft is now ER#24. One great friend sent me a gift to help with the book. Nothing says “Hurry up and ship your book already!” like a delivery of ~5lbs of hand roasted, very tasty coffee beans !

Laptop with Coffee

Distributed Teams – Why Now?

Anyone who follows me here will already know I blog, speak, and mentor on the mechanics needed so humans can work well together even when they are physically apart. As I wrap up writing my book, I’ve been focusing on chapters that cover important context around distributed teams, so this post is slightly different to my usual.

Why are so many more people now talking about distributed teams? Over the last year or so, I’ve been giving a series of presentations on the business, social and environmental benefits of distributed teams. One question I hear over and over is “Why now?”. Here are the three biggest reasons I’ve seen so far:

1) Money: Software startups used to raise money for a data-center and a physical office building and staff payrolls. Only then could people start working on The Next Big Thing. Regardless of what your product will be, creating your data-center takes time to setup and has risks – a data-center that is incorrectly sized for future anticipated traffic or with operational problems could kill your company. You could also kill your company by choosing to setup a physical office in the wrong location (limiting hiring) or choosing an office that is too small (disrupting hiring until you relocated or setup a second office location) or too big (needlessly increasing your burn rate even when your cash flow is tight). Since Amazon Web Services became mainstream, it eliminated the lead time for building a data-center. You still pay money for AWS, but it instantly scales up/down as your customer demand grows/shrinks – and some clever engineering can significantly reduce your AWS bills.

Now that the cost & lead time for a data-center is off the list for most companies, the cost & lead time for a physical office is a expensive outlier that people are starting to question as they look for funding.

2) Social/Economic change: The idea of “a job for life” is no more. People expect to change jobs throughout their career. When people working at high-profile organizations like Google, Facebook, Uber, etc leave after an average of 1.2-1.8 years, that means a person entering the workforce can expect to change companies ~20 times in their ~40 year career. Moving house for your first few jobs might be fun, but after a while most people want to set down roots with a partner, buy a home, grow a community of friends, start raising a family and taking care of parents. Over time, moving becomes harder.

3) Environmental awareness: Requiring everyone to live within commute distance of an office means a lot of commuters. No surprise there. What is less obvious is the ripple effect. As more high-paid people pay more for housing to reduce their commute, it forces displacement of everyone else, so the people who are needed to make a city function are forced to live further and further away. In practical terms that means cops, medics, firefighters, teachers, artists and others all commute longer hours each way to their lower-paid jobs. The term “mega-commuter” is now used to describe anyone who commutes >2.5 hours. Each way. Each day. No wonder traffic in the San Francisco bay area has spiked up 70% since 2010, even though the population “only” increased by 10% in that same time frame. All this traffic has a measurable toll on quality of life, for sure. However, it is also explicitly worth noting that of all the CO2 emissions from the US, the 2nd largest portion of emissions (27%) is from cars, buses and other transportation. Reducing the need for people to commute is an important way for us all to reduce our carbon footprint. Put another way: instead of reducing pollution by promising to buy the latest electric car when it becomes affordable, you could instead start reducing pollution today commuting less often and start working from home. Today.

Each of these are important reasons in their own right. And that’s not even taking into account all the other good business reasons for distributed teams (hiring, retention, diversity, etc). No wonder starting fully distributed companies is becoming mainstream. Hopefully, this book will help them start with the practical mechanics needed to succeed. As more distributed companies succeed, they each help improve the narrative for others who follow.

(This is an extract from my upcoming book “Leading Distributed Teams”. For more on this, see oduinn.com/book.)

John.

“Distributed” ER#15 now available!

I’m excited and a little stunned to say that this update includes the last incomplete chapter! I’ve now written the complete book??!?

To get a free copy of this latest version of the book, just signup on my zero-spam, low-volume mailing list here: oduinn.com/book.

This marks the start of the next phase for this book-writing project – working with editors to cleanup any typos and errors in the text, finding illustrators to replace the screenshots, and going through a long list of “remember to fix…” todo items. The three big items on the list are 1) to start blogging and outreach work to get the word out about this book. 2) update a few remaining chapters to the same consistent structure/format and 3) figure out how to generate PDF and epub versions. Yes this update is still only available in kindle/mobi format, so for now, to read this latest update on your laptop or iphone, you’ll need the Kindle app.

I’ve honestly no idea how much work or time this will take, although I am all-too-aware of the 20/80 rule about “the last 20% takes 80% of the time”. The optimist in me believes that all the great feedback I’ve received so far on all the previous updates will help. A lot. I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

As always, if you have any comments, ideas, concerns, etc., please don’t be shy to contact me. I love the contact and feedback so far, and would like to hear what you think. I again note how great the ongoing moral support and encouragement and excitement from each of you has been through all this. It literally keeps me going. Thank you. Each and every one of you.

John.