Finding the tone and structure of “Distributed”

As many of you know, I’m writing Book Cover for Distributedmy first book. While I just jumped in and start typing, people with a lot of experience in this area started asking me questions like: What is your writing tone? What is the book structure? Who is your intended audience?

Figuring out the answers to these questions felt even more daunting then the idea of “just” writing a book!

The book has evolved as I write and as I learned what was important to me in answering those original questions. Now that I’m into the swing of this, I thought it would be interesting to describe how I figured out the tone and structure of this book, and the logic behind those choices.

Over the years, I’ve bought many weighty management books that only get half-read before I give up, leaving them to gather dust with a bookmark somewhere in the middle. I wanted my book to be a book that I would make time to read. Not just a book by John for John – most people I worked with had similar time constraints. With a busy work life, an immediately helpful, practical, book felt important.

I kept these realities in mind and with a fresh set of eyes, went back looking at books I did and didn’t like. I studied how those authors structured their books and how their use of English changed the tone and feel of the book. I discovered some common patterns in terms of structure and language, which became important criteria for this book:

  • I use very casual, readable english throughout. No formal management or textbook english. Yes, I know enough pointy-haired-boss management words to play Dilbert Bingo, but I felt that language would only get in the way. I want this book to be something easy to read after a long tiring day at work, not a management-speak IQ test.
  • Each chapter is very short, typically 10-20 pages. Intentionally short enough to be read in one sitting in one evening after a busy day, over lunch or during a long commute!
  • Almost every chapter is self-contained, so if a reader has a specific pressing need, they can jump to that chapter for immediate practical help. If this happens often enough, hopefully they’ll keep the book close to hand.
  • Each chapter has simple, concrete, practical “takeaways” to put into use immediately to help make your life better today.

This book is designed so you should be able to just open a page on a specific topic you are dealing with today and just dive in. Having said that, if you are not sure where to start, the carefully chosen sequence of these chapters, and the way they are arranged in sections is a good default path:

  • Section One: Why are geo-distributed teams and organizations good for business, good for the economy and yes, good for humans? This section should help anyone justify building a distributed team/organization using cold, hard, financial business justifications – not just a touchy-feely “trust me, it makes people happy”.
  • Section Two: Most companies have day-to-day organizational inefficiencies that are so commonplace they are considered “normal” – or even worse “just the way it is”. This section details mechanical tips and tricks which make organizations more efficient. Becoming very, very crisply organized on those basic everyday mechanics improves efficiencies of an all-in-the-office team and make effective distributed teams possible.
  • Section Three: How do you handle the humanity in your distributed team? This section covers hirings, firings, one-on-ones, reviews, cultural issues and conflict. Also, some advice for long term “remote” workers on staying sane, healthy and planing a career path.

My first management job came with no training, so I had to make it up, learning as I went along. Same for each management role I’ve held since. This is true for most leaders I know. The lucky few got formal on-the-job training or mentors, but most don’t get any training until they’ve already been doing the job for a few years. Those initial years as a manager are formative and can shape what you perceive as possible in future management jobs.

It so happened, that my first job as a manager was in a company with people in multiple locations. Since then I’ve worked, as an engineer and leader, in many different geographically distributed companies. This book is coming together and I can honestly say I wish I’d had a book like this when I started.

As of now, the list of chapters is as follows:
* Chapter 1: Distributed Teams are Not New – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 2: The Real Cost of an Office – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 3: Disaster Planning – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 4: Mindset – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 5: Physical Setup – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 6: Video Etiquette – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 7: Own your calendar – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 8: Meetings – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 9: Meeting Moderator – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 10: Single Source of Truth
* Chapter 11: Email Etiquette – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 12: Group Chat Etiquette – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 13: Culture, Trust and Conflict
* Chapter 14: One-on-Ones and Reviews – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 15: Hiring, Firing, Reorgs and Layoffs – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 16: Bring Humans Together – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 17: Career path – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 18: Feed your soul – AVAILABLE
* Chapter 19: Final Chapter
* Appendix A: The Bathroom Mirror Test – AVAILABLE
* Appendix B: How NOT to Work – AVAILABLE
* Appendix C: Further Reading – AVAILABLE

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