I heard about this book when it came out and figured it would be a light read about how to do remote work well. While it does talk about the author’s journey in remote working, A Life Lived Remotely, is actually a much deeper book on many fronts. The goal of the book is to examine how the internet has changed the conditions that we now consider acceptable for work1.
McKeown starts by talking about our tendency to construct our identity based on the work that we do2 and then questions rightly if this should be the case. I’ve been fighting this tendency for the last few years, especially when I meet new people and try not to ask what they do for a living. Instead I’ll ask what got them excited this week or what hobbies they have and only later start to even think about what they do for a living. I don’t always win this internal battle.
Next she talks about the fact that most freelancers are juggling multiple paying jobs and paying clients to make ends meet3. While people in a traditional job are also juggling many projects at a time, and possibly reporting to a number of department heads, they also have some type of job security. You may have benefits, though this is less common now. At the very least you don’t have to engage in marketing work to try and gain more clients, you do the work well and keep doing the work well to keep your job.
For those that have a job but get to work remotely, McKeown points to a number of studies that say you do more work than your in office counterparts4. Remote workers need to do more to show that they’re productive and needed at a company than those who come into the office. Being in the office is a crude measurement for the value you bring to the table, but it’s still one that many managers use.
McKeown also showed that when you work remotely you are more likely to work unpaid overtime5. When you’re in the office your overtime is obvious because you’re sitting there and people can see you. Remote workers can’t show this butt in seat time and don’t get credit for it.
Readers were also treated to a great detailed discussion about how companies no longer think they owe employees anything6. They don’t owe them benefits, or stability or training. These things have been pushed off on employees to take care of, without an increase in salary to make up for the extra money that employees must spend on themselves. Of course employees are expected to bring all their creativity and productivity to the table and take their wage that’s been stagnant for decades7 as the only renumeration for this creativity.
The final point I’ll cover is McKeown’s detailed discussion of the valourization of failure as something we should aspire to. This is the fail fast and fail hard mantra that we see espoused. This lionization of entrepreneurship hides the fact that more people live with permanently precarious employment8. In fact, it makes being the master of your domain the ideal state that everyone should be striving for.
While I expected a light read about doing remote work well, this was a much deeper book that looked hard at community beliefs and economic policy that has bread freelancing, entrepreneurship and precarious employment. There were a number of other topics that McKeown treated far more deeply and seriously than I expected.
If you’re looking for a bit of a memoire on remote working with many deep thoughts about economics and ideology, this is an excellent book. I think that I’ll read it again to dive into the deeper points.