In a recent post to the Roblox company blog, founder and CEO David Baszucki mandated that the large majority of Roblox’s remote employees return to a physical office in 2024. Citing concerns about “Zoom fatigue” and lack of creative collaboration, he concluded that “we aren’t there yet” when it comes to a remote work technology that works.
Roblox has been doing great work for years fostering digital connection among its users. However, this is not a technology problem. It’s a culture problem.
As an Automattician, I couldn’t help but notice this line in particular:
“A three-hour Group Review in person is much less exhausting than over video and brainstorming sessions are more fluid and creative.”
Of course it’s easier to do a three-hour meeting in person! But maybe the issue here is that three-hour meetings are common occurrences.
In my years at Automattic, I’ve never had a Zoom meeting last longer than an hour and a half. Most are 45-60 minutes, and those on the longer end of that spectrum are town halls and all-hands meetings rather than creative or collaborative discussions. In short, it’s not about the tool; it’s about who’s wielding the tool.
As a recent New York Times article pointed out, studies are showing that management bears more responsibility for productivity than any other factor:
“productivity differed among remote workplaces depending on an employer’s approach — how well trained managers are to support remote employees and whether those employees have opportunities for occasional meet-ups.”
As Automattic has shown for the last 17 years, we are there in terms of collaboration tools and distributed work strategies that get the job done. Sure, there are pros and cons to being a fully distributed team of ~2,000 employees; however, those pros and cons have helped shape our policies in instrumental ways. For example, we prioritize meetups not just so that people can enjoy time together in the same space, but so we can use that in-person time to have those long, crucial conversations about our business goals and priorities. Because distributed work can sometimes blur the lines between “work time” and “home time,” we provide unlimited time off (as well as generous sabbaticals/parental leaves) so folks can draw those lines clearly and recharge whenever they need to. And because we know remote work can feel isolating at times, we offer a coworking benefit so that folks can enjoy the social benefits of being around other people, even if it’s not their fellow Automatticians.
While we’re rooting for Roblox’s success, this feels like yet another example of a company responding to the wrong problem. With the right strategies in place, a distributed team can and will work—no matter what its tools are.