How to Produce a Remote Podcast

As the world continues to work from home, podcasts are serving as a helpful diversion to listen to when we’re washing dishes or walking the dog. 

They’re fairly easy to produce from home, too. 

Many of the conversations we’ve featured on the Distributed podcast have taken place over Zoom, with each of us calling in from our respective home cities. In the spirit of transparency, we thought we’d share some of our best practices and must-have equipment:

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Distributed FAQ: How Do You Create Company Culture When You Rarely See Your Colleagues?

In Distributed FAQ, Matt Mullenweg addresses some of the most common issues companies, executives, and individuals face as they consider transitioning to a distributed model.


Q. Trust and a strong shared culture are two ingredients that help companies thrive. How do you build either when coworkers don’t meet each other in the hallway every day?

A: Culture is what people do when no one is looking. Companies redefine their culture in real time whether they’re distributed or colocated.

In more normal times, meetups are key to Automattic’s culture — employees expect 3-4 weeks of travel per year, one of which is devoted to the company-wide Grand Meetup, and the rest to team and division meetups. We’ve seen that you can build trust and create bonds when you break bread across a table and meet in person, and then use that momentum to power relationships for years when everyone’s back in their home base.

But even these days, when travel is suspended for the foreseeable future, there are many ways to foster trust and to reinforce Automattic’s values and culture. We put a lot of emphasis on social communication at the company, leveraging the same tools we use for our work — P2, Slack, Zoom — to encourage informal interactions. For example, many teams start weekly meetings with a fun, non-work-related question. We created automated systems that can pair people up to chat about any topic they wish, and recently launched Connectomattic, a series of video calls based on shared interests and experiences, from meditation to baking.

Ultimately, we believe in giving teams autonomy to create a culture that works for them.


For more thoughts on culture and trust in distributed settings, listen to Matt’s conversation with Glitch CEO Anil Dash.

  

How Zillow Is Adapting to Distributed Work

Zillow Group CEO Rich Barton.

The Seattle-based real estate company Zillow Group announced recently that its employees can continue to work from home through 2020. Zillow CEO Rich Barton wrote on Twitter that his views about distributed work had been “turned upside down over the past two months. I expect this will have a lasting influence on the future of work … and home.” Zillow has more than 5,200 full-time employees — they also recently launched a virtual onboarding program for new employees.

Matt Mullenweg joined Barton for an all-company town hall about remote work, in which he shared his views about the benefits (autonomy, efficiency, access to global talent) and best practices (API: Assume Positive Intent). Here’s more from their chat:

Twitter Will Let Employees Work from Home Permanently

Millions of people have been forced to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the big question remains: Which companies will change the way they work forever?

Twitter is now making the call. It’s permanent.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey emailed employees on Tuesday telling them that they’d be allowed to work from home permanently, even after the coronavirus pandemic lockdown passes. Some jobs that require physical presence, such as maintaining servers, will still require employees to come in.

“We’ve been very thoughtful in how we’ve approached this from the time we were one of the first companies to move to a work-from-home model,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “We’ll continue to be, and we’ll continue to put the safety of our people and communities first.”

Read the full BuzzFeed story here.

Photo via Pexels

Distributed FAQ: How Does Crisis Management Work in a Remote Context?

In Distributed FAQ, Matt Mullenweg addresses some of the most common issues companies, executives, and individuals face as they consider transitioning to a distributed model.


Q. How do you tackle crises and tough situations in a remote setting, when it’s impossible to gather all the relevant parties in one room?

A. The number-one priority is communication. Communicating often and transparently is key. At Automattic, we have a company-wide Slack #announcements channel that will link to a P2 blog post for additional context. We advocate for a framework of radical candor. 

We’re a distributed company, but we deal with the same challenges as other companies, including security breaches, hacks, downtime, fraud, and employee issues. I believe that conversations that happen in written form can be very helpful — they’re archived, so we can refer back to them, and they facilitate learning. One person can share a written summary with their interlocutor so they come to a shared understanding.

While working distributed, you can de-escalate yourself easily. You can take a break. A micro-habit you may want to introduce is to take a mindful minute and breathe.

And one final guideline we’ve adopted over the years, after seeing it defuse tough, challenging moments: assume positive intent (lovingly dubbed API) in all communications. Take the extra moment to consider how you might have misinterpreted a colleague’s words, or how they may have misread yours.


For more on communication and chaos, listen to Matt’s conversation with Automattic’s Sonal Gupta.

On the Psychology of Remote Meetings

Anyone who’s spent a few minutes on Zoom (by now, who hasn’t?) must have intuitively grasped that remote meetings via videoconferencing come with distinct textures and dynamics compared to in-person conversations. But what is it that underpins these differences? Over at Google’s The Keyword blog, UX Researcher Zachary Yorke explores the scientific explanations for the way our face-to-face communication changes as soon as it switches from colocated to distributed.

Even minuscule details, like milliseconds in audio lag, can make a Zoom call feel radically different from a hallway chat:

When the sound from someone’s mouth doesn’t reach your ears until a half second later, you notice. That’s because we’re ingrained to avoid talking at the same time while minimizing silence between turns. A delay of five-tenths of a second (500 ms)—whether from laggy audio or fumbling for the unmute button—is more than double what we’re used to in-person. These delays mess with the fundamental turn-taking mechanics of our conversations. 

Read the rest of the post at The Keyword

Photo via Pexels

Distributed FAQ: What Are the Key Tools for Creating an Effective Remote Work Environment?

In Distributed FAQ, Matt Mullenweg addresses some of the most common issues companies, executives, and individuals face as they consider transitioning to a distributed model.


Q. What are the necessary tools and processes to create an effective remote work environment?

A. There’s a lot to say here, of course, so let’s start with a few fundamentals:

  • Choose a small set of core applications for the entire organization, for example Zoom for video calls, Slack for day-to-day conversations, and G Suite for documents, spreadsheets, and (if you choose to use it) email. 
  • Foster a strong sense of autonomy. Give individual teams a lot of freedom to choose the rest of their stack, whether it’s GitHub for development, Asana or Trello for project management, InVision or Figma for design, and so on.
  • Try out a no-email approach. At Automattic, our secret sauce is that we don’t use email within the company. Instead, we have an internal blogging system called P2. P2 displays all conversations on a team or project’s homepage, updates in real time, and comes with the built-in benefit of being a searchable blog. You can also tag individuals and teams on P2. This system creates rich conversations that happen asynchronously and then become the collective wisdom of Automattic. We publish well over 1,000 posts and comments every day.
  • Default to public. At Automattic, we’ve developed a very valuable instinct: always default to everything being public (within the company, that is) — always default to trust.
  • Invest in solid video conferencing tools. Having a good setup for video calls is very important. Audio quality is essential if you’re on a lot of calls, so go for a good headset or use noise-cancelling software. A good desk lamp to illuminate your face can make a real difference. And give some thought to the background people will see behind you — it can have personality, but you’ll want to keep it from getting too cluttered. 

For a comprehensive list of recommended hardware and software for remote workers, check out our Tools and Gears page, as well as Matt’s “What’s in My Bag?” posts.

Episode 20: Adam Gazzaley on the Distracted Mind During a Crisis

Subscribe to Distributed at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RSS, or wherever you like to listen.

Matt Mullenweg speaks with neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley, co-author of the 2016 book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, about how our brains work, particularly during times like the current pandemic. How does the brain handle internal and external stimuli, and what do we know about the effect of practices like meditation, exercise, nutrition, and sleep? 

Gazzaley obtained an M.D. and Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, completed Neurology residency at the University of Pennsylvania, and postdoctoral training in cognitive neuroscience at University of California, Berkeley. He is currently the David Dolby Distinguished Professor of Neurology, Physiology and Psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco, and the Founder & Executive Director of Neuroscape, a translational neuroscience center at UCSF.

Gazzaley co-authored The Distracted Mind with Larry D. Rosen, and he’s a scientist who enjoys seeing his work solve real-world problems. He’s also founded startups, including Akili Interactive and Sensync, to build technology products that enhance learning, mindfulness, and well-being. More can be found at his website, gazzaley.com

A full transcript of the episode is below.

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Distributed FAQ: How to Transition to Remote Work

In Distributed FAQ, Matt Mullenweg addresses some of the most common issues companies, executives, and individuals face as they consider transitioning to a distributed model.


Q. With the rapid rise of distributed work, what are your top pieces of advice for someone going through the transition from a traditional work environment to a remote one?

A: There are many things individuals can do to make the switch successful, but here are five pointers to get you started.

  • Make a list of all the things you like and don’t like about previous work experiences and use it to design — and implement — micro-habits to increase your health and happiness. Remote work comes with the autonomy to build your own bespoke work environment.
  • Writing ability is crucial, and distributed work only amplifies its importance. Assume positive intent when using written communication.
  • Look at the outcomes you’re producing, not the time you spend at your laptop. It can be powerful to self-track and document what you’re working on. At Automattic, we encourage self-analytics — taking agency over the assessment of one’s own outcomes.
  • It’s important to structure your day. A little more schedule actually helps, whether it’s to keep a normal grooming routine in the morning or to set a firm time at which you turn off everything. Set a time to stop as well as to start, and find a dedicated workspace. Implement systems that help you maintain focus (e.g. the Pomodoro Technique for time management).
  • Implement self-care and opportunities to interact socially.

For more insights on how to design your own distributed work environment, listen to Matt’s conversation with Lydia X. Z. Brown, or browse our gear and tools recommendations.