Distributed FAQ: How Did P2 Become Automattic’s Signature Mode of Communication?

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. Automattic is known for using internal blogs called P2s for most work-related conversations. How and why did that happen?

A. In Automattic’s early days, we collaborated a lot directly in the code, or on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), a Slack precursor. We quickly realized that it wasn’t great for asynchronous discussions, and when we tried email instead, it didn’t allow for the transparency that is the hallmark of open source (it also brought a lot of noise with it). Finally, we ditched email and moved to an internal blogging system. P2 is the evolution of the blog for the purpose of working within and across teams. It’s organized much like a Yammer or Facebook stream, but on the back end it still operates like a blog, allowing for archiving, advanced search, and rich media embeds. 

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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

Written Communication Tip: Assume Positive Intent

It’s not news that 90% of communication is non-verbal, and that nuance and subtlety are lost over written messages. Be conscious of this.

With lots of our communication now written (when previously you might’ve popped over to someone’s desk) it’s good to head off the risks of such interaction with a wise interpretive principle through which to view your exchanges: Assume Positive Intent. 

The Memrise team

In a recent Zoom chat, Matt Mullenweg shared work-from-home advice with the team at Memrise. They’ve compiled Matt’s 10 top tips, including advice for teams who are likely communicating much more in written form than they’re used to. Read and listen to more best practices on the Memrise blog.

7 Remote Work Lessons for Managers During the Coronavirus

During this time of tremendous change, here is some timeless advice from leaders who have worked with their own distributed teams. For more, check out their individual Distributed podcast interviews.

1. Make time and space to listen

“As a manager, the best thing you can do is train yourself to hold space for yourself so you are not having a million things that you need to unload onto your employee, to keep making more room, to keep letting more things bubble up that can be resolved. Keep it with open-ended questions and to let advice maybe only come in at the very end.”

Leo Widrich, cofounder of Buffer 

2. Trust each other

“At distributed companies, you can’t tell really if someone doesn’t show up to work. I mean, you can eventually tell, but it’s much easier to disappear. The level of trust required is much higher. And so there is a portion of the [hiring] process that is earning that trust. We really believe that people can be successful and we’re looking to make people successful. There is no ‘prove it again’ after you get hired. I think that’s really important.”

Cate Huston, Automattic

3. Know your role as a manager

“I think part of my role is to explain why things aren’t impossible. And I see increasingly with a lot of projects we have done, the first response is, ‘That’s just impossible.’ …  I am happy when people say that. When I’m not happy is when people say, ‘Oh sure, we’ll do it,’ when I plainly know there is no way they can do it, it’s too hard. And so then I’m trying to figure out, ‘OK, so let’s see whether we can figure out how to do it.’”

Stephen Wolfram

4. Give yourself the structure you need

“When I got here, everyone was like, ‘It’s great because you can work in your pajamas if you want to.’ And for the first six months I did. I didn’t have a dedicated office area and I just sort of got up and started working whenever I felt like it, and finished working whenever I felt like it. And I found that that was not a good choice for me, especially in the work that I have to do. It ended up making me less resilient, more reactive, and also I had no concept of when work started and stopped.” 

Josepha Haden, Automattic  

5. Blog your experience 

“My wife will always say, ‘You’re staring off into space like you’re writing something.’ She just knows that it’s this thing where I’m collecting my thoughts….I think better and organize my thoughts better and share my ideas better when I write it, and it introduces a rigor to what I’m sharing. I love that push to accuracy and push to quality. It makes my thinking stronger.”

Anil Dash, Glitch

6. Rethink your meetings

“If you’ve taken three days to think about something and you say it in a meeting and people start just throwing stuff right back at you — in some ways you’re asking them to because you’re sitting at a table, what else are they going to do? But it seems unfair to them, in fact, for them to have to react to this thing that you have thought about for three days or three weeks or three months, for them to have 30 seconds to say something back seems unfair.”

Jason Fried, Basecamp

7. Consider what questions you’re asking

“An effective manager in a distributed work environment needs to develop the skill of asking precise and information-gathering questions to elicit this kind of information. Because even if the employee might not be able to produce this information on their own, or might know it but not necessarily know how to communicate it in a way that would be applicable and useful in a work environment.”
Lydia X. Z. Brown

For more insights, subscribe to Distributed on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen.

Photo by Alexas Fotos / Pexels

Welcome to the Chaos

“Welcome to the Chaos.”

These are the words every new hire at Automattic sees on their first day, emblazoned across the company’s online handbook. They are designed not to instill fear, but to prepare the newly-minted Automattician for life in a fast-moving, globally-distributed company. Working at Automattic sometimes feels like chaos, but over 950 employees wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sonal Gupta is one of them. She describes the moment she first read those words. They gave her immediate comfort because they confirmed that yes, working in this environment can feel overwhelming, but she wasn’t alone. 

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