Distributed FAQ: Hiring

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


Q: When interviewing candidates, are there any tactics you recommend to better assess candidates’ fit with a distributed workforce?

A: At Automattic, one thing we try to do is set our expectations publicly so they are obvious. We stress our company-wide travel expectations (3-4 weeks a year), and highlight our benefits. We do this to add a layer of self-selection to the process. We also do trial projects, which last a few weeks and are incredibly valuable when making hiring assessments.

Transparency is key. We put a lot of thought into our hiring process to ensure that it reflects our culture in order to manage job applicants’ expectations. For example, we include our Creed as part of the standard offer letter.


Q: We are currently hiring for a few roles and it’s quite likely that the entire process will be remote. Is there anything we need to look out for, or do differently than in a non-distributed context?

A: Our entire hiring process can oftentimes be conducted over Slack.  Every new hire starts with two weeks of support, which is a hands-on opportunity to learn about our products and to develop empathy for our customers. Our support folks — Automattic’s Happiness Engineers — are our welcome wagon.


To learn more about distributed hiring:

  • Listen to Matt’s conversation with Automattic’s Head of Developer Experience, Cate Huston, here on the Distributed Podcast.
  • Read a recent interview with Automattic’s Global Head of Human Resources, Lori McLeese.

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

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Episode 13: Attorney Lydia X. Z. Brown on Making Work More Accessible

Read more about Lydia X.Z. Brown in “Making Work Accessible, Wherever it Happens.”

Because of their background in working with disabled and marginalized people, attorney and activist Lydia X. Z. Brown has a deep understanding of how different workplace environments can best serve diverse workforces. Today they join our host Matt Mullenweg to discuss what distributed companies can do to make workflows and working conditions more inclusive.

The full episode transcript is below.

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Inside Toptal’s Distributed Screening Process

In tech hubs like San Francisco and New York, the demand for top-tier talent can outstrip supply, so HR departments find themselves in a fierce competition for local job applicants. In response, some companies have turned to the distributed model, which allows them to reach beyond hub cities and to access qualified candidates around the country and internationally. Hiring for distributed positions comes with its own set of challenges, though. 

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