Distributed FAQ: What Does the Ideal Remote Office Setup Look Like?

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. Who at Automattic has the best office setup — and what does an ideal remote office look like?

A. The short answer is: nobody and everybody.

When people join Automattic, we provide an allowance they can spend on setting up their home office. They can invest in an ergonomic chair, a standing desk, a good monitor, or almost any other item that would make their workspace more comfortable.

One of the best things about working from home, however, is that everyone gets to have a corner office — or their version thereof. You can avoid compromises that you would have to make in a shared office. This goes beyond the choice of furniture; for example, music is something that can help some people when they’re feeling low and need to change a mood or mindset. In a traditional office, they’d need to use headphones. In their home office, they can do whatever works for them.

Having complete agency over your physical environment is incredibly empowering and can inspire people to be more creative and productive.  It also makes us more inclusive as a company, and allows us to attract a talent pool that includes people for whom an office isn’t the best environment.

Check out our Tools and Gear page for specific recommendations, and listen to Matt’s conversation with Lydia X. Z. Brown about flexible and inclusive work environments.

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.


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.

To Improve Videoconference Calls, Choose the Right Gear for Your Home Office

Tech news site The Information recently launched a new series, “Out of Office,” focusing on the rapid growth of remote work. Automattic CEO and Distributed Podcast host Matt Mullenweg appeared in the inaugural column, talking to reporter Nick Wingfield about his home-office setup and gear preferences:

Naturally, he has a perspective on what technologies to invest in to improve the quality of video calls, a key part of working from home. “I definitely think of a hierarchy,” says Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, which operates WordPress[.com], Tumblr and other digital properties. “For me, it goes internet, audio, lighting, video.”

Read “How to Zoom Like a CEO” over at The Information

Matt Mullenweg with Sam Harris on Distributed Work’s Five Levels of Autonomy

Distributed host Matt Mullenweg recently appeared on Sam Harris’s excellent podcast, Making Sense, sharing the “five levels of autonomy” when it comes to distributed work. Listen to their wide-ranging conversation on how companies transition to remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We love Sam’s podcast, Making Sense, so for more go to samharris.org/podcast/ and you can also subscribe to get his premium content, which is totally worth it.

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.

Remote Work Depends on Access to Information — and on Mutual Trust

When it comes to work, it never made much sense to give away all your secrets. The predominant culture of information hoarding and hiding exists partly because many of us live in fear for our jobs:

If I tell everyone exactly how I do my job, they can just get rid of me! 

If you don’t get along with your boss, they might fire you — so you try to make yourself as invaluable as possible. If you’re an expert, if you’re “irreplaceable,” then perhaps they’ll think twice.  


Making Sense of the New Normal

In just a few months, remote work went from an anomaly to the new normal.

But as the world navigates both a global pandemic and an economic meltdown, remote work is now widespread but also completely unlike our experiences just a year ago when this podcast debuted.

The current reality is much more complicated than simply deciding what software to use, or learning how to manage asynchronous meetings on Slack or Zoom. People aren’t just adapting to working at home (if they are able to work at all), they’re also adapting to working alongside other family members in the same house, social distancing, and trying to manage schedules while caring for sick family members or homeschooling their kids.

It’s a stressful period for everyone, but perhaps also an opportunity to question our preconceptions about work and how we keep each other safe.

The number-one thing we recommend is kindness — giving our coworkers, families, and friends space to adapt and adjust and plan. Assume positive intent.

With that in mind, here are some recent posts from our colleagues at Automattic about navigating the world of distributed work in the weeks and months to come.