Distributed.blog: The future of work is here

WordPress was my first introduction to the idea of distributed work — we didn’t need to live in the same place or work in the same office to build something that changes the world. So when I started building Automattic in 2005, we took the exact same approach. All you needed was good WiFi and a dream. 

Fast forward to 2019, and Automattic remains a fully distributed company, with 900 employees working from 68 countries and no central office. Now that we’ve been working this way for over a decade, I wanted to create a podcast to tell the story of distributed work — not just sharing everything we’ve learned at Automattic, but speaking with other companies, executives, and creators who are pioneering the future of work. We’re going to learn about the practical application of distributed work in our daily lives, but also answer the bigger questions about why it’s important.

Matt Mullenweg

Forward-looking new series about distributed work from the founder of WordPress and Automattic (my employer).

Aaron Douglas: Being Mindful During Video Calls

Tips from my coworker and prodigious mobile app maker Aaron Douglas on being mindful during video calls. Great tips, not just for remote workers, either. “I’ve come up with a bunch of little tweaks to help with attentiveness and mindfulness during the call. It is important to show you’re listening.”

The Dangling Pointer

Working remote means I’m on a lot of video calls. I’ve come up with a bunch of little tweaks to help with attentiveness and mindfulness during the call. It is important to show you’re listening.

Look at the camera often

When you’re in person you look at people’s eyes to show them you’re listening. Doing that on a video call requires a bit of counter-intuitive body language by looking at the camera. You won’t be looking at the person but they’ll see you looking directly at them. It’s a subtle difference but I’ve found it highly effective.

Also try to place the video call window up the screen towards the camera. Also decrease the size of the window so the person’s eyes are naturally closer to the top of the window (closer to the camera). When you’re not looking at the camera while the person is speaking it’ll still look…

View original post 305 more words

Leadership Gap: Scaling Presence With Distributed Teams

In my practice as a team lead at Automattic I keep coming back to the challenge of scale. Scaling up both in scope and in size, taking on larger projects and bigger teams with more overhead and management. Going from a small team paying attention to one product all the way to a group of teams across a many channels.

One reason it’s a been a difficult challenge for me is that with the increase in scope and size, my time to give individual attention to people and projects decreases. I find myself asking, “How can I best scale up my presence to keep in touch with everyone on everything they’re doing?”

The second part of the challenge is our particular work style: Automattic is fully distributed, biased toward text communication, and most interactions are asynchronous because of time zones. Our culture is optimized for personal flexibility as we set our own work hours and schedules — and office locations change daily.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 16.54.08

I’ve started writing down the principles that lead to my mindset for being present — plus the techniques that have worked well so far. I’m sharing them here publicly to keep myself accountable for the practice.

To scale my presence on distributed teams, I will:

  1. Build connections to build trust.
  2. Conduct pulse checks on a regular basis, including skip-level chats¹.
  3. Share regular updates to the group to expose my thinking, highlight important messages, and provide insight into what I’m tracking both internally and externally.
  4. Ask everyone to share their observations with me.
  5. Make coaching a priority, so others can learn to help themselves.
  6. Delegate more. Can someone else do it?
  7. Be true to my word.
  8. Be visible.

Your ability to have influence at a larger scale within your organization starts with knowing how to connect and influence people in your immediate team. Alyssa Burkus in How to Be More Present With your Team (Actionable.co)

But wait… these are all practices for any leader, even when located in the same building, same city. The last one — being visible — is the key to solving the difficulty of a distributed, async workforce.

Ideas that I’ve tried for improving visibility include connecting more over video, to “share a tea” virtually as we chat. Posting short personal updates on what I’m up to outside work. Jumping into short, high-fidelity check-ins over voice and video to unblock a communication gap, which is a boost to the human bond. The view into someone’s office can lead to questions like, “What’s that book on your shelf?”

Teams and individuals at Automattic socialize together via chat or photoblogs or videos or GIFs. Whether that’s around hobbies and shared interests, building cultural awareness, and following each others’ lives via social media. As my coworker Cate says, “Make it feel like a team.” Ultimately it’s about humanizing the distance.

Making it feel more human means involving myself in the connection over the distance. It’s not just a transaction — we’ve bridged the gap to interaction.

I’d love to hear from you, too. What’s worked best for you to be more present for your team?


  1. Footnote: the vocabulary of scaling teams is fun. Learning to scale my leadership also means picking up industry lingo around scaling teams and companies. Everything from skip-levels, business units (BU), direct reports (DR), individual contributors (IC), org chart, directly responsible individual (DRI), “manage up,” and more. Not all the buzz words are new to me, but I typically avoid using corporate-sounding vocabulary. As I seek to understand everything at scale, I find myself using these phrases and acronyms more often now with certain audiences. I’m picking it up as I go! Something new each day.

 

Automattic Holiday Video à la Remote Work (2017)

Automattic is an all-remote company comprised of over 500 people across 50 countries. We work from homes, shared offices, cars, and planes to make the Web a better place. At Automattic our motto is, ”I will never stop learning.” In that spirit, we made this video.

Automatticians shared home-shot videos from all over. And we stitched them together… Don’t worry. Based upon this video, we don’t expect to try to go into the entertainment business anytime soon. But you’ll certainly get a sense of the many environments we work from. Come join us!

I had a ton of fun singing this cheerful holiday song and dancing along with coworkers all over the world. 🎄 🎅🏼

Curious about how it came together? See our Party Wrangler John’s How To Make A Fully Distributed Company’s Holiday Video.

Home is Where the Work Is

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 14.06.37.png

In Home is where the work is my colleague Cate talks about remote working, tools for communicating in distributed teams, and fascinating bits of detail about her daily routine and habits for getting work done. (Via “Increment” Magazine).

See also: Where is Automattic? Our HQ is right near you.

SSH Config for Slow Connections

Via Andy Skelton in 2010, proving once again that great advice is timeless.

With these lines in your SSH config file—usually in .ssh directory in your user home directory—you’ll enjoy a more reliable remote shell session.

# Do not kill connection if route is down temporarily.
TCPKeepAlive no

# Allow ten minutes down time before giving up the connection.
ServerAliveCountMax 30
ServerAliveInterval 20

# Conserve bandwith. (Compression is off by default.)
Compression yes

Looking Great on Video Calls

Tips for video calls and looking good on a webcam, via Lemony. A coworker shared this internally at Automattic a few months back, and I love it as a reference to look my best when on a video call such as a Google Hangout.

look-good-webcam

I also love this “googly eyes” trick from adulting for remembering to look at the camera on your laptop or monitor.

Slow Slack

Slack is an amazing chat tool for teams, we use it daily at Automattic. Unfortunately it is unusable on slow connections, something I run into sometimes when traveling; recently in Nicaragua, rural Ohio, and Silver City, New Mexico. I wish it worked better in those situations.

To their credit, the loading messages are humorous and keep me from punching the wall because I’m smiling at the clever copywriting and positive attitude.

slack-slow

If you haven’t yet, try out Slack.

Spicy

This piquant thread on Twitter made my week: http://storify.com/Jtsternberg/conversation-with-nacin-simpledream-zamoose-johnpb

I love the global nature of the WordPress, and how the community can come together for something silly and fun on Twitter.

ÉPICÉ!

This PIE is Totes Delish

Coworking at PIE (short for the Portland Incubator Experiment) was a highlight for me during a month spent in the lovely green Pacific Northwest. I shared a desk area with Automattic colleagues Daniel and Andrew, going in twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. PIE is a glorious twistup of coworking, startups, tech heads, and advertising executives.

The vibe is energetic and the people are interesting, the inside feels airy and spacious due to high ceilings, natural light, and white desks and tables.

If you’re in Portland I recommend you swing by and check it out.

As I happen to love coworking spots, I’m adding here a brief review as if it were a full-on coworking spot. It’s not, but what the heck—I’m giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Pluses

  • Centrally located in the trendy Pearl District.
  • Great vibe and energy.
  • Top-notch amenities as a workspace: phone booths for private conversations, fast internet, whiteboard walls, full kitchen, high ceilings and lots of natural light.
  • Lunch at Food Carts or Whole Foods, both a short walk away.
  • Great coffee nearby, Caffé Umbria or Barista
  • Kegerator with local brew on tap. ‘Nuff said.

Minuses

  • Can get a bit crazy when the startup classes are in session; which would be a plus if you’re involved in PIE on a regular basis.
  • Bathroom is a bit of a hike. Great for a stretch and break from the desk, though.
  • If you need ultimate concentration and quiet, it’s not a great fit. You’ll need headphones as there’s a buzz of conversation depending on who is around.
  • More an office than coworking spot; I’ve expanded on that below.

The day-to-day folks at PIE are busy cranking on their apps and services, meeting with partners and clients, and more. I didn’t expect to make instant friends going in, but thought I’d meet more people. I ended up with my headphones on a lot and head down in code and work.

A quick welcome tour and more conversation with the regulars would have been nice bonus—and would give this space 5 out of 5 stars in my book. In this sense it’s less like other coworking spots I’ve experienced. I was disappointed that over 8-10 visits only one person approached and asked me who I was and what I was doing there. Spoke6, my home spot in Tucson, does a much better job in this respect, though in all fairness Spoke6 is set up differently and is fully dedicated to coworking.

All in all, PIE a sweet place to work, and next time in Portland I’ll be back for another slice.