Remote @ Automattic

"Welcome to the chaos."

Those are the opening words of the Field Guide that greets employees new to life at Automattic. To the outsider, it would appear like a fitting statement. The 10 year old company behind, Akismet, Jetpack and VaultPress, has a 100% distributed workforce of almost 400 people scattered across 37 countries, where all communication happens online, across different platforms, rapidly, often in acronyms, and entirely in public. There’s no email, no office, no set work hours, no vacation policy, and seemingly little in the way of structure.

Automattic Visitors-Team Size

But take a closer look and you’ll find that Automattic is anything but chaotic. It’s a well-oiled machine that’s valued at over 1 billion dollars, powering nearly a quarter of all websites (over 18 million new websites were launched in 2014 alone), with a tribe of passionate employees who are committed to making the web a better place. At the helm of it all is 31-year-old founder and CEO, Matt Mullenweg.

Taking a glimpse inside Automattic shows us that there are several key aspects that influence the success of a remote team.


Automattic Creed

Open communication is the fabric of any successful remote team. Automattic is no different. Their “office” consists of various communication channels including Github, Trello, Slack, Google Hangouts and their own internal tool, P2, to make sure that everything remains open, instantaneous and friendly, no matter where in the world an individual team member chooses to work from.

It sounds dizzying, but Sara, a Marketing Manager explains, “We can ping anyone in the company in seconds (faster than you can look up their phone extension in your company directory, I assure you) and in many cases, you can ping an entire team for feedback versus just one person to get the faster answer. It’s a lovely mix of immediate and asynchronous communication which allows for us to be apart and connected at the same times.”

Effective communication is great but being part of a team is more than being on the payroll. It’s the sense of family and community that you get from working amongst other people for a shared vision. To generate this in a distributed team, Automatticians (that’s what they call themselves) have created their own version of water cooler talk via their network of internal blogs where people can share their interests in gaming, music, books, children, pets, fitness, and even beards. Every Automattician is encouraged to share their learnings and interests via blogs within the company and internal teams even communicate updates and progress via blogs.


Automattic Creed

A traditional manager is often scared by the lack of oversight that is available in a remote team. If you can’t see your team, how do you know that they are working. Sara explains how this lack of management is actually what brings out the best in people: “I think the number one thing that's different in Automattic from other companies is the trust given to individuals to get their jobs done. We all should have this trust from our employers.” Contrary to instinct, it’s when managers let go and trust team members that productivity rises.

However, effective remote teams don’t just close their eyes and ‘trust’ that everyone else is working, it’s actually more visible than you think: “When you work with a distributed team, the only way you measure if they are working is on their output.” This moves the onus away from bum in seat mentality, towards working with a purpose. Automattic has no set hours and unlimited vacation time because the amount of hours you were at your desk is irrelevant, this creates a “results-oriented [culture] rather than punching a clock” says Ian, an Automattic Developer. For Ian, trust is not just a value written on a wall somewhere, it’s actually the core reason he loves working at Automattic “Things like working remotely and having unlimited vacation shows that everyone is treated like an adult and trusted to achieve their goals without being micro-managed.”


Automattic Creed

We’ve already highlighted how Automattic has an incredibly low head count for a company that powers 24% of the web, but surely there has got to be more to it than a change in scenery and a trusting team. Digging deeper I found the source of this laying in a sentence of the Automattic creed.

Automattic is huge on Open Source software, it's another important driving factor behind a lot of the teams professional happiness; contributing back to the open source community. Open source means that your codebase is open for anyone in the world to see and contribute to.

However, Automattic have taken this idea that revolutionized the software industry and applied it to everything they do, most importantly their internal communication. Matt (Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic) explains that within the company all information is easily accessible: “Anyone can go find that information - it all comes back to keeping all communication open”.

This open communication means that effective decisions can be made by any Automattician throughout the company; good information is critical to making good decisions. This may feel a little strange at first as Sara explains “Communicating everything can feel very vulnerable to a lot of people, but the more you communicate transparently, the easier it is to do.”

Remote = Communication + Trust + Transparency

So there you have it, Automattic, a billion dollar company with the highest revenue-employee ratio; comprising of a fully distributed team that is grounded in open communication, trust and a healthy result-orientated culture.


How To Go Remote
There is so much that any company going Remote can learn from Automattic, so we’ve broken down our learnings from Automattic into a practical HowToWD guide.
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