A Primer on Remote Work and Distributed Teams with Matt Mullenweg

  • Distributed work was natural for us. Our roots are in open source. Most open-source projects tended to be projects where people all over the world worked together online. 

  • I knew I was going to stick with a distributed model when every other startup founder I knew was having a hard time hiring and we weren’t. We were hiring amazing people all over the world. You can fish in the small pond of the Bay Area, or in the ocean that is the rest of the world.

  • I don’t want to give company money to landlords. [Wordpress has no office.]

  • A common criticism of remote work is looking at the great tech companies of the past [Oracle, Microsoft, etc]. What do you know that they don’t? My answer is that distributed companies are being built with a different set of talent. People went from Microsoft to Google and did it again. And from Google to Facebook and did it all over again. They were repeating the same playbook. You see this on resumes. People bouncing from a small set of companies in the same few cities. Distributed companies are drawing from worldwide talent that hasn’t worked at these same companies before.

  • I do believe distributed companies are the future. It’s going to be hard to even recruit people when all the company offers is in-person work. More people are prioritizing jobs that allow remote work.

  • There are different philosophies within the distributed company model. For example, InVision [700 remote employees] keeps everyone on east coast hours. Their model is distributed but synchronous.

  • I’ve been obsessed with this idea that work expands to fill the time you give it. When we talk about projects in terms of quarters, they tend to take quarters. I’ve untethered this by breaking work down into smaller increments [weeks]. 

  • I have been wondering if Slack is a net increase to productivity or a net decrease. I’ve been encouraging coworkers to not log in as much. This helps avoid interruptions. It is tempting to respond instantly.

  • Some people argue that people get a lot done in person. My counter-argument is people distract each other when they are in the same roomOpen offices have a lot of documented downsides. There are meetings at Google where people are one building over. They don’t walk to the next building. They meet over video. At what point does Google question investing billions of dollars in its campus?

  • Distributed companies are able to consider ideas instead of reacting. Reacting is not our best mode. I’m trying to get away from this mode where I’m presented with something and expected to make a decision immediately.

  • We take so much about work for granted. We do things a certain way because that’s how we did it in a previous job. How much could we impact the world if we just got better at some of these things? Most companies just keep doing things the same way. We are like the buggy whip makers riding around on horses.

  • I think there is an opportunity around asynchronous voice communication. With voice, you get more context.

  • Every company that is over 100 people is already distributed. They just pretend they are not. As soon as you can’t all fit in a room, then you are distributed. You’re just pretending you are not and you probably have crappy processes.  

  • Book recommendation: Work Rules: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead.

  • There is an opportunity to build tools for distributed companies. The fact that a lot of distributed companies have to build their own tools tells you that the existing tools aren’t there yet.

  • I think about managing distractions. Why is it harder for me to write 1,000 words today than it was 5 or 10 years ago? I think we have had 10 years of really smart people working on getting your attention. Email is a good way to solve this. It is an open protocol with lots of different tools built for it. I’ve been checking out tools like Front or Missive.

  • Full podcast here.