Tech behemoths and startups alike spend a fortune on creating plush offices with lots of perks. But arguably the biggest perk is allowing employeesÂ to work wherever they want, whenever they want.
This is somethingÂ Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg understood a decade ago when he launched the online publishing platform WordPress. Today his global workforce of 260 still doesnâ€™t operate with a central location (its San Francisco headquarters are nearly always close to empty.) Instead of investing money into office perks, Automattic invests that money into meet-ups for its employees.
Last year at a Lean Startup conference, Mullenweg said the following about the traditional workplace:Â â€œWe have this factory model, and we think someoneâ€™s working if they show up in the morning and theyâ€™re not drunk, they donâ€™t sleep at their desks, they leave at the right time. But that has so little to do with what you create. And we all know people who create a lot without fitting into those norms.â€
Research indicates employees greatly value autonomy. This is part of whatâ€™s driving millennials to leave traditional offices and go out on their own. â€œItâ€™s a cultural phenomenon,â€ says Alex Abelin, co-founder of Liquid Talent, a startup that matches creative professionals with local work in real time. â€œEverything is pointing in that direction. We care more about mobility and independence.â€
Automattic started out as a distributed workforce because it was the easiest way to attract the best engineering talent from around the world.
Mullenweg, who took the CEO role in January, spends one-third of his time on hiring and auditions employees before bringing anyone on full time. Automattic hires about 40% of applicants who go through tryouts. â€œMany of our workers were self-employed or freelance at some point in their careers, which helps them understand how to be self-directed,â€ he wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
Automattic employees communicate with each other through P2, an online toolÂ similar to Yammer, in addition to Google Hangouts and other servicesÂ (but mostlyÂ avoid email.) Teams meet up every couple of months in aÂ city of their choice, and there are annual all-company, weeklong events.Â Mullenweg tells Quartz that heâ€™s usually on the road, spending time withÂ different teams around the world. â€œIâ€™m where the people are,â€ he says.
Allowing employees to work fromÂ anywhere makes it easier to focus on the work itself, without the distractions of office politics. AroundÂ 70% of Americans work in open-plan offices, and research shows that the open spaces actually have a negative impact on productivity and overall happiness. In his paper â€œThe Transparency Paradox,â€ Harvard assistant professor Ethan Bernstein measured the effect of privacy on employee productivity, and concluded that there is a cost toÂ too much transparency. â€œPrivacy is just as important for performance,â€ he writes in an upcoming issue of Harvard Business Review.
Former Automattic team leader Scott Berkun told Quartz: â€œWe have this belief that most work is not distributed, that itâ€™s local. But people are spending most of their time looking at screens. If you are looking at screens, you could be anywhere.â€ Still there were momentsâ€”aboutÂ every three or four weeksâ€”during his 18-month tenure when he wanted toÂ â€œget everyone into a room with a white boardâ€ toÂ work on a problem while observing everyoneâ€™s facial expressions.
Both Berkun and Bernstein stress that the success of companies like Automattic arenâ€™t necessarily tiedÂ to being decentralized or not. Operating remotely isÂ just another way of working. Success is more directly related to the typesÂ of people theÂ company hires, including whether they are good communicators, and the underlying power structures at playâ€”factors that influence whether any company sinks or swims. Berkun says that AutomatticÂ is â€œpretty flat, non-hierarchical,â€ which gives employees freedom to launch product updatesÂ whenever they want.Â Managers (orÂ â€œleadsâ€) arenâ€™t incentivized with additional pay.
All the benefits of technology aside, the most successful companies trust their employeesâ€”whether theyâ€™re across the world, or right under the bossâ€™s nose.
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Article source: http://qz.com/260933/the-case-for-a-distributed-workforce/