I’ve been working in distributed, self-organizing teams for a couple of decades and change. I’ve worked in startups, big corporations, and distributed open source teams. For the past twelve years, I have been at Automattic. Over the years, we have iterated fully-distributed work and creative culture into a 600 person company that has managed to survive over a decade, have low turnover, and rate well among freelancers.
One of my driving motivations for helping build one of the first distributed companies was accessibility. I wanted a place to work compatible with my autistic operating system and my anxiety. Distributed work where I can work from the comfort of home and communicate mostly via text suits me well. It suits other neurodivergent and disabled folks too. Distributed work is a good base for building a culture compatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability.
I’d like to share a peek at our culture using the writing of my co-workers and of journalists. The practices of distributed companies have lessons for classrooms, particularly regarding accessibility and inclusive communication. Bring your own comfort, backchannels, and psychological safety are important notions that benefit teams of adult creatives as well as teams of creative kids. We parents and teachers must recognize that kids need digital skills if they’re going to thrive in a digital world. We can develop those skills in an inclusive way that uses technology not for remediation and assessment, but for collaboration. Communicate, collaborate, iterate, and launch. The best of inclusive hacker culture coupled with the social model and equity literacy is powerful. To fulfill the promise of a public education that is “free, life-changing, and available to everyone“, adopt a hacker mindset of flexible improvisation and passion-based maker learning and a social model mindset of inclusion and acceptance. When we use technology to collaborate in default-to-open cultures, we create serendipity.
The results were remarkable. The employees who had used the tool became 31% more likely to find coworkers with expertise relevant to meeting job goals. Those employees also became 88% more likely to accurately identify who could put them in contact with the right experts. They made these gains by observing what their coworkers talked about on Jive-n and with whom. The group that had no access to the tool showed no improvement on either measure over the same period.
Since then we have studied internal social tools in various work settings, including banking, insurance, telecommunications, e-commerce, atmospheric science, and computing. The mounting evidence is clear: These tools can promote employee collaboration and knowledge sharing across silos. They can help employees make faster decisions, develop more innovative ideas for products and services, and become more engaged in their work and their companies.
Over the past two decades organizations have sought some of these benefits through knowledge management databases, but with limited success. That’s because determining who has expertise and understanding the context in which it was created are important parts of knowledge sharing. Databases do not provide that type of information and connection. Social tools do.
How we communicate
- How we Communicate at Automattic – WatirMelon.Blog
- The Three Speeds of Collaboration: Tool Selection and Culture Fit · Intense Minimalism
- How Communication Density Fuels Automattic – Data for Breakfast
- ‘Slack Creep’ Is Real. Here’s How Your Company Can Avoid It
- Automattic has figured out the right tools for remote working
- Distributed teams are rewriting the rules of office(less) politics — TechCrunch
How we hire
- Automattic’s remote hiring process – Dave Martin’s Blog
- Automattic’s Unorthodox View On Productivity Tracks Output, Not Appearance | Fast Company | Business + Innovation
- Hire by Auditions, Not Resumes
- Hiring the right people has been key to the success of Automattic
- The CEO of Automattic on Holding “Auditions” to Build a Strong Team
- Why Automattic Said No to Silicon Valley – Fortune
- Lean Startup Talk | Matt Mullenweg
- Work With Us — Automattic
How we organize (kinda)
How we include
- Teamwork makes the dream work – annezazu
- Diversity and Inclusion — Automattic
- Projects, Teams, and Psychological Safety
- Affinity Groups, Psychological Safety, and Inclusion
- Inclusion is the new normal