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An Evangelist for Remote Work Sees the Rest of the World Catch On


Some companies I’ve talked to have said that their employees are more productive since the pandemic began. Others say the inverse is true. What’s it been like at Automattic?

I believe that if you do distributed work well, you’re a lot more productive. But the pandemic has affected a lot of people’s lives. School is canceled. People are working from home that might not normally work from home. So we definitely have seen a hit to productivity, not to mention the stress, which has been even compounded by the social unrest.

One of the biggest problems you have with distributed work is typically over-work, not under-work. We track vacation time and what we call “A.F.K.” or “away from keyboard” time, to notice when people aren’t taking enough. And we started to notice that people weren’t taking enough, because they were canceling their trips.

Some people say they can actually get a whole lot of work done in a much more condensed amount of time when they’re working remote. They can be just as efficient while working fewer hours, because so much of their work day previously was filled up with things that ultimately weren’t productive. And some say they can spend the same amount of hours working and accomplishing even more. What’s your view on the appropriate amount of time people should be working?

For most roles at Automattic, what you’re accountable for is a result. You could work 60 hours and not do a lot, or you could work 20 hours and do a ton. It’s really about result. And I do believe beyond a certain point, there is a diminishing marginal return to work. I also believe below a certain point, you’re probably not going to be able to keep up with people who are working something around like a 40-hour week. But in the middle of the bell curve, there’s a lot of flexibility.

What is your office like there in Houston?

I have had to adjust during the pandemic, because I’m used to working at home alone, and I have other people here with me. So I actually moved upstairs to a room that was unused and just set it up as a closed office with a door. I have lots of art around me, because I find art really inspiring. I have some Sonos speakers to listen to music, and a cool wood desk that connects me to nature while I’m here, and a meditation cushion here.

This column is called Corner Office, and most people who choose to have offices are usually the bosses. And I’ve been to the offices of billionaire C.E.O.s that have their own private bathroom, beautiful art and couches. But these are all things that you can have in your house. What I love about distributed organizations is every single employee can have a corner office.


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