Matt Mullenweg and Andreas Klinger on Remote Work and Distributed Teams – Venture Stories

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Key Takeaways

  • Hiring remote workers greatly expands the talent pool
  • Even if you work with a remote team, try to get together every so often – there”s nothing like that human connection
  • “Every company that is over a hundred people in size is distributed. They just pretend they’re not. As soon as you have so many people that you can’t all fit in a room – you are distributed.” – Matt
  • “If I hire really intelligent people, the best thing I can do is let them do what they’re best at. There is no point in me micromanaging them.” – Andreas

Books Mentioned

Intro

The Pros and Cons of Remote Work

  • When Matt was looking for people to hire, he found many more applicants after expanding the role from in-person to remote
    • “If you’re fishing in the small pond of the Bay Area versus the ocean of the rest of the world, you’re just going to have more access to talented people”
      • Hiring remote workers allows companies to hire worldwide talent, not just the best people in a single area
  • What is are some counter-arguments for remote work?
    • “Some leaders and managers just aren’t as comfortable working this way, Some people just prefer going to the office. ” -Matt
    • However, Andreas says that “More than fifty-percent of job candidates nowadays expect and prioritize job offers that are remote” – this is becoming the norm for software engineers

More Thoughts on Remote Work

  • In the past 10 years, the tools for remote work have become much better
    • Wifi is everywhere, laptops are smaller, lighter and more advanced, and everyone has a smartphone
      • “It really gets easier every single year to do this” -Matt
      • “I do believe more distribution is the future” -Matt
  • In-person time is actually an important part of having a remote team
    • “Just because you’re distributed doesn’t mean you should never get together. We are still fundamentally human animals and there is a trust that gets built when you break bread together and get to know someone.” -Matt
    • “Getting the social connection is super important” – Andreas
      • Andreas recommends in-person meetings for big changes such as a company pivot
  • Matt says it may not be worth it to invest in physical buildings for large companies
    • The Google HQ campus is so large that teams often video conference one another instead of walking to the other side of the campus to meet in-person. Meanwhile, Google is investing millions into building more of these physical spaces.

Synchronous Versus Asynchronous Work

  • Synchronous – everyone works during the same time period (ex. 9 AM to 5 PM)
  • Asynchronous – everyone can work whatever hours they like as long as they work the required number of hours that day
  • “Synchronous is powerful” -Matt
    • “We do try to keep teams within time zone ranges of five to eight hours. That’s mostly for the things we want people to do synchronously, like team meetings, so it isn’t in the middle of the night for someone.”

The Problem with Meetings

  • “We can do a whole podcast on why meetings are bad, but so much of it is that people are just reacting” -Matt
    • “You’re getting information and you’re reacting to it in real time, which is not our best mode. We should be considering, playing around with different ideas, and having discussions.” -Matt
    • Matt is trying to get out of the mode of being presented with a problem and having to make a decision immediately
  • Andreas points out that in-person meetings are more tiring than online meetings
    • “Forty-five minutes is really exhausting for an in-person meeting. Forty-five minutes for an online meeting is like nothing.” -Andreas

The Future of Work Messaging

  • Matt is looking forward to a voice-communication message service to replace emails
    • In text, someone can read a sentence and take it completely the wrong way
    • But through voice messages, people can better understand the tone of the message
    • “I misread messages all the time. Emojis only go so far.” -Matt
  • Andreas agrees and says that voice “for a lot of things is just a very good way to explain stuff”
    • “In distributed teams, demo videos are a gold mine. If a designer wants to get across a change they need, making a small quick prototype and explaining it in a video is gold.”

Taking the Team Remote

  • Matt leased office space in San Francisco for WordPress, but many employees didn’t want to deal with the commute and just preferred to work remotely
    • Keeping the space would have cost millions of dollars – So instead, Matt let people work from wherever and purchased WeWork spaces for the employees that wanted to work outside their homes
  • Matt thinks of office space as a “glorified conference room or executive briefing center”
  • “San Francisco is actually fantastic…but you shouldn’t be forced to live here just because you work here. If you can decouple those things, it provides people with a lot more freedom.”
    • People have a lot of things that are important to them outside of work – “If you get your family and personal stuff all really locked in, you just work that much better.”
  • “Every company that is over 100 people is distributed. They just pretend they aren’t. As soon as you have so many people that you can’t all fit in a room – you are distributed. You’re just pretending you aren’t and you probably have crappy processes.” – Matt
  • One problem with remote work is having employees in different states because each state has its own laws related to worker’s compensation, health care, employee benefits, etc.
    • “It’s a big challenge” -Matt

Tips for Hiring Remote Workers

  • Matt recommends the book Work Rules by Laszlo Bock
    • The best way to know if someone will be good at their job is to look at their past work or give them an example work problem to allow them to showcase their skills
    • After 4 or 5 interviews, there are diminishing returns for more interviews
    • “What we really want to test for is the ability to learn, communication skills, work ethic, curiosity, and taste. These things are really what you’re looking for” -Matt
      • The technical skills can always be taught through training or mentorship
  • Andreas recommends hiring first hiring someone as a freelancer for the first few weeks/months and having them work on a project to see how they fit with the team
  • One of your best sources for hiring can be your users
    • “Have something on your about page that says you’re hiring and maybe even list the jobs” – Matt

Management Tips

  • Andreas believes a person should manage 10 people max
  • “If I hire really intelligent people, the best thing I can do is let them do what they’re best at. There is no point in me micromanaging them.” – Andreas
  • Matt recommends the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg to help people understand how they are using communication and how can they improve the message they’re trying to get across

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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