Book: The Year Without Pants

9781118660638_cover.inddEvery aspect of our lives – from relationships to commerce, weddings to funerals – has been forged by conventions that we’ve adopted from those who lived before us. Sometimes these conventions are useful in simplifying our decision-making, by offering us routines to follow. But, in many cases, they stifle innovation and confine us not to the wisdom of our forefathers, but their ignorance.

Those who step out of conventional thinking and choose to do things differently offer others the opportunity to break out of their own cages and benefit from a new approach.

Some examples in business include:

  • Replacing the rigid (and dreaded) work schedule, with a results-oriented work environment (ROWE) that evaluates employees based on their results, not their attendance
  • Giving employees the freedom to pursue side projects during work hours, which has helped Google launch successful products that were the creation of ambitious employees (GMail being a popular example)
  • Startup culture is a fairly new development that made many creative individuals realize that they can start their own businesses and avoid settling for a government job, or joining a cubicle farm

And in his soon-to-be-released book, The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, Scott Berkun shares with us how Automattic, the company behind the most popular blogging platform, is run 100% remotely, without office space to house its 170 employees. Scott worked at Automattic for one year, and his book recounts his experience leading a team that’s scattered across the globe.

I asked Scott a few questions to highlight the most important takeaways from the book. Here are my questions and his answers:

What did you admire most about Automattic before you decided to join their team?

I’ve known Matt Mullenweg for a few years and he’s a hero. He’s done amazing things while maintaining exceptional integrity, a rare combination. I loved many things as an outsider: their free spirit, their talent, and the fact that the entire enterprise was about writing (even if they often forgot to think of it that way).

What kind of companies do you believe can benefit most from a remote working arrangement?

The higher percent of time employees spend working digitally, the easier remote work is to include in an organization. Many conservative companies that are slow to adopt new ideas already have work cultures where most interactions between employees are through machines. If that’s the case, it’s not as different as people assume.

Would you recommend that large corporations transition towards working remotely?

No, but I do recommend corporations of any size transition towards treating talented people like adults. The more respect granted to motivated employees, the more productive they are, not less. Remote work is just one element: it’s not for everyone, but it should be an option to any employee who thinks they’d be more productive.

One of the earliest decisions Yahoo!’s current CEO, Marissa Mayer, made, after her appointment, was to overturn the company’s remote-work policy. Do you agree with her decision?

Mayer is a CEO of a specific company and her decision was about her specific company. Despite all the attention she got, didn’t initially make a general statement about working remotely. I wrote about this here:

http://scottberkun.com/2013/in-defense-of-remote-work-and-marrisa-mayer/

What other lessons did you learn while working at Automattic you believe can benefit budding entrepreneurs and startups?

Most managers get the fundamentals wrong. If there isn’t basic trust and good talent, no method or book or course will help. We forget this. Getting the fundamentals right is very hard and rare and few people experience it in their careers. The story I tell about Automattic is one of those stories and in the reading of it many managers will learn first hand what it takes to create and mantling a great working culture.

If you’re interested in a book that challenges the conventional wisdom on how employees should work, and are interested in reading a success story of a company that is run remotely, order Scott’s book from Wiley Publishing, or from Amazon.

You can also check out his blog and follow him on Twitter: @berkun.

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4 Comments

  1. ken

     /  September 24, 2013

    I am pissed off that this has NOTHING to do with pants.

    Reply
  2. mijbel

     /  September 24, 2013

    This is quite a interview Haider.. cheers!

    Reply

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