Automattic, the creator of WordPress, is one of the most unique companies in the world, powering almost 19% of the Internet with only 225 employees, almost none of whom work in the same office, or even the same cities.
And according to CEO Matt Mullenweg, it all comes down to a unique view of what work really means.
He gives a perfect explanation of why most companies get work wrong, in a speech given at the December 2013 Lean Startup conference, adapted into an article for the Harvard Business Review:
“In a lot of businesses, if someone shows up in the morning and he isn’t drunk, he doesn’t sleep at his desk, and he’s dressed nicely, it’s assumed that he’s working. But none of that takes into account what he’s actually created during the day. Many people create great things without living up to those norms. We measure work based on outputs. I don’t care what hours you work. I don’t care if you sleep late, or if you pick a child up from school in the afternoon. It’s all about your output.”
Focusing their hiring practices, management style, and employee rewards on performance has helped make the company’s distributed model successful well beyond what people assumed was the tipping point for growth.
The way he describes it, the traditional office isn’t something that has some magical effect on productivity. When done right, many people are more productive and happier working on their own schedules. When remote work doesn’t function well, it’s because people aren’t held accountable.
Getting the right people isn’t easy, though. Automattic approaches the hiring process as a tryout or audition rather than an interview. Employees are first hired on a contract basis for a trial period. They can work nights or weekends while still at another job, and all are paid $US25 an hour, regardless of what they applied for. And the candidates do real work for the company, the same as what they’d do in their eventual full-time positions.
“It tells you something you can’t learn from resumes, interviews, or reference checks,” Mullenweg writes.
About 40% of the people who go through the tryout get hired, according to the HBR article. Though the process is time-consuming (Mullenweg spends at least a third of his time on hiring), it has also led to extremely low turnover.
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