Saturday, March 08, 2014

Companies don't always 'get' productivity

Automattic, the creator of the WordPress blog, powers almost 19% of the Internet with only 225 employees. Almost none of these people work in the same office or even the same city.

CEO Matt Mullenweg explains, "In (many) businesses, if someone shows up and isn't drunk, doesn't sleep at their desk, and is dressed nicely, it's assumed that they're working. But it doesn't account for what they've created during the day. Many people can create great things without living up to those norms. Our company measures work based on outputs. I don't care what hours you work, or if you sleep late, or if you pick a child up from school in the afternoon. It's 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 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 usually 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 $25 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."

About 40% of the people who go through the tryout get hired. Though the process is time-consuming (the CEO spends at least a third of his time on hiring), it has also led to extremely low turnover.

[Adapted from a talk by Matt Mullenweg]

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