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Working Remotely and the Limits of Technology

Never underestimate the impact of culture.
Oct | 14 | 2013

Oct | 14 | 2013

remoteIn his latest book The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work (affiliate link), Scott Berkun writes about the issue of remote work. Rather than research his book in a vacuum, however, Berkun returned to the field. He spent a little more than a year working at Automattic, the parent company to WordPress.

It’s an excellent read and I highly recommend checking it out. In an Xconomy interview to support the book, Berkun says:

My year there totally proved that remote work can work fine for teams. We did all kinds of different projects, some of which required schedules with dependencies, and some of which were more ad hoc and agile. But if it’s a good team that’s motivated to work and you have the authority to manage them well, then they can do a good job.

It’s interesting to note the lack of emphasis on technology in the interview and, I’d argue, throughout the book. While hardly Luddites, most WordPress employees rely upon IRC to conduct chats, not exactly a new application. Employees rarely e-mail each other and use Skype to compensate for the fact that they were all scattered throughout the globe.

Technology: Too Much, Too Little, and the Same Result

I’ve seen in my consulting career organizations deploy solutions in search of problems. Encumbered by myriad applications, many employees, groups, and departments remained confused about what to do–and how to do it. As a result, key documents and data resided in a hornet’s nest of systems, wikis, intranets, and knowledge bases. This is not ideal.

Never forget the cardinal importance of culture.

Conversely, I’ve seen plenty of companies refuse to get with the times. Ironically, the result was often the same. Left to their own devices, employee and customer data spiraled out of control. Simple questions could not be answered. (To learn more about how to make remote employees more productive, register for this VMware webinar.) 

Simon Says

The trick is to strike a balance. There’s no “right” amount of technology. What works for one organization may well not work for another. Too many organizations deploy different systems and applications in a bubble, ignoring culture in the process. The results are typically predictable.


What say you?

While the words and opinions in this post are my own, VMware has compensated me to write it.

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1 Comment

  1. Matt Boyd

    Hi Phil, great post and I really appreciate your insight here. I’m a big fan of Scott Berkun so I also appreciate his mention! He’s always on point and so are you!

    I always use the term “over tooling” because I think it’s important to focus your efforts on just a couple simple tools rather than overloading the team with multiple points of contact. That approach only creates confusion instead of building a culture of collaboration. I do also agree that what one team is using as their technology stack doesn’t mean it’s great for another team with a completely different culture and feel. Thanks for the post, your insight is great.

    – Matt Boyd
    Co-founder of


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