In his latest book The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com 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.)
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.
While the words and opinions in this post are my own, VMware has compensated me to write it.