Communication to build a remote culture

A distributed workforce is the most effective way to build a company [] talent and intelligence are equally distributed around the world but opportunity is not.

– Matt Mullenweg Founder and CEO of Automattic, the company behind WooCommerce, and Jetpack.

At Automattic, we have over 800 employees living in over 67 countries. Some of them don’t have a home-base and work from RVs or move from place to place living in short term rentals. As long as they have access to wifi and can access the tools we need to do our work, then it doesn’t matter.

How do we do this? How do we manage 800 people spread far and wide?

Having a communication strategy is vital. Communication isn’t just about distributing information about company policies, new products, etc. It’s about sharing company values, creating a sense of community about the work, increasing productivity, building strong leadership, and encouraging motivation.

It takes intentional effort for all this happen when employees don’t share office space.

Here’s a taste of our communication strategy at Automattic:

  • Company Creed
  • Internal documentation
  • Internal asynchronous, archival communication via P2
  • Synchronous communication via Slack

First, we clearly state our company values with a Company creed:

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

Next, we document everything with an internal WordPress site, one of the first things new folks get access to. We call it the Field Guide. It’s an internal knowledge base that contains everything from benefits information and instructions on how to use our user support ticket system to a glossary of internal terminology and memes. Anyone can add to the documentation. If you see something that needs adding, you add it.

We also document everything on internal blogs called P2. We use P2s to propose ideas, discuss projects, and come to decisions. Some discussions might have threads of 50 or more comments, where people ask and answer questions about a plan. P2s then serve as archives of decisions made. Teams, ongoing projects, onboarding checklists, and ongoing training, all have P2s. In all, there are about 350 of them. Anyone can create one so the number grows daily.

How do we handle the conversations that would normally happen in an office? Chatter in the hallway, popping into an office for a quick meeting? For that, we go to Slack. We have 1,626 public internal channels. In the last 30 days we sent 911,614 messages. The communication that happens here is more fluid, if something needs to be documented so others can reference it, then we write it up on a P2. If we need to get on a call to hammer something out, we can start a call through Slack.

As our creed says, communication is oxygen. When we communicate with transparency, we move projects forward, work collaboratively on projects, and make strategic decisions. Everyone has a voice.

I’ll be speaking at SD Expo Europe about building successful remote work culture through communication, feedback, and transparency. Here’s the Day One schedule so you can see additional sessions for the day I’ll be speaking. If you’d like to join us, tickets are now available through the SD Expo Europe Kickstarter.

Creed wallpaper courtesy of Patrick Rauland

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