Thoughts on leading a remote design team

I thought I’d take advantage of Gutenberg‘s imminent release to use it as often as I can for what it was designed for: writing. But I’ve been wondering what to write about …

On a recent visit to Silicon Valley, I noted how there are more than a few major technology companies that are wondering how to make a fully distributed (aka “remote”) design team work well. They were all asking me how it’s done at Automattic. The 💡 went off in my head.

I feel so fortunate to have stepped deep into the territory of all-distributed teams by joining the Automattic universe 22 months ago, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. But I haven’t had time to really write about the experience. So let me start!

First of all I’m using a cool “WP LinkedIn Auto Publish” plugin so I can connect to an audience I have over there automatically. I had wanted to connect in my Medium account but unfortunately they haven’t updated the plugin … but I guess I can just copy and paste stuff directly over there.

Secondly, I should start out by finding what folks would like to know about remote design teams. Let me start with a rough framework like: 1/ How does it work? 2/ How it doesn’t work? 3/ How do you make it work better? If I really get going I’ll open a TypeForm to gather more information.

How does it work?

Automattic is a 700-person all-remote company with one key secret to how we work well in an all-distributed fashion: it’s got to work. In other words, it all works well because it’s the only way that we operate. We have no headquarters to rely upon, so we figure out how to make-do without one.

A few years ago our CEO Matt Mullenweg shared this key thought:

“While it’s possible to work remotely, there’s a bonding and a familiarity that develops when you’re in person together that’s irreplaceable.”

Quartz

And that’s the second secret to Automattic: we get together IRL (In Real Life) throughout the year. We gather in all kinds of places all around the world in small groups and across teams — and what makes it cost effective is that we don’t have a physical infrastructure to pay for or any other large capital outlay. Cool, huh?

Lastly, the third secret to Automattic is the people. We’ve got great people who are passionate about making the Web a better place. The idea of safeguarding the Internet’s global, distributed nature is sacrosanct for us — so our values overlap perfectly with how we operate.

Thanks for visiting, and I’ll try to keep this up so I can get through all three pieces of my rough framework. So next up: How it doesn’t work? —JM