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The Year without Pants: Defining the Future of Work

Khyati SehgalKhyati Sehgal

The Year without Pants is a glimpse into the working culture at Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com. A former Microsoft manager puts his theory about work culture to test when he joins Automattic,

and comes out with enough positivity to write a book about it.

So here’s what I gathered about the Future Work from Scott’s book, and his Tenure at Automattic

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. He chronicles the practices at both Microsoft and Automattic. Berkun clearly favours the policies at Automattic. He notes that the creative freedom provided to the programmers at Automattic is what sets the two companies apart.

The telecommuting practices at a company, which powers almost 20 percent of all websites on the internet, are most entertaining, especially in the way the author recounts them. But more than entertaining, they’re surprising. The people at WordPress work from home, using virtual communication, and have an unlimited vacation policy.

Hardly anyone at WordPress uses email, and they meet only when they have to. There are small teams, only a handful of managers, and zero micro-management, which ensures creative freedom for each employee. Not every employee has to go through an interview. There is a special induction program where they handle real-time customer queries or ‘tickets.’ The appraisal lands them a job, while it also serves the purpose of orientation. The employees get to know a good deal about the product while they are trying to sell it to real customers.

What’s more intriguing is the comparison Scott draws between Microsoft and Automattic. Once you get acquainted with Berkun’s views on work culture at both companies, you get an intrinsic view of what an employee really wants. The author does not refrain from providing a critique on the remote work culture in Automattic. He freely gives his opinion on what might work in the future and what might not.

Scott Berkun On How Automattic Actually Operates Remotely

First things first – no one at Automattic uses e-mail. Yes! I had the exact same reaction when I read this in the book. And I guess Scott also got similar responses, because in his book he says, “When I say that Automattic doesn’t use e-mail, people lift an eyebrow as if I’d said the company doesn’t believe in oxygen or bans the use of the letter. Every employee has an e-mail account; they’re just rarely used. Despite constant complaints about endless piles of e-mail in the business world, there is a fatalism about alternatives.”

I agree. Even for a technology as old as e-mail, we seem afraid to do away with it. As if organizations will crumble if this mere change is implemented. But the question here is something else – how does Automattic manage its operations this well without the help of email? The answer is P2.

Scott talks in length about P2 in his book. He calls them the little secret of Automattic. For the records, P2 is an improvised version of WordPress’ Prologue theme which has been lately used by Automattic as a combination of a conversation vehicle and micro blogging tool. All Auttomatic employees use P2 as a part of their daily workflow. In fact, 80% of company’s internal communication is powered by over 150 P2-themed sites. It also plays a significant role in task assignment and management. 70% of task management is done through P2-based blogs, including tracking the work status. Even deadlines are posted on P2 blogs used internally.

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And E-mails? They merely act as the support system for P2. “E-mail is technically part of how P2s work: it is used for notifications. In any post on a P2, you can add a command to notify someone you want them to read it. For example, I might write in a post, ‘hey @peatling can you give me your opinion?’ The P2 would automatically look up in a database who @peatling is and send him a notification in e-mail. The conversation stays on the P2, but e-mail helps bring it to the attention of whomever the author desired”, writes Scott. According to Scott P2s were laudable as they put the control in the hands of the reader. Here are some pros of P2s Scott mentions in his book:

Most of team’s communication and collaboration happens through instant messaging services, collaboration tools and private channels. Some IM’s frequently used at Automattic are Skype, Chat Rooms, AIMs and Google Hangout Videos. These tools also assist in project tracking. 5% of all project tracking happens via Skype and AIM Instant Messaging, while 25% of them are managed through private IRC channels.

Moving forward, the team has come up with an improvised version of the theme, which includes enhanced features. Meanwhile O2, a future version, is under development. Automattic is planning to go public with this tool to help other companies manage projects without depending on e-mail.

Truly, WordPress is challenging the way the workplace has been portrayed for years and helping define the future of work.

Is it worth a read?

I personally believe you need to get your hands on this book. It gives you clear, impartial insights into how the future of work is changing and how employees are moving out of 4X4 cubicles. It is written in a style that appeals to all, with great anecdotes.

Khyati is a technology expert at VenturePact, helping businesses find premium software firms to develop their products and scale their teams. If you have any questions about outsourcing your next technology project Khyati is happy to help.