The Year Without Pants is an insightful look in to Scott’s year working as a team lead for WordPress and Automattic’s company culture that allows remote work. What’s most interesting about it, is the culture works! Running a remote team successfully can be incredibly difficult at scale. Their culture was unconventional, employees are independent, working from wherever they wished and most interestingly, rarely using email to communicate.
The book makes a great case for why remote work can work, especially if you consider how much time at a traditional workplace is spent purely through the computer. I know for myself I could actually spend days during a busy project not speaking to a single soul in my office and just working through the day on my computer and collaborating with the team on IRC and Skype whilst handling tickets in Jira. The principle is sound and in my opinion the things that make it a success or not are employee commitment and competence and the company culture and processes. A remote team with a paranoid and suspicious company culture will never work.
Automatic doesn’t make you run the Google gauntlet of trick questions, e.g. why manhole covers are round or how to upgrade SSHd on servers on the moon but instead hires you by trial to tackle a simple project and work on real things. As an approach this is great and something I experienced myself whilst “interviewing” for a company in Australia and then blockchain.info. It’s a great way to see if people can actually do the job or not, I’m a big fan of hiring people that can do the work, whilst it’s a nice idea to hire people with the capacity to learn what you’re already doing it’s a great idea to bring people on who already know what they are doing and can help you improve what’s already been done!
What is important to note is that whilst Automattic has a remote culture, they also have a head office in San Francisco and regular company meetings, in real life, where all employees turn up and work together in the same place. Reading the book suggested a culture of competent people, all part of the same team, who wanted to be there, working together to solve problems they believe in. This culture was also always there from the start, with the Founder, not shoe-horned in later.
I took so many notes from this book that writing them up would have yielded a book of a similar size and scope. Scott Berkun is ex-Microsoft having worked on Internet Explorer, he knows what he’s doing and is able to succinctly put it in to words. I think that is also why Automattic’s culture of remote work, works. Put the right people in the right place doing the right thing!