Automattic, the company behind the WordPress blogging website, has made the decision to shut down its San Francisco office. I’m sure it was a beautiful office, but of the company’s 550+ employees, only around 30 lived in the Bay Area. The rest are scattered in 140 cities and just under 30 countries, according to WordPress creator and Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg.
Mullenweg founded Automattic in 2005 to create an easy tool to bring online blogging to the masses. In 2016, Automattic was valued at $1.16 billion and was subject to the will-they-or-won’t-they IPO chatter that surrounds such highly-valued tech companies.
According to a BusinessInsider article written in 2013, approximately 10 Automattic employees regularly worked in their San Francisco office space. “Rather than being anti-office, we’re more location agnostic,” Mullenweg said.
The company has always been a champion of remote work. Its location-independent culture comes from the company’s roots in open-source software writing. Open-source is a method of writing software whereby anyone can contribute to projects like WordPress from anywhere in the world. One of its employees, Scott Berkun, wrote A Year Without Pants, a behind-the-scenes look at Automattic and its then-unique commitment to remote work.
How Automattic Made Location Independence Work
1. Their “center of gravity” for workplace communications was taken online – Google Chat, Google Hangouts, videoconferences, etc. “No matter where you are in the world, you can be an equal participant,” Mullenweg says.
2. At remote workplaces like Automattic, you are your own IT support. Thus, Auttomatic made sure that all of its employees had up-to-date tech. No superannuated laptops – the company provided high-end Macbooks as well as a $2,000 stipend to improve their home offices.
3. All money saved by not renting office space was thrown into a giant travel budget, with each Automattic team being able to use funds for a “hack week” that they could hold anywhere in the world.
4. Once a year, the company holds an all-employee retreat. “We literally bring every single person in the company together,” Mullenweg says.
Mullenweg attributes the success of his company to the relative autonomy of his team. “Regardless of what tools you use to communicate,” he told BusinessInsider in 2013, “if you give people autonomy to execute on something meaningful, and bias the environment to moving quickly, amazing things can happen.”