Forbes has a nice story about the history of WordPress and the role the open-source software plays in the for-profit business Automattic. The article at one point says:
Automattic has an idiosyncratic workplace. As a legacy of its open-source roots its 120 employees are spread across 26 countries and six continents. Although most work alone at home, each team–usually made up of five or six people–has a generous budget to travel. “All of the money we save on office space, we blow on travel costs,” Mullenweg laughs. Groups have gathered in Hawaii, Mexico and New Zealand. Once a year everyone meets for a week at an accessible destination with a solid Internet connection. A distributed workforce means Automattic can hire talent from around the world–without having to offer the perks and pay of Google, Facebook and Apple.
This brought a response from Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg:
I’d like to counter the last sentence, which implies this is something we do as a cost saving scheme: being distributed is not a legacy, it’s a conscious choice. The people at Automattic are truly world-class — I invest in and advise a number of startups, and spending time in New York and the San Francisco Bay area I would put the caliber of people inside of Automattic on par or higher than anyone I’ve met from Google, Facebook, Apple, or any of the traditional tech giants.
How do we do it? Automattic offers a benefit above and beyond what they ever could: We give people the perk and the luxury of being part of an internet-changing company from anywhere in the world. This mirrors the meritocracy that makes Open Source great and treats people on the quality of their ideas and their work whether they’re in San Francisco or Argentina. (Or if they started in San Francisco and moved to Argentina.)
Just last week I wrote about how distributed work is driving increased travel, perhaps because of rather than in spite of video-conferencing. I illustrated it with a very similar example to Automattic’s work structure:
A great case study is web-based collaboration software company 37signals, which has development teams in its head office in Chicago, and in LA, Stockholm, and Romania. While the company lives off its clients’ distributed project work, and its company guide Getting Real says that “Meetings Are Toxic“, the company invests in flying all its staff in to Chicago 3 times a year for face-to-face meetings and relationship building.
However the real issue here is Matt’s important message that a truly distributed organization can attract the most talented in the world.
When I was writing Getting Results From Crowds, an earlier working title was Getting the Best. Being able to attract and get the best out of the most talented people in the world is not just possible, but undoubtedly an enormous advantage over companies bound by geography or other constraints.
This is why we have launched We’re Looking For Talent, to provide a platform to attract the best people in the world to work for us, wherever they are.
As Matt says:
You have to be really committed to keep the creative center and soul of the organization on the internet, and not in an office.
Distributed organizations have a potentially massive advantage which we may see play out over coming years.