Recently, Quartz.com featured the “no coming into the office” approach of Automattic, the 260-employee (and growing) software company (WordPress, et al). Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg explains the no-office* approach like this: “(The traditional workplace) has this factory model (where everyone thinks) someone’s working if they show up in the morning and they’re not drunk, they don’t sleep at their desks, they leave at the right time. But that has so little to do with what you create. And we all know people who create a lot without fitting into those norms.”
It makes sense to me that my friend and fellow Tennessean (he of Knoxville, me of Nashville), Nick Bradbury, is now a mobile developer at Automattic. For most of the time I’ve known him, Nick has been starting and running businesses, or working for companies who acquired those businesses, while never working in a corporate office setting. And unlike the typical home-office types of businesses we feature, Nick’s jobs have been the type you’d think would require him to be “at the office.” For example, he was the creator of HomeSite, TopStyle and FeedDemon for Windows, all software platforms that became parts of big companies–but he never ran them from a big company office.
To dig a little deeper into the Automattic no office approach and to seek insight into what a small business owner who has both started and run, and now works for, companies with “no HQ offices” policies, I contacted Nick who, because he’s one of greatest people you’ll ever meet, agreed to share with SmallBusiness.com what it’s like.
SmallBusiness.com: Have you ever worked in an office–the kind with several people at desks or in cubicles?
Bradbury: Yes, prior to creating HomeSite I was a cubicle dweller. To say it was not a good fit for me would be an understatement. I work best in comfortable, quiet surroundings – and the cubicle life was neither. This was in the Washington, DC, area, where the commute time was unpredictable due to traffic congestion. I felt like I wasted a couple hours a day simply getting ready for work and then getting to and from work.
SmallBusiness.com: What’s it like to not go into a common office space with others you work with? Best thing? Worst thing?
Bradbury: For me, not going to an office is wonderful. The best thing is that my commute is now downstairs – I work in a basement office, and my dogs are the only noisy coworkers. The worst thing is that despite the office politics and constant interruptions of a “real” workplace, I do miss interacting with people face-to-face.
SmallBusiness.com: Automattic has a reputation for having great “meetups” — how does that work?
Bradbury: Each team at Automattic gets together at least once a year, and we have an annual “grand meetup” where everyone at the company gets together. These meetups generally involve group projects and external activities designed to get us spending time with each other and getting to know each other as more than avatars. I’ve been with the company for about 16 months, and during that time I’ve attended meetups in San Francisco, Denver, Park City (Utah), New Orleans, New York, Tokyo and Greece.
SmallBusiness.com: Any advice for a small business owner who may be thinking of the “no office” approach?
Bradbury: Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that some people prefer the structure and interaction of an office job. Working from home requires you to be very self-motivated, and you have to really love what you’re doing to not be distracted by the freedom. If you’re a very social person, you may find it lonely working from home.
If you go the “no office” approach, you’ll want to make sure you hire people that really work better by themselves. At Automattic there’s a short trial period that allows both the company and the potential hire to see if they fit well together, and I think this is especially helpful for those who’ve never worked from home to try it out before committing.
Also, if you’re a company with a central office that also hires telecommuters, it’s important to make those telecommuters feel as much a part of the company as those who show up at the office every day. If only a few people work from home, it’s easy for them to fall prey to “out of sight, out of mind.”
*Automattic has corporate offices in downtown San Francisco, but there are rarely many people there, according to the Quartz article.
(Nick’s blog can be found at NickBradbury.com)