Long before the pandemic forever changed where and how many of us work, Matt Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress had developed a 100% distributed workforce at his company Automattic.
Automattic is “distributed first.” The idea of a geographically dispersed workforce was a foundational one. Nearly 800 employees work in 67 different countries.
In the following video, Matt provides a number of tips for building what he calls “a distributed capability.” These include:
- Document everything
- Always leave a trail (so others can pick up where you left off)
- Move communications online
- Find the right [software] tools
- Create productive face-to-face time
- Help people create their own working space
Popular software tools for a distributed workforce
As far as technology goes, employees in a distributed workforce need three basic things—a computer, an internet connection, and the right software.
The proliferation of cloud applications means that there are many tools that can be easily shared with employees no matter where they are or what type of computer they decide to use.
Popular categories of cloud tools include:
Chat room software
Slack was responsible for a new category of collaboration software. The company grew quickly with virtually no marketing or sales, as raving fans spread the word.
Shared cloud file storage
Two popular cloud storage and file-sharing apps are Dropbox and Google Drive. Here’s an excellent head-to-head comparison.
Dropbox is a standalone application, whereas Google Drive is coupled with consumer Gmail and Google Workspace for organizations.
Collaborative documents & spreadsheets
The ability for multiple people to edit the same document, spreadsheet, or presentation at the same time no matter where they are is valuable to distributed teams.
Vendors with popular online apps include Google, Zoho, and Microsoft. Etherpad is an open-source alternative to the major vendors.
An online meeting app
Popular online meeting apps are Zoom and Google Meet.
Google Meet is an included option for all users at organizations with Google Workspace.
Google announced on March 3, 2020, that it would be enabling Meet’s premium features (normally only available to Google Workspace Enterprise edition customers) to all Google Workspace customers through July 1, 2020. This has been extended to September 30, 2020.
The ability to communicate by Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is built into applications such as Slack and Hangouts Meet. However, sometimes there’s a need for traditional point-to-point telephone calls.
VoIP phone systems like RingCentral, 8×8, Ooma, and Google’s Voice app can give distributed users a business phone number. Communication hardware options include traditional desk phones, computers and headsets, and mobile phones.
Project management software
Asana and Trello are two popular online project management tools.
Trello, owned by Atlassian, is flexible and easy to use. It can be applied to many different collaborative task management scenarios. Asana works well for larger, complex projects.
Matt believes that a distributed workforce will ultimately be the norm.
It’s likely that the adoption of online software tools such as these will accelerate.