distributed work

Tech entrepreneur and Houston native shares why flexibility is the future of work

Houston-born Matt Mullenweg joined the Greater Houston Partnership for a fireside chat on his tech company Automattic's success of distributed work. Photo via ma.tt

The pandemic and the measures companies have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have opened employers eyes to non-traditional ways of working. An increased percentage of the workforce pivoted to remote working this year — in some cases, this was the first time employees were allowed to work from home.

But not having a traditional office setup is far from new to Houston native Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress. He started his company with remote team members basically from day one. In a virtual fireside chat with Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B Food & Drug, for Greater Houston Partnership's Houston NEXT: An ERG Summit last month, Mullenweg describes why he feels confident that a remote — or distributed, has he defines it — workforce is the future.

"Words are really important, and when I hear the word 'remote,' I think there's a central office and then there's someone who's not part of it," Mullenweg says during the chat. "So, we were trying to think of something that captured the fact that we were close to each other in our work — we're just not physically in the same place most of the time. 'Distributed' is what we came up with."

For Mullenweg, this way of running his business was advantageous for the company at its founding in 2000. Since those early days, Automattic, WordPress's parent company, has raised around $700 million in venture funding and made around 20 acquisitions. This success, Mullenweg says, is in part due to distributed work.

"All of this is designed to create a really robust network so that the work can continue regardless of location or anything," Mullenweg says on his workforce structure. "This especially during the early days, allowed us to work two or three times faster than our competitors because when they were doing five days of work a week, we were doing 15 days of work a week."

Mullenweg's plan for distributed work has been the subject a series of blogs, a podcast, and even a TED Talk. As passionate as he is that it is the future of the workforce, he realizes there's a process to getting there, and it's going to take time. He explains a five-tiered process that focuses on strategic culture changes and tech optimization.

"I think you need to have a culture and a way of working that allows people who aren't physical co-present with their colleagues to be productive," Mullenweg says. "The truth is not every company is there yet."

While Mullenweg always believed the rise of distributed work would reach milestones throughout his lifetime, the pandemic might be accelerating crucial steps toward the growth of this type of workforce. Especially since, as Mullenweg explains, this isn't the last major event that's going to occur and prevent in-person work.

"We're all hoping COVID to be gone as soon as possible, but this isn't the last thing like this. I'm sure there are going to be other issues that require us to be more decentralized in the future," Mullenweg says. "If you can get good at that as an organization, you'll be primed to succeed in the coming decades as a business."

Ultimately, distributed work has a lot of potential in the modern workforce, and the structure can do wonders for business advancement as well as employee moral.

"One thing we've found is that when people are really happy and fulfilled, they bring their best selves to work — they're more creative and have more energy," Mullenweg says.

Houston NEXT: An ERG Summit - Fireside Chat with Matt Mullenweg www.youtube.com

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