Aug
06
2020
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WordPress.com launches new P2 to take on internal communication tools

WordPress.com, a division of Automattic, is launching a new product called P2. And this time, it’s all about improving internal communications for private groups. As a remote company, Automattic has been using P2 internally for years to communicate asynchronously. It’s a place to share long-form posts, a repository to keep onboarding documents and other important evergreen documents.

P2 is built on top of WordPress . You can view it as a sort of WordPress for teams that is heavily customized around the concept of sharing ideas with other team members. Companies now rely on multiple internal communication tools. P2 can replace some of them but doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel altogether.

For instance, P2 isn’t a Slack competitor. You can’t use it for real-time chat. But P2 can be used to share important announcements — the kind of announcements that you can find on an intranet portal.

Image Credits: WordPress.com

You can also use it for long-term projects and create your own P2 for your team in particular. In that case, P2 competes more directly with Workplace by Facebook or Yammer. In order to make it more useful for asynchronous communications, P2 has some features that make it more useful than a simple WordPress blog.

For instance, you can @-mention your co-workers to send them a notification and follow posts to receive updates. You can also create checklists, embed PDF documents, stick important posts at the top of the homepage and stay on top of what happened while you were gone. There are dedicated menus to view new posts, new comments and mentions you’ve received.

While you can theoretically access the classic WordPress back-end, you can write new posts, edit existing posts and write comments without ever leaving P2. The company uses the new block editor that lets you add headings, lists, video embeds and media in a visual way. It works a bit like Squarespace’s editor or Notion, and it makes a ton of sense to leverage the new editor right next to content you’re viewing, commenting on, etc.

For content that always remains relevant, you can create documents, which are pages without a specific publishing date and without comments. These documents are sorted in their own category and can be easily shared across a company. You can use documents for internal policies, guides or important contact information. Many companies rely on Google Docs and shared folders in Google Drive for this kind of document. P2 could potentially replace those shared folders and become the main information repository.

By default, P2 sites are private, but you can make them public in case you want to share updates on your product with clients or use P2 for public events.

If you’re familiar with the WordPress ecosystem, you might already know a WordPress theme called P2. The new P2 announced today is a new product that takes that idea to the next level. Automattic has been iterating on the concept and using it widely with its 1,300 employees across 912 internal P2 sites.

WordPress.com is going to offer hosted P2 instances. Anybody can create a P2 for free and invite other people. Eventually, WordPress.com plans to offer paid subscriptions for advanced features. In other words, P2 is going to be a software-as-a-service product. But there will be a self-hostable, open-source version in the future as well.

I played around with a few P2 instances, and the overall impression is that the complexity of WordPress remains hidden by default, which is a good thing. It’s a clean and focused product that would work particularly well in that spot between company-wide emails and announcements getting lost in Slack.

Image Credits: WordPress.com

Nov
11
2019
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Salesforce Ventures invested $300M in Automattic while Salesforce was building a CMS

In September, Salesforce Ventures, the venture of arm of Salesforce, announced a hefty $300 million investment in Automattic, the company behind WordPress, the ubiquitous content management system (CMS). At the same time, the company was putting the finishing touches on Salesforce CMS, an in-house project it released last week.

The question is, why did it choose to do both?

One reason could be that WordPress isn’t just well-liked; it’s also the world’s most popular content management system, running 34 percent of the world’s 10 billion websites — including this one — according to the company. With Automattic valued at $3 billion, that gives Salesforce Ventures a 10 percent stake.

Given the substantial investment, you wouldn’t have been irrational to at least consider the idea that Salesforce may have had its eye on this company as an acquisition target. In fact, at the time of the funding, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg told TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet that there could be some partnerships and integrations with Salesforce in the future.

Now we have a Salesforce CMS, and a potential partnership with one of the world’s largest web content management (WCM) tools, and it’s possible that the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Apr
01
2019
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WordPress.com parent company launches work collaboration platform Happy Tools

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce and Jetpack, is launching a new suite of products focused on the future of work — Happy Tools. Automattic is a remote company with more than 850 employees working from 68 countries. And the company has built a bunch of products over the years to communicate, collaborate and work.

With Happy Tools, Automattic plans to turn those internal tools into actual products. The first product is Happy Schedule, a scheduling service that Automattic is using to deliver 24/7 customer support.

“Ideas about releasing our internal tools have been kicking around Automattic for years, but it’s been about finding the right moment and the right product to lead with,” Automattic product lead for Happy Tools Matt Wondra told me. “When we started building Happy Schedule a year ago we realized that designing a tool for our own scheduling needs also filled a clear gap in the [workforce management] landscape.”

“No other product out there gave us the flexibility and visibility we needed to comfortably schedule a globally distributed team. Since it was a greenfield internal project, we could engineer it from the ground up with public release in mind. And it just made sense to launch Happy Tools first into an industry we know so well — customer support.”

Happy Schedule is a modern web app and it should feel more like Google Calendar instead of some SAP product. For instance, you can click and drag your mouse to create an event — no need to input a start time and an end time.

But this is just a start. Automattic plans to launch more products over time so you can work more efficiently as a remote team. The company is using a software-as-a-service approach and it costs $5 per user per month to access Happy Tools.

It’s interesting to see that Automattic is promising a suite of products from day one. It won’t just be a bunch of different products. When you subscribe to Happy Tools, you should be able to access multiple products that work together, just like a G Suite subscription lets you access Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, etc. This strategy will improve engagement and stickiness over time.

Aug
18
2018
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Distributed teams are rewriting the rules of office(less) politics

When we think about designing our dream home, we don’t think of having a thousand roommates in the same room with no doors or walls. Yet in today’s workplace where we spend most of our day, the purveyors of corporate office design insist that tearing down walls and bringing more people closer together in the same physical space will help foster better collaboration while dissolving the friction of traditional hierarchy and office politics.

But what happens when there is no office at all?

This is the reality for Jason Fried, Founder and CEO of Basecamp, and Matt Mullenweg, Founder and CEO of Automattic (makers of WordPress), who both run teams that are 100% distributed across six continents and many time zones. Fried and Mullenweg are the founding fathers of a movement that has inspired at least a dozen other companies to follow suit, including Zapier, Github, and Buffer. Both have either written a book, or have had a book written about them on the topic.

For all of the discussions about how to hire, fire, coordinate, motivate, and retain remote teams though, what is strangely missing is a discussion about how office politics changes when there is no office at all. To that end, I wanted to seek out the experience of these companies and ask: does remote work propagate, mitigate, or change the experience of office politics? What tactics are startups using to combat office politics, and are any of them effective?

“Can we take a step back here?”

Office politics is best described by a simple example. There is a project, with its goals, metrics, and timeline, and then there’s who gets to decide how it’s run, who gets to work on it, and who gets credit for it. The process for deciding this is a messy human one. While we all want to believe that these decisions are merit-based, data-driven, and objective, we all know the reality is very different. As a flood of research shows, they come with the baggage of human bias in perceptions, heuristics, and privilege.

Office politics is the internal maneuvering and positioning to shape these biases and perceptions to achieve a goal or influence a decision. When incentives are aligned, these goals point in same direction as the company. When they don’t, dysfunction ensues.

Perhaps this sounds too Darwinian, but it is a natural and inevitable outcome of being part of any organization where humans make the decisions. There is your work, and then there’s the management of your coworker’s and boss’s perception of your work.

There is no section in your employee handbook that will tell you how to navigate office politics. These are the tacit, unofficial rules that aren’t documented. This could include reworking your wardrobe to match your boss’s style (if you don’t believe me, ask how many people at Facebook own a pair of Nike Frees). Or making time to go to weekly happy hour not because you want to, but because it’s what you were told you needed to do to get ahead.

One of my favorite memes about workplace culture is Sarah Cooper’s “10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings,” which includes…

  • Encouraging everyone to “take a step back” and ask “what problem are we really trying to solve”
  • Nodding continuously while appearing to take notes
  • Stepping out to take an “important phone call”
  • Jumping out of your seat to draw a Venn diagram on the whiteboard

Sarah Cooper, The Cooper Review

These cues and signals used in physical workplaces to shape and influence perceptions do not map onto the remote workplace, which gives us a unique opportunity to study how office politics can be different through the lens of the officeless.

Friends without benefits

For employees, the analogy that coworkers are like family is true in one sense — they are the roommates that we never got to choose. Learning to work together is difficult enough, but the physical office layers on the additional challenge of learning to live together. Contrast this with remote workplaces, which Mullenweg of Automattic believes helps alleviate the “cohabitation annoyances” that come with sharing the same space, allowing employees to focus on how to best work with each other, versus how their neighbor “talks too loud on the phone, listens to bad music, or eats smelly food.”

Additionally, remote workplaces free us of the tyranny of the tacit expectations and norms that might not have anything to do with work itself. At an investment bank, everyone knows that analysts come in before the managing director does, and leave after they do. This signals that you’re working hard.

Basecamp’s Fried calls this the “presence prison,” the need to be constantly aware of where your coworkers are and what they are doing at all times, both physically and virtually. And he’s waging a crusade against it, even to the point of removing the green dot on Basecamp’s product. “As a general rule, nobody at Basecamp really knows where anyone else is at any given moment. Are they working? Dunno. Are they taking a break? Dunno. Are they at lunch? Dunno. Are they picking up their kid from school? Dunno. Don’t care.”

There is credible basis for this practice. A study of factory workers by Harvard Business School showed that workers were 10% to 15% more productive when managers weren’t watching. This increase was attributed to giving workers the space and freedom to experiment with different approaches before explaining to managers, versus the control group which tended to follow prescribed instructions under the leery watch of their managers.

Remote workplaces experience a similar phenomenon, but by coincidence. “Working hard” can’t be observed physically so it has to be explained, documented, measured, and shared across the company. Cultural norms are not left to chance, or steered by fear or pressure, which should give individuals the autonomy to focus on the work itself, versus how their work is perceived.

Lastly, while physical workplaces can be the source of meaningful friendships and community, recent research by the Wharton School of Business is just beginning to unravel the complexities behind workplace friendships, which can be fraught with tensions from obligations, reciprocity and allegiances. When conflicts arise, you need to choose between what’s best for the company, and what’s best for your relationship with that person or group. You’re not going to help Bob because your best friend Sally used to date him and he was a dick. Or you’re willing to do anything for Jim because he coaches your kid’s soccer team, and vouched for you to get that promotion.

In remote workplaces, you don’t share the same neighborhood, your kids don’t go to the same school, and you don’t have to worry about which coworkers to invite to dinner parties. Your physical/personal and work communities don’t overlap, which means you (and your company) unintentionally avoid many of the hazards of toxic workplace relationships.

On the other hand, these same relationships can be important to overall employee engagement and well-being. This is evidenced by one of the findings in Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work Report, which surveyed over 1900 remote workers around the world. It found that next to collaborating and communicating, loneliness was the biggest struggle for remote workers.

Graph by Buffer (State of Remote Work 2018)

So while you may be able to feel like your own boss and avoid playing office politics in your home office, ultimately being alone may be more challenging than putting on a pair of pants and going to work.

Feature, not a bug?

Physical offices can have workers butting heads with each other. Image by UpperCut Images via Getty Images.

For organizations, the single biggest difference between remote and physical teams is the greater dependence on writing to establish the permanence and portability of organizational culture, norms and habits. Writing is different than speaking because it forces concision, deliberation, and structure, and this impacts how politics plays out in remote teams.

Writing changes the politics of meetings. Every Friday, Zapier employees send out a bulletin with: (1) things I said I’d do this week and their results, (2) other issues that came up, (3) things I’m doing next week. Everyone spends the first 10 minutes of the meeting in silence reading everyone’s updates.

Remote teams practice this context setting out of necessity, but it also provides positive auxiliary benefits of “hearing” from everyone around the table, and not letting meetings default to the loudest or most senior in the room. This practice can be adopted by companies with physical workplaces as well (in fact, Zapier CEO Wade Foster borrowed this from Amazon), but it takes discipline and leadership to change behavior, particularly when it is much easier for everyone to just show up like they’re used to.

Writing changes the politics of information sharing and transparency. At Basecamp, there are no all-hands or town hall meetings. All updates, decisions, and subsequent discussions are posted publicly to the entire company. For companies, this is pretty bold. It’s like having a Facebook wall with all your friends chiming in on your questionable decisions of the distant past that you can’t erase. But the beauty is that there is now a body of written decisions and discussions that serves as a rich and permanent artifact of institutional knowledge, accessible to anyone in the company. Documenting major decisions in writing depoliticizes access to information.

Remote workplaces are not without their challenges. Even though communication can be asynchronous through writing, leadership is not. Maintaining an apolitical culture (or any culture) requires a real-time feedback loop of not only what is said, but what is done, and how it’s done. Leaders lead by example in how they speak, act, and make decisions. This is much harder in a remote setting.

A designer from WordPress notes the interpersonal challenges of leading a remote team. “I can’t always see my teammates’ faces when I deliver instructions, feedback, or design criticism. I can’t always tell how they feel. It’s difficult to know if someone is having a bad day or a bad week.”

Zapier’s Foster is also well aware of these challenges in interpersonal dynamics. In fact, he has written a 200-page manifesto on how to run remote teams, where he has an entire section devoted to coaching teammates on how to meet each other for the first time. “Because we’re wired to look for threats in any new situation… try to limit phone or video calls to 15 minutes.” Or “listen without interrupting or sharing your own stories.” And to “ask short, open ended questions.” For anyone looking for a grade school refresher on how to make new friends, Wade Foster is the Dale Carnegie of the remote workforce.

To office, or not to office

What we learn from companies like Basecamp, Automattic, and Zapier is that closer proximity is not the antidote for office politics, and certainly not the quick fix for a healthy, productive culture.

Maintaining a healthy culture takes work, with deliberate processes and planning. Remote teams have to work harder to design and maintain these processes because they don’t have the luxury of assuming shared context through a physical workspace.

The result is a wealth of new ideas for a healthier, less political culture — being thoughtful about when to bring people together, and when to give people their time apart (ending the presence prison), or when to speak, and when to read and write (to democratize meetings). It seems that remote teams have largely succeeded in turning a bug into a feature. For any company still considering tearing down those office walls and doors, it’s time to pay attention to the lessons of the officeless.

Aug
23
2016
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New .blog TLD opens up early registration applications

dotblog-social One of the few new top-level domains that actually makes sense, .blog, is starting the process of registration. Automattic, which runs WordPress and a number of other useful web apps, owns .blog and is handling applications at get.blog and, confusingly, dotblog.wordpress.com. Read More

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