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WordPress Architect On Crafting Workplace Happiness

WordPress Architect On Crafting Workplace Happiness The cover of Scott Berkun's book, "The Year Without Pants" / Credit: Scott Berkun/Jossey-Bass

Working from home has gotten a lot of bad press this year, but one of the digital world’s most successful companies is finding that letting employees work remotely is proving to be a smart move.

Automattic, the company that owns the blogging site WordPress, employs 170 workers in 70 different cities. All of them work from home. The company has also tried to free workers from the tedious chore of answering emails by using blogs, chat and Skype to communicate instead.

Scott Berkun, a Microsoft veteran, who left to become an author and consultant, and then joined the executive team at WordPress from 2010 to 2012. He took the job with the understanding that he would ultimately write a book about the experience.

That book, “The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work” (Jossey-Bass) is due out in September. Berkun, whose book title refers to a running joke between he and his co-workers about whether any of them needed to be dressed to work from home, believes this approach to running a company empowers employees to do their best work. In an email interview with BusinessNewsDaily, he tells us why workers need freedom and will choose happiness over money most of the time.

BusinessNewsDaily: Why is WordPress so committed to letting people work from remote locations?

Scott Berkun: They hire the most talented people on the planet: Relocation isn't required. They have the best talent pool in the world. And since they can pick and choose, they can hand-select people who are not only talented, but both self-motivated and good communicators, two key factors for working well on any team.

BND: How does this affect the way employees feel about their jobs?

S.B.: More than anything, they treat employees like adults. They believe employees can figure out for themselves how best to work, and where to work from. This attitude of empowerment and trust extends far beyond remote work; people are measured on their output, not their hours, which exemplifies the attitude most modern workers wish they felt from their employers.

Scott Berkun wrote "The Year Without Pants" after working from home for WordPress.com.

BND: Why is email frowned upon at the company?

S.B.: Email is entirely welcome at WordPress.com. All employees have an email account, it's just email isn't often used. Customized blogs, Skype and chat work far more effectively for many kinds of team-based work.

BND: Do you believe more companies will move away from email?

S.B.: A top frustration at many companies is email overload, and the poor quality of communication over email. It's shocking to consider email is decades old: There are better tools that take some of the pressure off email and avoid much of the wasted time long email threads create.

BND: What are the greatest benefits to this free-flowing work model?

S.B.: I don't know anyone who wants less freedom at work. Do you? Most smart, motivated people are frustrated by the constraints of their working environments. The open model inspires people to do their best work, with few excuses for why they're not achieving at a high level.

BND: Do you believe it's possible to allow people to work this way without the need for a more formal structure in other kinds of businesses?

S.B.: Yes. Remote work and email freedom are just specific elements of an attitude most organizations can learn from. That attitude is: If you've hired talented adults, get out of their way. They are the stars and the job of management is to help the stars shine.

BND: What do you think will be the greatest change in the way we work in the next decade?

S.B.: The greatest challenge is always people. We are far more complex than machines or management philosophies. We continually obsess about methods and tools, even though many companies can't even get a handful of executives to sit in the same room for an hour without yelling at each other. Our hardest problems are social and cultural, and until we realize that, the other things won't help much.

BND: Do you think workplace culture will eventually surpass compensation as the key reason people take a job?

S.B.: For many wise people, it already has. We know from studies happiness doesn't increase much beyond a $75,000 annual salary. And we also know of our national obsession with finding happiness. Put those two together and you have your answer.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.