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Wordpress Parent Automattic Is Closing Its San Francisco Office Because Its Employees Never Show Up (qz.com) 92

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Automattic, the technology company that owns WordPress.com, has a beautiful office in a converted San Francisco warehouse, with soaring ceilings, a library, and a custom-made barn door. If you like the space, you're free to move in. The office at 140 Hawthorne went on the market after CEO Matt Mullenweg came to the realization not enough employees used it. As he explained on the Stack Overflow podcast earlier this year: "We got an office there about six or seven years ago, pretty good lease, but nobody goes in it. Five people go in it and it's 15,000 square feet. They get like 3,000 square feet each. There are as many gaming tables as there are people." Automattic has always given its 550 employees the choice of working remotely; the San Francisco space was an optional co-working space, spokesman Mark Armstrong said. The company maintains similar offices in Cape Town, South Africa, and outside Portland, Maine, and gives employees a $250-a-month stipend if they want to use commercial co-working offices elsewhere. And if they'd rather work at Starbucks, Automattic will pay for their coffee.
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Wordpress Parent Automattic Is Closing Its San Francisco Office Because Its Employees Never Show Up

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  • Nice, real nice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TimothyHollins ( 4720957 ) on Monday June 12, 2017 @07:29PM (#54606157)

    What I would like to know is "Does it work?". Does it really work to have all/most of your employees working from wherever they want?
    I would love to believe it does, but I also know that not everyone functions the same way.
    So, assuming that my previous assertion holds, how do you go about getting everyone, including the undisciplined, to function in an office-less work environment?

    • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Monday June 12, 2017 @07:53PM (#54606241)
      >> Does it work?

      You bet. Look how reliable and secure Wordpress is!
      • From what I understand, wordpress.com (which Automattic runs) provides limited, free hosting for web sites that run on the Wordpress software. The software itself is open-source and not developed by the company.
        It would be like blaming a privilege escalation vulnerability in the Linux kernel on the office policies at Red Hat.
      • They're making money

        From a company perspective that's the important thing

    • by ron_ivi ( 607351 )

      how do you go about getting everyone, including the undisciplined, to function in an office-less work environment?

      You don't hire them; in the same way you wouldn't hire any other unqualified person.

      The place I currently work also has no office, because they're too widely geographically distributed (in different countries) to easily meet in a single place more than about once a year.

      Start people off as contractors -- and if they work will with your distributed team -- hire them. If they don't work in that environment, don't.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Actually, a project oriented management style instead of a time management style works. Set quantifiable specific tasks which must be completed or modified by a certain date. Make them small enough for frequent measure to insure the overall goal is reached in time. If someone is not delivering their task, they would have to have a reasonable explanation as to why or be shown the door if it continued.
    • Re:Nice, real nice (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Plugh ( 27537 ) on Monday June 12, 2017 @08:05PM (#54606289) Homepage

      Same way to get "the undisciplined" to function in the face of any other adversity/distraction/what-have-you.

      Do you have a daily interaction with your staff, such as a daily scrum? If not, that's your problem, you need frequent real-time interaction. It used to be called "management by walking around" and it's extremely effective. Nowadays it could be literally in-person walking around, or via video/webconf, or IM/slack, or via phone/Skype. Just make sure it's regular so people can plan for it, and make it real-time interactive. Make it in person or mandatory video at least once in a while. If in person, offer food. Even just coffee & donuts goes a long way.

      Are there people who don't show up to those meetings, or who always seem to have an excuse, or just can't seem to get their shit done, or consistently produce poor-quality product? It doesn't matter whether their problem is family trouble, drugs/alcohol, or too much fantasy baseball. The work has to get done and the employees need to be able to produce, or else make way for someone who can. Those are good people to put on a buddy system (oh wait it's called "Agile" these days, right?) Make sure to give them clear realistic targets and deadlines, and let them know that if they are not met, they're not welcome to stay (and if they are met, they're fine).

      Personally my executive VP drank some kind of kool-aide a few months ago, and decided that everybody has to work in the office 3-4 days a week. I'd been working from home 4 days a week for the past 12 years, during which time I got a house 45 mins from the office. I generally work 10+ hour days, despite being salaried. The loss in productivity having to drive to the office, deal with people who have too much free time and want to stop by to chat, etc, etc, is immense. I wear headphones all day so I can concentrate; most of the people I work with are thousands of miles away and we're in constant contact via webconf, IM, phone, and email. Having to come to the office is... incredibly counterproductive for me.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        Do you have a daily interaction with your staff, such as a daily scrum? If not, that's your problem

        Some places have staff that are professional enough that daily meetings are not required to properly supervise their work.
        The "daily scrum" fad is good for some situations but pointless for others.

        • by Plugh ( 27537 )

          Fair enough. I know for some work -- especially detailed architecting/design work -- even a 15-minute meeting can spoil a whole day.

          Uninterrupted time for constant attention is an incredibly scarce resource, and being "in the zone" can't be turned on and off like a lightbulb. If someone is in that mode, of course I'm sympathetic to it. Bear in mind that the OP was about employees who have a hard time staying on task when not in the office.

          Also note that in my post above I didn't say "meetings"; I said "real

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )

            Fair enough. I know for some work -- especially detailed architecting/design work -- even a 15-minute meeting can spoil a whole day.

            It's not about that.
            In some professions or projects a team can be expected to get things done and daily feedback is pointless. Three weeks of reporting daily "still going and don't need any help" gets nothing done.

            For those employees having a hard time staying on task,

            It just creates tension treating everyone like those.

            • It just creates tension treating everyone like those.

              Yep, it absolutely does. I'm about to change jobs because of this... I was quite happy and productive working remotely, hot-desking, etc..

              And seriously, having a standup on Monday and thinking there might be some change since Friday when the production issues were going on? WTF? No, I don't work weekends.

        • The "daily scrum" fad is good for some situations

          Daily standup meetings have been a fad for nearly 20 years now, and my consistent experience, across four different employers and almost two decades is that the daily standup turns almost immediately into an open discussion that drags on for a couple of hours most days. Inevitably at least one person has an issue that they really do need to talk to their manager about but for whatever reason seems to think that everybody else in the meeting needs to sit and listen to. Although the occasional manager will

    • 1) Don't hire them if they don't fit your culture. All workplaces should do this, regardless of what constitutes the work culture. It fosters a better working environment in general.

      2) Give people who require an office space (or who are unable to furnish their own office space that is separated from their living quarters) a stipend for a remote office workspace provider like Regus [regus.com].
      • 1) Don't hire them if they don't fit your culture. All workplaces should do this, regardless of what constitutes the work culture. It fosters a better working environment in general.

        That's the road to failure as an org. The organisation is going to have to interact with external people who do not fit your culture and those "difficult" people are what gets you ready for those interactions and/or the people that handle them. Clients sometimes don't pay, and a nice guy who is just happy to let it all go in n

        • Who's talking politics?
          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            It's called an example of hiring from a shallow pool and getting a tiny fish when a whale is required, and it's an example that everyone has heard of.
            I even wrote "on all sides of politics" in an attempt to avoid such replies.
            Please just take it as an example to show that I think you have been fed utter trash that led you to getting your point above so spectacularly wrong. A nice little club where everyone cheers for the same football team may be great in social situations, but when getting a job done it's
    • Can't comment on others, but I for one cannot work from home. I essentially lose the difference b/w working & not working - not something that I experience when I'm physically in an office. At home, if I feel tired, I can just go take a nap, and nobody would be the wiser. At work, I'd have to keep myself awake, if in that predicament.

      One thing that struck me - does Automattic have plenty of employees in San Francisco? It seems that they were just pissing away cash by having what would be an expens

      • by green1 ( 322787 )

        I work from home approximately 4 days a week right now. I get far more work done when I'm at home than I do when I'm at the office.

        It's all about how you handle it though. I have a lot of flexibility in what I can do and when, but I only exercise it when I have a good reason to (an appointment I need to attend, etc) otherwise I sit down in my home office at 0800 and I leave at 1600 and between those hours I only leave the room to use the washroom or get lunch from the fridge. In short, I may as well be punc

        • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) *

          Yeah, same here. We lost our nice office digs a couple of years ago, and the skeleton crew of 4-5 peeps 3000 miles away from HQ have been working from home since then. We still meet at a co-working space once a week when we can make it.

          I don't have the discipline yet... I prefer being in a office with a constant supply of tea and people to communicate with in person. We get increasingly hostile towards each other when we're working remotely. Plus I'm having some sort of existential crisis by feeling lik

      • I for one cannot work from home

        I feel the same way, but I also think that we're in a tiny (and shrinking) minority these days. I've never tried to work full-time remote, though... I wonder (hope) whether it wouldn't be possible to get into a rhythm once you got used to it where you could be productive that way. I suspect that you and I will both find out in the near future.

    • You've also got to look at that workspace, a huge, empty, echoing gymnasium with ghastly uncomfortable plastic tables and chairs, the whole lot looks like a temporary setup for refugees after a natural disaster. Would you want to work in that? If you sent Spartans in to work there they'd quit because it was too austere.
    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

      It works better for some than others, but then traditional office spaces don't work for some people either.

      It's good to have options available, and let the staff choose what works best for them.

  • by cunina ( 986893 ) on Monday June 12, 2017 @07:29PM (#54606159)
    From the looks of it, their office seems to be more of that open-plan nonsense. No wonder no one shows up. Open plan has been shown again and again to result in less productive and more unhappy employees.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's what my current group has. Absolutely the single worst aspect of my job. Anyone who advocates for open plan
      a. either has never been in one
      b. or wears slip-on shoes because he's too stupid to operate velcro.

    • by SimonInOz ( 579741 ) on Monday June 12, 2017 @09:54PM (#54606739)

      I worked for a major bank. They built these beautiful new offices. Gorgeous, lovely atrium, glass lifts, great coffee machines, lovely building.
      And then they populated it with desks. Not even cubicles, just desk dividers.
      And then they said "pick your desk when you come into the office" - yup, hot desking.
      Well, I hated it.
      If you came in late, there were no desks available (so you don't want me to do any work then? Ok, sure).
      When you did find a desk, you had to spend a while moving everything so it fitted you.
      Then you had to get the computer going - that mostly worked, but not always.
      And of course the killer - what if you need to chat with someone - where the hell are they? People wandered the office, seeking - I built a "FindPeople" app but they took years to get it installed.
      And of course, it's so lovely to work among strangers every day. Great for morale.

      It was horrible. I cannot imagine what miserable effect it had on morale overall, but mine certainly plummeted. Eventually my work deteriorated so much I had to leave.

      • Genuinely curious, is "had to leave" code for "got fired" or are you actually one of the few responsible employees who recognizes when their talents would be put to better use elsewhere?
        • No I wasn't fired - it was close, though. They put me on a special watch for a while (yet more meetings and [oh joy] counseling), but I survived that, then finally a chap I previously worked for offered me a spot and I jumped at the chance.

      • In the large facility in which I work, a new building was recently opened with a pseudo open-concept office space. In the older buildings, we have Dilbert-grey cubicles and fluorescent lighting. In the new building, cubicles are replaced with 4.5" dividers that separate you from your neighbor. Because my company makes standing desks available to employees, your desk can actually extend above the top of this divider.

        A friend of mine from another department was recently relocated to this new office space a
    • Their employees would rather work from home than in on a folding table in a gymnasium? Who'da thunk?

    • This is what I was thinking, the office isn't "beautiful", it's basically a cavernous empty room. I can only imagine how much it echos...
    • I haven't read the article or looked at the photos, but TFS did say that the office was so under-used that each employee had 3000 square feet of space.

      I hate open-plan offices with a passion, but if I had that much room around me it wouldn't be so bad...

  • But, I still make service calls that require me to be "on site". But, the rest of it is on the web. I prefer going to the office, if for anything else, the interaction with people, versus being stuck at home
    • I prefer going to the office

      I think it sort of depends on your family situation, too - I genuinely don't believe that I could be married to the woman I'm married to right now and work from home full time. "Oh, hey, honey, since you're here, could you just..." I do wish the (open plan nightmare) office I worked in wasn't so full of constant distractions, though.

  • Card tables? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neurovish ( 315867 ) on Monday June 12, 2017 @07:59PM (#54606269)

    So, their office basically looks like it is a basketball court with a few card tables thrown together. Not even some external monitors. No surprise that nobody shows up to that office. At least provide some proper desks and decent KVM setups with dual monitors.

    • Agree. Looks like shit. Who wants to work at a crappy table with a bunch of other people on laptops. Looks retarded and no privacy. Lots of startups seem to think this is the cool new thing for offices but itâ(TM)s actually just a cheap way of setting up an office so you donâ(TM)t have to get anyone a desk and private space
    • So, their office basically looks like it is a basketball court with a few card tables thrown together. Not even some external monitors. No surprise that nobody shows up to that office. At least provide some proper desks and decent KVM setups with dual monitors.

      Our office is open seating but each seating area has a a group of proper office desks, every other station has dual monitors, KVM, mini-walls, and lockers. It also includes tables with bar type stools, areas with stand desks, and proper office carpeting for noise reduction. Plus we have meeting rooms and huddle rooms for when you need privacy. Everything from decor, desks, chairs, etc. is set up like a real office. The main difference being un-assigned seating and the mini-walls which creates an open sp

    • Not to mention, the ping pong table is a bad idea where it's placed [windows.net].

      Every time a ping pong ball is missed, it will bounce on the concrete floor for one minute and it will roll 75 feet away. This is neither good for the employees actually working because of the distraction, nor is it good for the employees that are actually playing (unless they're Olympic level ping pong players). This problem could have easily been handled with some carpeting and some glass partitions.

      Same goes for the movie watching/presen

    • My guess is that they bought it as real estate speculation and just threw in some disposable "office stuff" to try to get some use out of it while waiting for prices to grise. There doesn't seem to be anything in those pictures that couldn't be packed up and moved out in a single day.

  • Open floorplan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Monday June 12, 2017 @08:06PM (#54606293) Homepage Journal
    That is because no one wants to work in an open floorplan. They did that at my office and now no one comes in either.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      > no one comes in either

      It sounds like, ironically, that office's gotta be pretty quiet then, which would make it a great incentive to come in...

  • The office was replaced by robots, which did everything that the office used to do. Now the office is out of a job and looking for work.

  • It was supposed to be a counterpoint regarding how some companies don't believe in remote work. But given her inability to turn Yahoo around (I'm being charitable)... I think they might've been better served by looking around for a non-dying company to hold up as a counter-example.

  • I bet people would use it more if they'd actually remembered to furnish the place.

    Oops.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So they need cash. First step, sell off lower-priority assets. Next step, early retirements and some layoffs. Followed by business line re-prioritization. Then they'll probably force the remaining workers back into offices in lower-cost real estate. Unless there are lawsuits, in which case it can all happen at once...

  • Automattic appears to be a pretty cool companyto work with. There's a bestseller book written on it "The year without pants". A read I recommend. Small Teams working together, zero paperwork,everything online, teammeeting every 3 months in a place of their choosing anywhere in the world and an anual global Meetup that Mat organises. Basically a digital nomad Hippster paradise. They do get work work done but for someone who likes to travel or can muster the discipline it's an amazing company. That no one co

  • It's that damn auto-correct in their navigating apps that prevents them from driving to work.:-)

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