The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the future of work – Scott Berkun
In my years of reading HR and business texts, to be confronted with a red management book featuring a pair of men’s Y fronts prominently positioned on the cover has only been eclipsed by an HR book with the HR director depicted as a vampire. So my attention was strongly focused on this work.
A well-known writer of four previous books, Scott Berkun was hired to manage a team at WordPress.com, which powers around 20 per cent of the websites in the world and is the core part of a company called Automattic.
Berkun made an arrangement with the company owner that while he managed a team there, he ultimately had the right to publish his experiences, hence this book.
Largely a narrative, The Year Without Pants contains fabulous insights into a world where, at the macro level, few of us will experience such creativity and implementation with impacts across such a huge spectrum.
This book takes us into a world where we may know of the key companies by name but the practices within are real eye-openers. The impact on people’s interactions at work has to be a great fillip to future workplace planning studies at all levels.
WordPress.com is described as “where millions of popular blogs and other websites live and is the 15th most trafficked website on earth”.
Berkun’s team was tasked with inventing things which made not only blogging but also reading blog posts easier.
His team initially worked in a hotel bar area, and in the main operated independently. Berkun tells us that most of the work output was basically invisible, but a button push might result in the launch of features that could have an impact on millions of people.
The company has the loosest management model I have known. Initially it was totally flat, but this became too trying for the founder and the CEO, so a level of team leader was introduced, and nothing more.
The organisation recruited the best it could find. Few of the staff members met with each other, but on occasion groups would convene at some place in the world, “mainly to recharge the intangibles”.
Emails are rarely used in the company and an interesting debate about the real value of email is a must-read as it offers great analysis. Instead, Skype and blogging are the primary communication points, and informality of language reigns supreme.
In effect Berkun, an acknowledged expert who’d previously worked at Microsoft, put himself on the line as a team leader at WordPress.com. In this work, he brings astute analysis, expert writing and fascinating content to the reader.
We are also introduced to the characters, the programmers and scientists as people with extensive predilections and varied interests.
This is a great read about people and contemporary workplace culture and it is refreshingly different.
Bored with normal management literature? Then this is for you.