Often when discussing about the organizational design of a distributed company the discussion verges on the big things, the structural changes, and the policies.

Yet, small changes can mean a lot and send a strong signal in the day to day work of everyone, and help build trust. An example of this is how we handle calls in Automattic when people are not remote.

Picture this: a team is for a few days in the same place — maybe for a meetup or attending a conference — and they are co-working from the same place. As it happens, they have a call upcoming with other people not present in person with them. A common way of doing at this point is to get all the local people in the same room.

This “works”, however, it creates a strong imbalance. When people are in the same room, sharing the same call, they create an asymmetry in the communication:

  • Some people might not be visible
  • Some people might be difficult to hear
  • Some people might whisper a comment

All these activities have zero impact on who is in the room, but make everyone remote feel distant, separate, and cut out.

So what do we do instead?

Even when we’re in the same place, we split. Everyone goes in a separate room or far enough to not interfere with each other, and everyone joins the call as-if they were remote. It’s such a small gesture, which takes less than 2 minutes to prepare, that however makes everyone equal.

And that allows for the remote people to feel part of the group.

Photo by Luis Alfonso Orellana on Unsplash.

Posted by Erin 'Folletto' Casali

Designing Product Experiences at Automattic · Advisor · Mentor · Speaker · Baker Framework Founder · ManifestoIbridi Author