Keys to building a successful remote workforce

Stack Overflow co-founder Jeff Atwood writes why companies are not hiring the best and the brightest employees. While the title says the article is about hiring, it’s really about working.

His points boil down to a promotion for distributed workforces. He even highlights Automattic, though he incorrectly refers to them as WordPress.

One point I especially enjoyed was about hiring within a community:

I’ve found over and over again that cultural fit is a stronger predictor of success than skills. But how do you create (much less reinforce) a culture when your team isn’t all in the same place?

I realize that not every business has a community around what they do, but if you do have a a broader ecosystem of users, developers or fans, you should try like hell to hire from that crowd whenever possible. These are the folks who are naturally drawn to what you do, that were pulled into the gravitational well of your company completely of their own accord. The odds of these candidates being a good cultural fit are abnormally high, and that’s what you want.

Did a few of your users build an amazing mod for your game? Are there power users on your forum answering other people’s questions every day? Did an engineer find an obscure security vulnerability and warn you about it? These are the people you should be going out of your way to hire. To increase your chances, start grooming the emerging stars early with increased correspondence, special offers, and notoriety among their peers.

This is a bit counter to a trend in the WordPress world, where some business owners are now hiring from outside the WordPress community and instead from the general development community. But I agree with Jeff, the culture fit seems much more likely to be successful if you can hire within the community.

I think what’s plagued some hirers in the WordPress community is that it’s quite difficult to determine truly high-skilled candidates that are “WordPress developers” versus simply developers with PHP, Javascript, or other relevant experience.

However, hirers should also keep in mind that there is inherent value in community knowledge just as there is in technical knowledge. There may be developers out there that need to grow technically but bring other assets (passion, existing relationships, communication skills, industry knowledge, understanding of WordPress best practices, etc) that balance the scales back in favor of hiring from within the community.

Finally, in regard to communication, I really enjoyed Jeff’s points about the importance of real-time chat and bulletin boards. We use HipChat at Range and love it. In our ecosystem, P2s / O2s are his bulletin board, and his advice for keeping those relevant is also excellent:

You should be able to subscribe to get emails for every post as they arrive, or view the live discussions via the web. Everyone should also get automatic weekly/daily digest summaries right out of the box.

One word of caution: Every time you see something like this arrive in your inbox, you better believe in your heart of hearts that it contains useful information. The minute these posts become just another “whenever I have time to read that stuff” … you’ve let someone cry wolf too much and ruined it. So tread carefully here. Everything that gets shared in this public discussion space has to be Need to Know.

The whole article is great, but beware it’s a bit of a long read. I hope business owners especially take lessons from this post. As an employee that’s been in both office and remote environments, I found myself nodding in agreement many times.

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