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Morfternight #71: Becoming better managers
The one with a controversial opinion on commuting.
Today we shake things up with a color photo, followed by a brief review of the latest content on the blog. After that, we have a few links to help us become better managers. Finally, my controversial opinion on the value of commuting and how it applies to distributed (a.k.a. remote) work.
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📷 Photo of the week
Bim - More Photos
👋 Good Morfternight!
For the first time in years, I have slept over eight hours per night on average since the beginning of my sabbatical leave five days ago. It’s been uneven progress, with the longest night above 13 hours and the shortest around five, but progress nonetheless.
Although sleeping more is the most important thing I can do at this early stage, long nights aren’t the only thing that has happened since.
I started writing a bit on the blog again beyond this weekly newsletter, and I began by promising at least two series of posts. If you want to know more, you can check The quest for the perfect bag and Second Brain Surgery, where I announce two upcoming review series.
I also decided I could use some of the time I have available to start Building a New Home for my Photos and finally publish a few series I have been working on for the past couple of years. So that work will be going on for a bit in three phases:
Phase one: build the photo portfolios. ← (We are here)
Add an online store to sell prints.
Bring over the blog.
I know I have been through something similar last year, but here’s the thing: now I have the time to finish the work and do it well.
I’ll keep you posted here in Morfternight as I progress, but if you prefer daily updates, you can always follow the blog.
🗺️ Three places to visit today
Let’s start with a great thread about how to get the most value from the people you hire to help you:
Repeating the same message over and over, verbally, in writing, in small groups, large groups, and one on one may seem like a waste of time, but it’s the absolute contrary. The Power of Repetition: the Secret of Successful Leaders explains the traditional saying that “the moment you start feeling sick of repeating it, that’s when everybody starts getting it.”
The Abilene paradox: When not rocking the boat may sink the boat, by Dr. Hannah Rose on Ness Labs, explains why poor decisions are sometimes made because no one wants to give voice to controversial opinions.
🗣️ Commuting is not all negative
I have worked for Automattic, a distributed company, since 2012.
We have no offices; we can work from wherever we want. We are more than 2,000 people, so we collectively save more than one million hours yearly from commuting to offices.
I firmly believe some of this time should be reinvested in communication.
One of the keys to our success is tied to being distributed from day one: we write everything down.
A culture deeply rooted in writing is a powerful tool for a company. Among other benefits, it guarantees that institutional knowledge will be preserved, that new hires will have full access to past information, and that revisiting past decisions is a valuable action, as both past and present contexts are known and accessible.
Writing everything also sits well with our other key value: transparency.
We write on P2, our internal blog network, and Slack (and before that, on IRC).
We write a lot. We read a lot.
For example, I have posted over 250 thousand messages in Slack and more than 1.3 million words on P2 over the past 12 years.
In a recent conversation, a teammate mentioned that I was working very long hours every week.
As I replied that it wasn’t the case and that my weeks were generally between 40 and 50 hours, with infrequent exceptions, they asked me how I managed to keep up with the information flow.
My reply seemed strange at first.
I told them I was reading much of the company's communication channels outside what I consider “work.”
I explained that while I would mostly interact and produce content during working hours, reading was an activity I’d spread over a much broader timeframe.
This interaction happened in Slack, but I could almost see the smirk on their face.
“Come on, Paolo, are you telling me that reading P2 posts is not work?”
“Nope,” I replied, “it’s commute time, not work time,”
At that point, clearly, one of us was confused.
Commuting takes time and is a stress-inducing activity.
As such, it’s often assimilated into a wasteful activity, but I think of it as an investment.
In a traditional company organized around offices, commuting is an effort all employees provide that increases communication bandwidth by physically bringing everyone into the same space.
In the presence of each other, we create valuable opportunities, like serendipitous encounters and impromptu, sometimes even pleasant, conversations. In addition, we have extra tools like reading body language, moving around, or drawing on whiteboards.
I never liked commuting and wouldn’t want to have that in my life again.
I also firmly believe we can reach the same quality of collaboration in a distributed company.
My point is, though, that I don’t think we can have that for free.
At least part of the time we previously spent moving physically to a shared space, increasing communication bandwidth, should be invested in communication.