First Contact

It’s “Boss Level Mode” Time: Remote Work Pioneer Matt Mullenweg’s Tips For Staying Productive

Matt Mullenweg, the entrepreneur behind WordPress and Automattic, was an early evangelist of remote work. Back in the early 2000s, many of his first hires at WordPress were people he had never met in person. Today, Automattic has more than 1,100 employees spread across 75 countries around the globe.

With Coronavirus now forcing many companies to unexpectedly adopt similar policies, Matt gives Laurie advice on transitioning to this new lifestyle and answers listener questions on the latest episode of the First Contact podcast.

Below is a summary of Matt’s advice. Check out the full conversation and our website for more interviews.

This is the hardest version of working from home that you could imagine.

Communication

  1. Utilize phone calls: Your instinct might be to rely on Slack and email while working from home, but phone calls can provide a lot more context than written communication. And it can be a lot easier to hop on a quick call than to video chat — especially if members of your team are still in their pajamas or haven’t found time to shower just yet… A good headset will help your teammates hear you more clearly and cut out background noise like a barking dog or a passing fire truck. Sennheiser makes low-cost options. Another option for taking out background noise is Krisp.ai. It’s software for your computer that uses algorithms to make you sound as clear as possible.
  2. Try voice messages: Platforms like Apple’s iMessage allow you to record your voice and send it in an otherwise text-based conversation. This provides more intimacy and context than text messages but it’s asynchronous — meaning the recipient doesn’t need to be ready to get on the phone right then. They can respond when they’re ready.
  3. Add context to written messages: As Matt says, “fluff it up a little.” Text can sometimes feel abrupt. You lose the tone and intonations that come with verbal communication. Try using more emoji and gifs to make communication a little bit more human.
  4. Make video calls more professional: If your company wasn’t video conferencing before, they almost certainly are now. Matt says taking the time to make your setup look nice will make communication easier for everyone. Try putting a lamp on your desk to give yourself better lighting and position yourself with a clean background. Maybe even take some time to design your space.

Daily Routine

  1. Establish new routines: Your daily routine was almost certainly uprooted by our collective new lifestyle, but make sure to establish new routines for yourself. Just because you don’t have to go to the office, you shouldn’t forget to do things like shower, get dressed, and exercise. Matt started using an app called Fitbod which can create a program for you based on whatever equipment you have at home.
  2. Try meditating: If you’re having trouble focusing, meditation apps can help clear your mind. Matt recommends Waking Up with Sam Harrisand Calm.
  3. Check in with yourself: Without the natural breaks in your day that you’re used to — your commute, your lunch break — it can be easy to let the day get away from you. It can help to ask yourself basic questions like, “Am I hungry?” “Am I tired?”
  4. Set boundaries for yourself: You might think people working from home have more time to slack off. But Matt has actually found the opposite to be true: overworking can be as big a problem as underworking. Just because there’s no longer a physical boundary between your home and your office, doesn’t mean you should work all the time. Try scheduling separate time to work and relax.
  5. Check in with your family: If your family is at home with you, find time to check in on how they’re adjusting too. It could be ten minutes at the beginning of dinner. Ask questions like “How are you?,” “What have you found challenging so far?,” “What have you found easier or harder?” This could help you adjust routines to make life easier for everyone.
  6. Take some time away from the news: Matt admits that he struggles with this himself, but he recommends taking a couple hours to close Facebook, get off Twitter, and decompress. It will help clear your mind and the news will be there when you get back. Try it for yourself — spend one day reading as much news and spending as much time on social media as you want. Write down how you feel. The next day, be a bit more cognisant and limit how much time you spend following the news. Compare the results.
  7. Optimize your environment: Matt says there are actually lots of benefits to working from home — things you couldn’t do in an office environment. He keeps a candle at his desk and plays music out loud. He says music is “the fastest way to shift your mood. To change your brain.” You can also set the temperature exactly how you like it. Matt’s even developed “micro habits” like doing pushups or squats between meetings, or dancing around his home office. He recommends a song called “Days Without You (Crussen Remix).”

Strategy

  1. Reexamine everything: Leaders — just because you’ve always done things one way, doesn’t mean that’s the best way. When evaluating habits, try to focus on input not output. For example, if you normally have a weekly 9 am meeting in the conference room, that’s the input. How that meeting benefits the business, that’s the output. Is there a different input that will result in the output you’re looking for? These unusual times are a perfect time to reevaluate and reset.
  2. Take notes: Every time you encounter something difficult or frustrating about working from home, write it down. Find time to address these challenges with your colleagues.
  3. Use timers: Don’t just rely on your own willpower. Timers can be useful for self-discipline. “I only want to spend 15 minutes on Twitter.” “I want to finish this task in 30 minutes.” Set a timer and challenge yourself to finish within the time constraint.
  4. Remember, it gets easier: If you’re struggling to work from home, don’t write off the whole concept just yet. Many people didn’t have time to prepare for this adjustment and have lots of distractions right now (like kids home from school!). Matt says this is the hardest imaginable version of remote work. He calls it “boss level mode.” Things will get easier.