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How Scott Berkun Spent a Year Working Without Pants

Posted by Marc Gabriel Amigone

Oct 25, 2013, 10:51 AM

Scott Berkun, author of The Year Without Pants: Wordpress.com and The Future of Work, came to HubSpot's Cambridge office Wednesday afternoon to share his experience spending a year working for Wordpress.com, mostly without wearing pants. While he was wearing pants today, he gave an inspiring talk about workplace dynamics and challenged long-held conventions in the workplace as being outdated and ineffective. Based off his experience working for one of the most influential companies in the world, he made some pretty compelling arguments.

Scott Berkun Started his Career Fully-Clothed

Scott Berkun began his career at Microsoft in the 1990's. He left Microsoft in 2003 to pursue his career as an author and has enjoyed some success in that arena publishing six books and several articles in publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. His work mostly revolves around business and innovation. He told the group of HubSpot employees today that if he was going to write and speak about business all over the world, he wanted to go back to work to test his ideas to close any credibility gap that might have been starting to grow.

That's when Matt Wullenweg, the founder of Wordpress, approached Berkun about coming to work for him. Wordpress was on the verge of dramatically changing their internal corporate structure, introducting teams and managers to a pre-existing completely flat organization, and he wanted Berkun to lead one of those teams. Berkun accepted the offer with one condition: Mullenweg had to let Berkun write a book about his experience. That's how The Year Without Pants came to be.

Wordpress Powers 20% of the Internet

Wordpress has a massive market share of websites and blogs currently on the internet to the tune of 70 million sites. That's 20% of the internet or 1 in 5 sites. Wordpress is also a completely open source project. There's a clear distinction between Wordpress.com and Wordpress.org: one is a corporate entity founded by Mullenweg and Automatic Corp. in 2005, while the other is a free open source site started also by Mullenweg in 2003. That hybrid of corporate interest and open-source technology provides an interesting cultural makeup to the Wordpress work culture.

Berkun listed several unique things about the Wordpress working environment:

  • No one uses email
  • Employees work remotely - literally anywhere in the world as long as they can get work done
  • There are few rules
  • You are treated like an adult
  • No "managers"
  • New work releases daily
  • Open vacation policy

Stop for a second and think about which of these characteristics are consistent with the work environment at your company. Even at a progressive company culture like HubSpot, we can't claim all of them.

Most Americans Hate Their Job

Berkun cited two thought-provoking stats:

70% of American workers are not engaged about their job (according to a 2013 Gallup Poll)

20% of all professionals work remotely at least part-time (according to a 2012 ISPOS Reuters Poll)

If 70% of the workforce seems like a staggering amount of people to you who are mailing it in every day at the office, that's because it is. Berkun used examples like doctors, pilots, or air traffic controllers who could be "playing angry birds" on their phone while at work. What's even more interesting is Berkun thinks both numbers will increase as time goes on.

Berkun asked three compelling questions that he believes will solve our disengaged workforce issue:

  1. What work conventions serve no purpose? (9-5 work hours, dress code, hierarchy, meetings)
  2. Do we really need to use email? (Are their more effective ways to communicate?)
  3. Does remote/location really matter? (Does working from a centralized location make us less productive?)

Berkun holds up Wordpress as an example of a company that effectively answers all of those questions coming down on the unconvential side every time. He shared stories of coordinating team meetings with his co-workers in Australia, California and Ireland utilizing different means of communication technology such as Skype, blogs and IRC (a chat program with group chat functionalities).  

Clarity and Trust

At the end of the day, no matter what means of convention or tradition by which your organization operates, Berkun boils down the critical elements of any company's corporate makeup into two must-haves: Clarity and Trust. Without those two things, regardless of how much money they have at their disposal or how smart their employees are, if there is no unified vision behind which everyone can coalesce built on mutual respect and trust, no company can grow.

It's easy to see why Scott Berkun is a world-renouned speaker and writer. His ideas are compelling, and he delivers them very effectively and engagingly. His message was very well-timed at HubSpot, and I can only imagine how many other companies could stand to learn something from A Year Without Pants.  

If you'd like to hear more about Scott Berkun's experience at Wordpress or any of his other revolutionary ideas and perspectives on business, check out one of his books.

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