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The tools and tricks that let Ars Technica function without a physical office

Looking at the “future of work” with a team that’s been living it for two decades.

We’re running a new series on Ars over the next few weeks about “the future of work,” which will involve (among other things) some predictions about how folks in and out of offices will do their future officing. To start, let’s take a tour of the fabled Ars Orbiting HQ—because we’ve learned a lot about how work works in the future, and we’d love to share some details about how we do what we do.

Ars bucks the trend of most digital newsrooms in that we truly are an all-digital newsroom. While we have mail stops at the Condé Nast mothership in New York, there is no physical Ars Technica editorial office. Instead, Ars Technica’s 30-ish editorial staff work from their homes in locations scattered across the country. We’ve got folks in all US time zones and even a few contributors in far-flung locations across the Atlantic.

Marshaling this many remote staffers into a news-and-feature-writing machine can have its challenges, but Ars has operated this way for more than twenty years. We’ve gotten pretty good at it, all things considered. The main way to make it work is to hire self-sufficient, knowledge-hungry people, but another major part of our remote work philosophy is flexibility. Not everyone works the same way, and remote work should never be treated like a one-size-fits-all, time-clocked job. Also, tools matter—you can’t expect people to do collaborative jobs like writing and editing without giving them the right hardware and software.

The mothership

Ars Technica has been around for a while—the site was started in 1998, which is several epochs ago in computer time. As founder & Editor-in-Chief Ken Fisher added writers to the staff, the model he followed was to treat Ars almost like an institution of academia, with “professors” (the writers) functioning as dedicated subject-matter experts who undertook their own research and story development. This is a model the site retains to this day; while there is obviously central oversight, writers generally are expected to be the experts in their areas, to find most of their stories, and to manage their own output.

Much of the early Ars staff had academic backgrounds not in technology or even in journalism, but in the humanities—and this influenced what has become the traditional “Ars style.” “It was not an MBA-driven place with ideas about ‘productivity’ and ‘management,'” says Deputy Editor Nate Anderson of those early years. “It was something that smart people loved doing, and they went out and did it DIY-style, pursuing their own interests and finding places where those overlapped with reader interest. I’d like to think that this produced some of the ‘humanity’ present in Ars, even as it produced good results for a site that survived many ad-driven downturns and industry shakeouts.”

After operating independently for a decade, Ars Technica was acquired by [ … ]

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Posted by Jordan Hooper

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