The Impact of the Pandemic on the WordPress Community (Two Years After): As Told by Community Leaders
At the beginning of the pandemic, I reached out to a handful of people in the WordPress community to see how they were doing and how all that uncertainty was affecting their work. That was a scary time! People were generally afraid, and no one knew how long the pandemic would last and how it would impact their businesses, their jobs, and their families.
This is what our community leaders shared with me back then – a glimpse of a moment in time none of us would forget.
Two years have gone by, we’re past the worse but we are not back to where we were. We have survived, but we are not the same people who we were before the pandemic. We have survived, but we are not the same. With that, I wanted to get back and see what happened during this time with everyone, to have a closure, if you may, and put the pandemic behind.
So, here I am again, talking to the WordPress community – often people who have been through a lot: they’ve lost their jobs, sold their businesses, homeschooled their kids, and discovered themselves through this journey. There is both grieving and hope in their voice.
The WordPress community shares thoughts on post-pandemic life and work
Well, it’s hard to sum up the last two years without writing a novel, but I’ll give it a crack and just focus on what happened here at Incsub (wpmudev.com & campuspress.com) rather than more broadly, hopefully in a way that people can relate to and that might be a little helpful, somewhere along the track, for someone.
As a company we suffered a great deal of sadness, our colleagues lost members of their family, friends and loved ones and we grieved with them. Funerals were held over zoom, chances to say goodbye were missed and the very fabric of what makes up our lives was damaged, sometimes irreparably.
Practically speaking, our policy of adding significant extra paid leave was useful and was broadly taken up; to recover, care for and to take time out during this really hard time. I’d do much the same again, I know it was useful and I hope that it gave our staff the feeling that they were going to be looked after during those scary early months.
Interestingly though, we lost quite a few staff to other WordPress companies (that you all know well), although that seemed to be almost entirely driven by vastly higher offers of cash than conditions or culture, which is fine by me as you can’t have everyone as a lead person and we’re a company that has never taken investment and so we don’t have the capacity to pay developers 3 times the going rate.
Also, because we only hire lead and management staff internally (true story, want to end up at C level, join as a junior!), it’s given some of the best people in our company the chance to step up and they are doing an amazing job. So with change, comes opportunity.
We were a little disappointed to see WP and Up rebrand and go into the broader space outside of WordPress, and so ended our partnership with them, but we have been fortunate to form an excellent relationship with connectpsychservices.com.au who we have found to be really really helpful.
Most of all though, we’ve come through this as – I hope – a stronger team and group, we’ve really been given the opportunity to show that we value health, family and friends over work and we’re – literally as I write this – starting to reconnect physically as colleagues again at WCEU and, next year, at our first ever company week long retreat in Bali.
It’s been often hard and sometimes horrible but we’ve come out the other side, hopefully, as a better company with better values and better people. And we didn’t even get acquired, lol.
Aside from the emotional stress of the world being just crazy, it was kind of a time of prosperity for my family. I already worked from home, so that didn’t change. We ended up spending less money eating out and doing shopping so, financially, we were better off. None of us got COVID until about two weeks ago so for the two years we were healthy. It was still hard, especially for my children. They’re in their early 20s now, they’ve never experienced a big horrible worldwide thing, so it was hard for them to realize the world will go on. Terrible things happen and then we move on. But now they have experienced that, and they’re growing, so there’s a silver lining there.
I got laid off during the pandemic which was scary because I lost health insurance and that’s a scary time for that to happen but I got another job almost immediately. My wife for the last 20 years has been a stay-at-home mom, but now that the girls have grown up, she has also gotten a job. Things are good, it’s almost embarrassing to look at the world around me and see that people are suffering and I’m doing great.
I remember saying in my last one that developers and web people, in general, could expect a boom and I think to a large extent that has happened. Not a boom per se, but it didn’t get bad when the rest of the economy was going down. In the WordPress area, I didn’t see a falter in hiring. People who got laid off or lost their job got another one quickly. There wasn’t that fear of I can’t hire somebody right now because the world is scary; people kept hiring and that was good. It was reassuring to see my assumptions from the 2008 recession were correct also this time, which gives me confidence that in the future if something happens, we will be okay.
Recently my wife and I moved out of our house and left it to our children and we got an apartment, downtown in our city. We had planned on living in an RV and traveling America, but then she got the job and wanted more consistent Wi-Fi and a toilet you don’t have to empty on the side of the road. We’ve never had two incomes before and so all of a sudden we have more freedom, and more money. When you ask me what’s changing? Everything, everything is changing.
In early 2020, my brother and I both quit our jobs to work full-time on our business, one month before the pandemic hit. We had no idea what was coming or that the world was about to plunge into chaos. What was already a risky move could have been a lot worse.
Thankfully, between Google pushing Core Web Vitals and many folks sitting at home launching/optimizing WordPress sites, our business has seen slow and steady growth. Looking back now, I think hunkering down and having more time to develop and focus was a blessing in disguise. Were we worried? Yes, but consistency, as always, is everything!
Another advantage is that we have very low overhead and are fully remote. For many small businesses, it’s vital to keep expenses down, especially when it comes to black swan events where you can’t predict what will happen. We were already as stripped back as we could be, so there was nothing we had to change.
Sometimes in a small business, you also need to wear multiple hats. For example, throughout the day, I might bounce from support tickets to content creation, paying taxes, etc. But I also enjoy staying busy and doing a lot of the grunt work. I’ve never been one that wants to manage other people.
A personal struggle I had during the pandemic was my health. I have an autoimmune disease, so I was super careful, but I still caught Covid. It wiped me out for an entire month. 7+ months later, and I’m still experiencing some of the side effects. Life is short, so it’s essential to take time for yourself, eat healthy, and exercise. I’m also very thankful for my brother (business partner), who picked up the slack while I was recovering.
Over the last few years, it seems like we just can’t catch a break. But I’m feeling more optimistic these days regarding our business and the WordPress community. I’m looking forward to everything getting back to normal, or whatever the new normal is.
The Netherlands 🇳🇱
A lot has changed for us. At the beginning of Covid we owned Yoast and last year we’ve decided to sell the company. It was not entirely due to Covid but, for a big part, I think it accelerated the process of us thinking this is a big thing and a big responsibility to carry. I think it was December 2020, a year into Covid, that we thought we don’t want to do this all by ourselves anymore. That changed my whole life.
We now work differently. Before we were quite extraordinary in the WordPress industry. We were an office-based company. People came to work every day, we had a lot of fun things and activities in the office. That’s changed now because we are also working from home. But people like to go to the office too, and they also find it convenient to work from home, so we are now a hybrid company. I wasn’t a strong believer in working from home but I saw that things actually can work. I also think the office adds something too, so now we have the best of both worlds.
Traditionally, at Yoast, we had a lot of in-person activities. We had drinks every week and all kinds of fun stuff. During the pandemic, we tried to do those things online. We have an event team internally who takes care of this, but we also had initiatives from other people who ended up organizing those things. We had drinks online, we had pub quizzes and games. We sent out Legos to all of our colleagues and built Legos from our homes behind our computers. For the people that work in our hometown, we organized a race. We all ran like a mile and went through each other’s houses. When things got a little bit better we did some stuff outside so that we could be together in a safe way. At one point, people got fed up with all the online activities. We had to navigate that and come up with other ideas, so we’ve done a lot of outside things during summer.
We’re also using new technologies. For example, we have a camera that can follow the people in the same meeting room and follows the conversation. You still can’t get the inside jokes if you’re working from home, but at least you can participate and know what people have said.
On the personal side, things were crazy. I have four children and they had to switch to doing school from home. My youngest at the time was five, he wasn’t yet in school, he was in kindergarten and I had to make sure that he was occupied the entire day because otherwise, he would just go to his sister who was in school following lessons online. I spent my evenings setting up all these activities for my son so that he wouldn’t be bored. Meanwhile, I had to run the company, it was crazy. That’s something I hope I will never go through again. Because teachers weren’t at all prepared for something like this, the children had so many questions and you had to help them and both Yoast and I had to work and we had a lot of people who were struggling as well and we had to help them. It was crazy. I don’t know if it’s ever going to be really over but at least the working from home and the children going to school part seems to be okay.
In many ways, the whole theme of the pandemic has been mental health. How do you stay sane in light of all the craziness of the pandemic? For me personally, the thing I’ve wrestled with the most is just how to maintain my day-to-day sanity. I have four children, who are wonderful, but it makes the home environment busy and loud. So I’ve picked up a lot of personal practices. I started doing a lot more disc golf it’s like ball golf but with frisbees. It’s a great way for me to get outdoors, spend some time in nature, and get some exercise. I’ve also been learning a lot about making espresso. I have an espresso machine and since the pandemic started I’ve spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos on how to make better espresso. I’ve bought way too many gadgets! Now I can’t even go to a coffee shop anymore because I’m too snobby. I’ve also been picking up American Barbecue.
It’s really fascinating to me how having hobbies and interests brings a lot more levity to my day and helps improve my mental health when I sit down and start to work. Of course, for everyone it’s different – what type of activities will help stimulate mental health; but one universal might be getting outside – that seems like a must for most. I feel pretty strongly that for folks working from home all the time it’s important to have activities that you look forward to outside of work.
Overall, I believe working from home is here forever. I’ve enjoyed seeing people making their home office nicer. It’s becoming a “thing”. I think that should even be considered an employee perk. Companies should be giving a home office budget, here’s 1,000 bucks to make your situation nice. Get a nice camera, get a nice monitor, get some plants, whatever works. Because companies don’t need to spend as much money on rent or utilities, or electricity anymore. Personally, I’m moving down into our cellar. I’m working on a project now where I’m painting and putting carpet down into a room in the cellar to move my office down there. Hopefully, the kids are not allowed to play there – LOL!
I’m starting a mission to turn this room in the cellar into my office.
Wish me luck! pic.twitter.com/zm05mbUHCx
If before the pandemic we were more like a “working from the office” company, with a remote component, now things are exactly the opposite. All of us have been working remotely for almost two years now. The office still exists and is also used by a couple of us on some days, but it’s certainly not our main working environment anymore.
And I don’t see this changing anytime soon. As a result we saved more time by not commuting to work daily, learned to communicate better in writing, expanded our hiring map, polished the tools we use for online collaboration and more. Remote working is here to stay and the pandemic had a huge role in accelerating this shift.
Personally, I still enjoy going to the office once or twice every week. And I also don’t see physical offices disappearing either.
From our experience the major struggle for teams working remotely is the lack of face to face interactions, which help with building trust and solidifying the team. To overcome this, we regularly started organizing company get-togethers, whether it’s a holiday party, a game night or traveling together and attending a WordCamp. There’s no substitute for actually meeting a colleague in person, so keeping an active social component can help balance this.
WP Site Care
A career in IT and then agency life taught me early that the only thing that is constant is change. The worldwide pandemic took that learning to the absolute limit. At SiteCare we’ve been fortunate to have weathered the storm well so far, but it has required a significant contribution from our team and patience from our clients in order to make that a reality.
We were fortunate to already have a distributed team and company culture, but we had also recently completed the acquisition of a company in South Africa, and our plans to visit the new team members there were put on hold for a full two years. We finally met the team in person in March of this year!
Like I said, I thought I was prepared and battle-tested for anything, and then when the pandemic started, our company was changing the way we worked from day to day, not just month to month.
One change we made immediately was that we gave all clients the ability to put their accounts on hold while we learned what the new reality would look like. We didn’t want to compound the uncertainty for the clients who had helped us along the way.
We saw a pretty significant pull back in our online advertising division, so we spent the time offering consultations and educating those clients about growth strategies that would go slower, but that would have lower costs. When confidence returned, it was amazing to watch the services that had slowed down come back at an even stronger level. My hunch is that our clients appreciated us being flexible when it mattered most to them. It built a deeper level of trust.
For myself, I hope I’ve learned to be more grateful. I certainly feel more grateful. Uncertainty and panic create this interesting sense of urgency to take inventory of what truly matters in life. The trick now is to not forget it. We’re still not out of the woods from this pandemic, and I truly hope that people will be smart and make choices that will help us as a WordPress and global community.
It’s been a while, time flies but at the same time during the last two years of pandemic we all thought this is not going to end ever and time seemed to slow down…Let’s hope it’s over and we can get back to normal life.
So how did Kinsta and our team perform during the pandemic and what happened with us? Well, at the early weeks of the lockdowns I was worried what is going to happen, everything was uncertain in the world and within the economy, but it quickly turned out that internet businesses will benefit from this rapidly changed environment. The first half of 2020 were our strongest months ever in terms of new client signups and the expansion growth of our existing client base.
Existing clients both the ecommerce shop owners, news publications or smaller businesses needed more resources due to the fact that people started hanging out online more, ordering almost everything through webshops and following the news more closely.
As for the new clients that came to Kinsta, there were three main types. The first, clients with existing online business with the urgent need of a more robust hosting solution, they have outgrown the previous – often shared – hosting service and needed a managed solution so they can keep up with the increased demand.
The second type of clients were who just started their online presence due to the pandemic, before that they were fine as an only brick and mortar business, but as a result of lockdowns they had to act fast and start working on their website in order to stay in business.
And the third category are agencies. During the pandemic we launched our Agency program tailored to the needs of creative agencies building and maintaining client websites using WordPress. These agencies also faced with a huge demand of new business and they usually need a hosting solution they know and trust so they can manage hundreds of client websites from the same place. This has been a strong growth channel for us since the launch of the program.
Due to the increased demand for the service, we kept hiring and growing our team. As of today we are more than 275 and have a lot of openings. Thankfully, working remotely was not a new thing for us, we already adopted this work style to the business years before the pandemic. You know, Slack, Google Meets, Zoom calls, shared documents and all the typical working remotely tools. In the past two years we kept investing in our team, launched a local WordPress development tool Devkinsta, kept and keep improving our product and we have a more closer collaboration with our clients to listen to their needs and feedback than ever before.
As in general, I think WordPress as a CMS and the ecosystem including plugin and theme providers, maintenance services and WordPress agencies benefitted from the past 2 years and had an increased interest for their solutions – I wish we could have avoided a pandemic and experience WordPress’s growth without this. Now things are getting back to normal, the rush is over but with time I’m expecting more people entering to the WordPress world as during the pandemic they started with a Wix or Shopify site but soon they will outgrow these platforms, need more flexibility and many of these users will end up moving over to WordPress, fingers crossed.
On the personal side, I would say that things felt more intense than usual. Partly, I felt lucky due to where I lived and the fact that I can work from home. However, sometimes things were still tough. I felt anxious about my family (most of which live in my home country), the fact that I couldn’t travel to visit them, etc. It was a mixed bag of feelings overall. But all in all, it was neither the best nor the worst period of my life.
On the business side of things, I feel the pandemic was even less eventful for our company specifically. We experienced some unexpected growth, adapted a 100% work-from-home approach. We’d had a big part of the team working from home already before the pandemic, so it wasn’t such a big step for us to go all in on that.
That said, the fact that we couldn’t meet and that most of us were more anxious than usually was not very good either. However, as soon as part of the restrictions eased, we arranged some in-person meetings and started planning our team trip to WordCamp Europe in Porto.
As for the pandemic itself, I was worried for some time what it could mean for the job market in the WordPress space overall. Since most companies moved to working from home, this could mean that people would get access to generally more opportunities from companies abroad than before. For instance, if you needed to move to a different city to work for Company X then it’s a much harder decision to make vs just applying for a remote position. This made me think maybe we are not competitive enough as a company.
However, with time, I realized that we have a unique culture based mostly on common sense that most big companies can’t really replicate due to various factors such as bureaucracy, legislation, incentives, and so on. But even with that, we still decided to move into a more progressive and future-proof model and offer company stock options to employees. That way, we can at least make sure that we’re doing the best we can to stay attractive as a company.
At the start of 2020, I was expecting an adverse impact on online businesses, including web businesses like ours. To my surprise, the opposite happened. Due to lockdowns, there was a surge in the need for building a website and creating an online presence. This created an environment for WordPress, especially Woocommerce to thrive. More recently though, as life goes slowly back to “normal”, the dust has started to settle.
Unlike most WordPress companies that worked remotely through the pandemic, we worked better in the collaborative environment of an office space. We made the switch when we realized that we were less productive and struggling to build impactful relationships with our coworkers. Communication and problem solving capabilities have improved significantly since the switch. We’ve loved being back in office so much that we are doubling our space to accommodate our growth and needs.
Covid had a major impact on millions of lives and changed how we live fundamentally. It will probably be a while before we can go back to living life like we did pre-pandemic. So far though, we’re grateful for good health and a business that has grown.
There’s no need to dwell on the fact that the WordPress market saw crazy growth over the last two-year period of acceleration. Only to say that the online ecosystem was one of the very few spaces to not only weather the COVID-19 storm but to prosper as it progressed. Two years on, here’s what I’m seeing based on signals in the community and Freemius’ selling partner network:
We’re entering a period of deceleration and consolidation. After the global scramble to take operations online, things have settled down and growth has slowed. Plugin and theme businesses that mostly rely on one-off sales (aka lifetime licenses) and saw an accelerated growth because of the ‘COVID spike’ will face a meaningful drop to their pre-COVID situations. Companies that mostly sold subscriptions during the two-year period will enjoy a healthy ‘cushion’ of revenue when renewals kick in, leading to a much, much less dramatic drop (if at all) in their bottom line.
If I was to predict how things will go for the ecosystem as a whole? We’ll see minimal growth — and even some shrinkage — across the board come the end of 2022. The “WordPress money” isn’t going anywhere, but the pie isn’t getting any bigger either.
More competition from non-tech, business-savvy outsiders. The last two years have seen more entrepreneurial/business-minded people from non-tech backgrounds enter the WordPress space. They’re not here to build from scratch, they’re here to buy $50k–$250k ARR plugins/companies and grow them as part of larger business ventures. In the same vein, pre-COVID agencies have entered the fray to offer products. This is much simpler to do in an open-source environment, where even if they’ve never built any products, they can fork established plugins (free or paid), improve them, and compete for built-in audiences. And they can leverage their existing clientele for the initial distribution of the products.
Developers need to be mindful that these ‘new players’ are more business-savvy in areas that are typically undernourished in the WP space. UI, UX, marketing, and advertising can make a significant difference if they’re prioritized as much as the product itself.
The recent Stock Market crash shouldn’t affect WordPress (too much). Most WordPress companies are non-VC, bootstrapped businesses started by solopreneurs. They’re capital-efficient, have lean expenses and small teams, and any profit either goes back into the business or to the founder. If you fit into this category, then I don’t believe you have too much to worry about following the burst of the COVID bubble.
Companies that should be wary are those that raised capital during the COVID spike. When a downturn happens, the market turns conservative and companies that burned through cash should consolidate lest they start laying off people to avoid the worst-case scenario of bankruptcy.
While I don’t see this scenario playing out too often in our ecosystem, smaller WordPress companies that overspent on hiring/predicted a longer growth period will need to be more resilient. This may mean reducing compensation and budgets, or both.
WordPress and eCommerce are still great spaces to be in. Despite the boom ending, both WordPress and eCommerce will still benefit from that period of acceleration. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Generation X into the eCommerce market, and ‘boomers’ will continue to purchase online because they get that it’s easier and often cheaper.
If you’re a solopreneur/bootstrapper, now’s also a good time to put your head down, improve your product, and nurture your customer base to get ahead of the competition. But, if you’ve got the capital, you could make a strategic decision and ‘eat your competition’ to extend your market share while others consolidate theirs. It’s a buyer’s market after all.
Product makers and businesses that use the subscriptions model can expect a buffer against the worst of the economic downturn. As long as your MRR remains healthy and your churn doesn’t exceed customers gained during the spike, your business is still growing (even if it’s slow). This is the beauty of the subscription model. It’s resilient in the face of a slow market and provides security to continue operations/product development.
I’m optimistic that the ecosystem will get through this period — the internet isn’t slowing down and it will continue to be a place of great opportunity for savvy solopreneurs who love WordPress. We’ve just got to be more conservative for now 😉
While it’s been one of the craziest couple of years (and seems to be getting crazier), the pandemic hasn’t changed much about what we do from an operational perspective.
Closing down our office and going completely remote before the pandemic worked out really well. It allowed us to reduce our operating costs and not be trapped in any long contracts for office space we weren’t going to use.
The main impact from the pandemic happened on a personal level.
I can’t speak for everyone else but maintaining a positive work-life balance became pretty tough.
That’s something I’ve always struggled with. I had certain routines that helped me maintain some sort of balance but during 2020 and early 2021, pretty much all of those routines weren’t possible.
So, I found new ways to maintain some sort of work-life balance and I discovered a few new hobbies in the process.
One of them being building and battling small robots. Think BattleBots but a lot smaller. Now, we have small tournaments at family get-togethers. It’s a lot of fun.
While the pandemic has been terrible in so many ways, it’s forced me to open my mind to things that I wouldn’t have considered before.
If before the pandemic, when the lockdown happened and everyone was sent to work from home, people received this news with disbelief or being discouraged, here we are at the beginning of so-called “new normal” or “post-pandemic normality”, or (as our team at Cloudflare likes to say) “back to better”.
I think, depending on the experience of work and relationships a person had before the pandemic, the lock-down also impacted the way one would have approached working from home, being under strict sanitary regulations, having their travel restricted and respecting so many rules about public safety and medical priorities. Personally, having had almost 7 years experience of remote work before I joined Cloudflare, and then starting going into the office for about a year and a half, to then having the pandemic upon us in lockdown, which sent us all to work from home… in a way this was just going back to the old ways of working from home. It really was and is very important to me to be close to family, having that time that you would spend commuting being now spent in the house with the kids, talking and sharing experiences, but also comforting each-other as we all went through COVID multiple times. I think this was the best mental health cushion that I could’ve asked for in a time like this.
I am also thinking about more than 50% of our colleagues who have joined Cloudflare during the pandemic, which meant for them no physical access to the offices, no face-to-face interviews, and everything was done remotely via video tools. I am really curious to find out from these series of interviews if anyone else had similar experiences with maybe starting a new career completely remotely, just because of the pandemic lockdown.
My experience during the pandemic was quite intense. I was pregnant for nine months when the lockdown restrictions were imposed in Romania. I am now back after a two-year maternity leave, writing from our old office. But it is a different office. We are four people today; the rest are working from home. Everyone can work remotely now, and most people choose to do that. The team is bigger, 12 new people have joined, a few have left. Some have become parents, like me, some have lost theirs.
Following a period of growth, we have launched new projects, some related to WordPress, some completely new to me. We have restructured our team, we’re more disconnected but more efficient than ever before.
I rejoined the team right before WCEU and our annual retreat. Getting the community events back is the best sign the pandemic days are over. It was so good to see everyone in the same place again, no cameras, no emojis, just everyone in person! Of course not everything is well, the war is still not over, and allegedly we are at the beginning of a new recession.
However, just as I said to conclude my original pandemic roundup two years ago, I can say the same thing again today: Eventually, this too shall pass!
What do you think? Has the pandemic brought any long-lasting changes to your business, workday, or career? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%:
Layout, presentation and editing by Karol K.
Or start the conversation in our Facebook group for WordPress professionals. Find answers, share tips, and get help from other WordPress experts. Join now (it’s free)!
This content was originally published here.