Recap of March 2017 Meetup: Distributed, Working Remotely at Automattic

Our thanks to Howard Dodd for taking notes from our March 2017 meetup.

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Distributed, Working Remotely at Automattic

Our presentation was given by member George Hotelling, JavaScript Wrangler at Automattic, the company behind hosted WordPress.com, Jetpack, WooCommerce, Akismet, and other online services.

George spoke about remote work at Autommatic, how employees around the world communicate with each other, and work together in teams. Here are highlights from his talk:

Why work remotely?

  • There is a much wider job market
  • Quality focus time becomes available for deep thought work.
  • Structured flexible time can be very beneficial to the family.
  • The forgone commute has huge benefits in studied measures of happiness. The equivalent of a 67% raise for a $60,000 per year employee.
  • Automattic’s corporate culture is that all of the employees are fully remote.

Disadvantages of Working Remotely

  • Discipline can be difficult. Many potential distractions exist.
  • You must be diligent and thorough with communication. Document processes and write out thoughts so that details can be communicated.
  • Social isolation – you need to take the initiative to be social and make it a priority.

attendees listening to George Hotelling

Types of Remote Companies

  • Fully Remote – Employees are all over the world. The different time zones need to be considered. Space, autonomy, and authority needs to be distributed to keep things moving.
  • Partially Remote – Usually involves an office where colleagues have occasional meetings. In this scenario it is important to take the initiative to attend the meetings that are relevant.

Where is Remote Work Done?

  • Home
  • Coworking space. This was discussed at length, with many members recommending coworking spaces throughout metro Detroit. Randy Walker graciously published a post with coworking spaces in and around metro Detroit.
  • Wherever!
  • Traveling, out of town, hotel rooms.
  • Even on the road (as a passenger)

Communication is Oxygen!

  • Slack – This is a chat program for office and day to day work. Communication is generally asynchronous.
  • Screenhero (owned by Slack): Collaborative screen sharing tool. An invitation is needed to obtain it. It is highly functional and recommended, with high screen resolution.
  • Google Hangouts / Skype / Zoom – Video chats. It’s very important to understand text vs. video vs. audio. Text is easy to misinterpret. It lacks tone and nuance that could be essential to making a point.
  • IRL – In Real Life! Two or three company meetups are planned each year. Distributed companies travel a lot to encourage bonding and team building
  • P2 Theme: that is much like a Twitter feed. It is generally left open all day and serves as Automattic’s watercooler conversation point. Hashtags can be used to start a conversation thread and it is searchable!
  • Note that emails are minimized. – P2’s are the focus. All of the conversations are dropped into a searchable database and becomes a warehouse of accumulated knowledge.

Everyone who starts at Automattic does frontline support. It is part of the corporate culture and a lot is learned from this exercise.

Thank you to Grand Circus and A2 Hosting for their sponsorship of our meetups!

snowy view of Woodward and Grand Circus Park, Central United Methodist Church in the background
Our view from our meetup venue, snowy view of downtown Detroit
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