I’m grateful to have a joined a company that is built on remote work culture, as I quite enjoy having the autonomy and freedom to work on what, when, and where I want, but more than that, it’s the folks working behind the curtains that make all the difference, at least for me.
As of this writing, there are 751 Automatticians in 66 countries speaking 81 different languages distributed across the globe, all working remotely on different teams.
I work alone, but never have I felt lonely. For me, opening up Slack on my computer is sort of like the equivalent of walking into an office. Certainly, that’s a major difference between working remotely on your own, versus working remotely with a team.
The ‘who’ is really what ties my Automattic work experience all together in this type of remote environment. I’m part of a small team that spans across the APAC region of the world, and we’re known as Team Patronus 🙂
I had the privilege of meeting all the members — in person — for the first time two weeks ago!
While some of the more experienced members had already met in person before, this was the first time as “Team Patronus” (a relatively newer team in the division) to have a meetup. The location chosen was Shirahama, Japan (Wakayama Prefecture).
Your team will get together one to three times per year in locations around the globe. Teams meet for five to seven days to brainstorm team-level strategy and bond in locales ranging from Boulder to Buenos Aires, Las Vegas to Lisbon, Montréal to Mexico City, and Vienna to Vietnam. If you join our merry band, expect to travel three to four weeks per year. — Automattic
Feel free to check out my microblogged version of the trip if you haven’t seen it already, #patronusmeetup, but I’d like to expand a bit more on that experience in this post.
Up until now, the only type of communication I had with the members of my team was through daily text-based live messaging via Slack, and video chat conferencing via Zoom.
It’s an interesting peculiarity to have first known someone digitally (‘known’ as in — I already knew these people for 3 months — known), and then finally meet them in person later. At any rate, I arrived at the Nanki-Shirahama Marriott Hotel, and it was hugs all around the room the first time I met these folks 🙂
Our week in Shirahama was action packed! The majority of our days were loosely planned, which gave us a lot of buffer time to make any changes on the fly if necessary, but for the most part there were no major deviations.
There was lots of learning, teaching, working, and most definitely LOTS OF EATING — together as a team 😀 🍽🍜 🍲 🍛 🍣 🍱
The former half of our week was spent largely on learning, while the latter was spent on mostly discussing company related stuff and having AMAs with Spittle.
In addition, we had a beginner’s WordPress workshop for kids which was led by yours truly, but of course I had the support of my team, along with several members of the Japanese WordPress community to help out.
— 和歌山ワーケーションプロジェクト広報 (@WakayamaPref_WP) July 2, 2018
The workshop was split into two sessions, morning and afternoon. In the morning, we took a bus over to Banshoyama Park, and the kids took pictures there to be used later on in their blog. It was a fun, yet extremely hot day out!
Banshoyama Park 番所山公園: https://goo.gl/maps/KjL4C7wftHC2
Two hours of trekking the park and exploring worked up a sweat, and most of us KO’ed on the bus ride back! Once we got back to Big U, we had lunch and soon after we started the workshop.
The initial hurdle we had to jump through was to make sure everyone got on the same page, in this case, it was to get all the kids signed up for a WordPress.com account and username, which we requested they do before coming to the workshop, but as expected many of them had not signed up yet. Thinking of an on-the-spot workaround for this little bump in the road was fun times, but sure enough, our team was able to work up a solution 😀
Initially, the kids were unsure of how or why there were some things they couldn’t do or find, but they stuck through it like champs, and after having published their first blog post, it was a lightbulb moment for many! And that’s all that mattered. Soon after, they were pumping out posts like pros, and in the final hour, each of them gave a small presentation to show off their blog in front of the entire staff and parents — it was a great time!
The workshop ended around 5pm-ish, and after that we went back to the hotel to chill out for a bit before we headed out to have dinner at an izakaya with all the members involved for the day.
The morning after, we got right back to work! We spent the good part of the morning working on support, before heading out to lunch. This was probably the only day we split up to eat since we really had a short amount of break time before we had to get back to working.
We reconvened at the hotel to wrap up our support at 5pm, and called it a day.
Our final day together was spent traversing a World Heritage site — Kumano Kodo. While we opted not to embark on the entire pilgrimage, we did make sure to visit at least Kumano Nachi Taisha, one of the main spots, which probably accounts for only a small percentage of the famous Kumano Kodo trail, but it was enough to satisfy!
Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine 熊野那智大社: https://goo.gl/maps/F8gkxUGnnz92
One thing I took away from this meetup, and despite having been with Automattic for only 3 months (6 if you count from the time I finished my trial), is the realization that the people I work and interact with on a daily basis are such incredible and inspiring leaders.
I mention ‘leaders’ not in the traditional sense that we are individuals with authority, but to view the term from a more modern perspective, we are people who all look out for each other.
Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. I know many people at the senior-most levels of organizations who are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations who have no authority and they are absolutely leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is. — Simon Sinek
This is one of the reasons I believe we don’t have titles at Automattic. This explains why we’re called ‘Happiness Engineers’, and not ‘IT Support’ or whatever characteristic-less titles they might call this position these days. We’re not given official titles because titles imply rank or some form or level of authority.
When you hear the term ‘Happiness Engineer‘ — what’s your reaction? A laugh? Chuckle? Smile? 🙂
If you even had a reaction, positive or negative, it’s already achieved its goal — to evoke emotion, a precursor to what inspiration is.
You see, that’s one thing unique about Automattic. Even though the company is distributed, the environment in which we work has been shaped and refined in a way that makes the folks who work here feel safe, and when we feel safe, we are naturally bound to expend our energies helping those around us, instead of constantly trying to protect ourselves from external threats (i.e. a toxic work environment, having to answer to authoritative figures, throwing our own colleagues under the bus to move up the ladder, working under unfair conditions, etc.).
To put others’ needs before our own is a trait of a leader, and while not all of us are perfect here, we are constantly learning, growing, and feeling inspired to be better versions of ourselves every day as a result from working with people who look out for each other.
As one of the newer members, sometimes I feel I haven’t given back enough, when I think about how much I’ve received (party due to a small bit of feeling imposter syndrome). But this is why I’m determined and dedicated to continue growing in whatever way I can, so that eventually I can make an impact.
And when I’m in doubt, I always try to remember the following phrase — there’s no ‘I’ in team.
UPDATE (Aug.13.2018): An article was written on our stay in Shirahama, and our team was featured in Yahoo! Japan News just recently, check it out!
This post is part of a chronicled series titled, The ‘W’ Series, of how remote work came knocking at my door, and influenced my life for the better.
01 – The Why: My Journey of How I Went From Teaching English in Japan to a Career in Tech With The Coolest Company in the World
02 – The What: Swagged Out
03 – The When: Putting The ‘Flex’ In Flexibility: What It’s Like To Work On My Own Time
04 – The Where: Home Office, Cafe, Coworking Space, Oh My
05 – The Who: There’s No ‘I’ In Team