Working remotely has become a reality for many during the pandemic and for a lot of people this has became a permanent move. Some companies have switched into being 100% remote, like Shopify, others have adopted an hybrid approach, but the truth is, several people will now work from home (or from anywhere).
And this can be a great move for some but not the best thing for others. Both have up and down sides and some people are better suited for one or the other.
One of the main things I see people complaining about working remotely is the lack of social interaction with peers. I’ve seen people using the “water cooler factor” to justify being against remote work. I have also seen people using the current situation (lack of social interaction, working with kids at home, having to juggle work, online school, Covid at the same time while working from the kitchen table) as an excuse to not adopt remote work.
But if you take into consideration remote work in a normal world, where you have access to a proper home-office set up, you have access to other people, you can work from a coffee shop or co-work with friends if you want to, you can choose to stay at home and all the things I mentioned in my post 5 Surprising Facts I’ve Learned About Working Remotely, it can be pretty awesome.
Remote work, when done correctly, works. And it works very well. Automattic has been doing it since 2005. Fully distributed.
That said, working remotely does not mean we don’t like or don’t get to connect with the people we work with. I am closer to several of my work friends than I ever was in previous (in person) jobs. But it takes some effort and the company needs to be invested in making these connections happen.
At Automattic the whole company usually (pre-pandemic) gets together once a year. The location changes every 2 years. I have been to 3 GMs (grand meetups), one in Whistler, BC and 2 in Orlando. It’s a week of several different activities, an amazing mix of work, learning and parties. I talked about the last GM, back in 2019, here.
Also, teams get together once or twice a year, depending if your team is a product-related team or not. Other than that our work world is virtual. We communicate via slack and Zoom, but mostly slack. And we communicate a lot. The company creed says “Communication is oxygen”, and it is.
So, while the in-person meetups help to strengthen the relationships and team bonding, what do we do the other 49 weeks of the year to keep the conversation going and keep people connected?
We have a few tricks 😉
You know all that water-cooler talk that some people say is very important and that’s why remote work is baaaaad? We have water-cooler channels in Slack. If you are into horror movies, fitness, board-games, dogs, cats, coffee, tea, if you are from the GTA (great Toronto Area) or from Brazil, if you are into photography, or heavy metal, there’s a channel for everything. And if the channel you are looking for is not there you are more than welcome to create it. There’s even a channel where we share our Wordle results daily and talk about Wordle-related stuff. We also have channels that are work-related but more generic. So, for example, we have a channel where all Android Developers gather together to discuss Android-related thing, news, brainstorm, share ideas, issues, ask for help, regardless of your team, the project you are working on, or even if you don’t work as an Android Developer. If you are in the Marketing team but love coding and love Android you are welcome to join. We also do a monthly Zoom call to keep up with all the new things in the Android world. And this is just an example.
Oh, and that’s my favourite one: we have a channel called Yelling where you can ONLY SEND MESSAGES IN ALL CAPS! Feel like you need to scream? This the the channel to be. You can yell about pretty much anything. Just removed the snow from your driveway and it’s snowing again? Head to the Yelling channel and YELL!!!
Other than that we have the teams channels, the divisions channels, projects and channels that are company-wide. You meet new people, you make new work friends. You network, you exchange ideas, make suggestions, participate in other projects. Conversation happens regardless if you are working in person or not. You just need to create the right environment (in both situations).
We also use a Slack app called Donut which randomly pairs two people who don’t know each other so they can schedule a coffee chat. We have several of those. There’s one that is company-wide, there’s another one for example for the Apps division, there’s one that pairs team leads only, and so on. You can talk about work, opportunities, projects, or you can talk about personal things. It’s up to you.
There’s a book club where we get together to discuss specific books we read every two months.
There’s a postcard group that exchanges postcards all year round. We have a secret Santa in December, we have game nights via Zoom.
On the work side of things we have a buddy program where you get assigned someone to be your buddy in several different situations, like for example, when you join the company, if you switch teams or role, if you are a trial, there’s also a culture buddy who will be there for you to introduce you to the company culture and answer questions. There are also mentorships, coaching programs.
We also use a tool called P2 which is like a blog but actually is a shared work space where teams can collaborate on projects, post updates, report bugs and write about anything. We also have water cooler P2s. There’s a P2 for people who travel a lot so they can find people willing to house sit for you, one for people who want to sell or exchange things, one to post pics of your dog…
These are just a few of the tools Automattic has to keep people connected while being fully distributed. Does it work for everyone? Of course not. Different people have different needs. But if you think remote work is for you and the company you work for does not have these tools, it might be a good thing to share, bring suggestions, ideas to team leads so the communication between teams and colleagues can be improved. If you have any cool ideas, feel free to share in the comments.