When You’re Not Working Don’t Work

The title sounds a little obvious doesn’t it? Disconnecting from work may sound easy for a lot of people, but with more communication and business happening online, it’s something that can affect a lot more people than 10 years ago.

At Automattic we like to say we’re shaping the future of work. There’s a book and many articles about us. Running a completely distributed company has its ups and downs, for the employer as well as the employee.

As an employee it’s nice to be able to work from anywhere in the world. After I wake up in the morning, I can be sitting at my desk and working a few minutes later. The laptop is always there though, which can make it difficult to achieve a work-life balance. It’s easy to always be available.

At some point you have to trust that other people can fix things when you’re away or if you’re needed for an emergency, your colleagues will contact you via a phone call or text message. I have strong feelings about the work-life balance and it’s something I often try to convince fellow Automatticians about. It wasn’t always easy for me though.¬†Over the years I’ve made a lot of changes and learned how to disconnect.

  • Moved all work email out of my personal account (before we had official company accounts).
  • Remove work email from my phone.
  • When we started using Slack I made it a habit to stay logged out on my phone. I only use the mobile app when I’m on a work trip because it’s much easier to coordinate and ping colleagues through the app than putting everyone’s info in my Contacts.
  • I assigned my personal blogs to a different WordPress.com account than the one I use for Automattic blogs. This way I won’t see notifications from any of our internal blogs on my phone or when I’m not working.
  • I keep my work and personal computers as separate as possible. Any shared apps between the two aren’t sending me notifications about work.

Do you work online and have any other tricks or habits?

It may be harder to disconnect from work for other jobs. For example, my Dad sells real estate and his cell phone number is on all of his listings. He is always getting phone calls, so it’s very hard for him to disconnect unless he completely turns off his phone, which usually isn’t a very good option.

An Automattic Decade

Ten years ago I left SVSU and started working for Automattic. I still remember discussing the risks of joining a startup with my parents. I think I made the right choice. ūüėČ

March 13, 2008

  • 22 employees
  • 1 former Automattician
  • I was hire #23
  • 3 Happiness Engineers
  • 9,725 commits on WordPress.com

March 13, 2018

  • 700 employees
  • 138 former Automatticians
  • I’m #15 in tenure
  • 264 people in our Happiness division
  • 171,566 commits on WordPress.com

Here’s a photo from the 2008 Grand Meetup, in Breckenridge, Colorado. Exactly half of the people in this photo no longer work with us.

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Here’s the photo from the 2017 Grand Meetup in Whistler,¬†British Columbia, Canada.

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A lot has changed and I’m excited to see what happens in the next decade.

53%

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Getting back over 50% after I missed the 2016 Automattic Grand Meetup was a tall task. Wouldn’t have been able to do it without assigned meal seatings, the new homeroom groups, and activities.

If we hire 140 people before next year’s GM, I’d only need to meet about 50 new people to get over 50% again.

Sofia, Bulgaria in Pictures

I had a wonderful trip to Sofia, Bulgaria last week. I went there to work with my team, HR @ Automattic, which we call The Human League. What made the trip really great was having a local on our team. Petya planned everything for us!

Beer

I drank a Heineken and the Sweet Water on the flight from Detroit to Amsterdam.

I tried to stick to Bulgarian beers once I got there.

Food

Other than spending time with my teammates, my favorite part of the trip by far was the food. I was impressed. Took advantage of trying some things I’ve never seen on a menu.

Bacon mac & cheese and grilled chicken avocado sandwich at DTW.
Bacon something sandwich
Bone Marrow – YUM!
Pizza!
Chicken Hearts
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Wild Boar
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Bircher Muesli – I ate this with breakfast every morning. Excellent.
Snails in mini bread bowls
Roasted Pidgeon and sides
Dessert assortment

Stuff to See

Virtual vs. Distributed

At the Future of Work Summit¬†there were many discussions about remote workers and teams, in the sense of people working¬†from wherever they are in the world. I heard several people call these virtual teams, which is a description we try not to use at Automattic. In a world dominated by the traditional office culture, it’s already hard enough to explain to people how working from home as part of a team/company actually works. Using the term virtual doesn’t help drive the conversation it the correct direction.

If you were to ask people to name something described as virtual I bet one of the most common answers would be virtual reality. One of the definitions of virtual as it relates to computing is

Not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so.

A definition used for English language learners is

Very close to being something without actually being it.

Having met several hundred other Automatticians and knowing other people who work remotely, I can tell you we definitely exist in the physical world and we are real.

We prefer to describe Automattic as a distributed company. It fits in well with this definition of the word distribute

To disperse through a space or over an area; spread; scatter.

9 Years

Nine years ago I left my job at SVSU and joined a team of just over 20 people at Automattic. We now employ over 540! Some days it still doesn’t seem real.

I’ve held a variety of roles at the company and for the last year and a half I’ve been working as a developer on our Human Resources team. Last year we rebranded ourselves as “The Human League” and our designer created a cool 80s style theme for our private internal blog. Last week I¬†got a new t-shirt to match. ūüôā