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.

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

Coffitivity

Working from home isn’t always rainbows and cupcakes as you might expect. It can be easy to get distracted, especially with what’s going on in our country right now. One thing that’s worked well for me lately is listening to a single song on repeat. It doesn’t take long for¬†the sound¬†to fade away and I really zone out on my work.

I also have the flexibility to work from anywhere I want, but I rarely ever head out to¬†coffee shops for WiFi, unless my power is out. I’ve read about people working to the sounds of a coffee shop more and more, so when Ingrid¬†told our team Coffitivity was working well for her, I figured I’d give it a shot.

I’m just starting today so don’t have any conclusions yet. I’m wearing my WordPress-customized¬†Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 Over-ear Wireless headphones¬†for the noise cancellation. It does seem a little weird to wear headphones since I live alone, but in just a short time I’ve realized I’m not being distracted by birds or squirrels outside my window or vehicles driving by.

A New Hobby

My recent Raspberry Pi project¬†combined with more and more interest in home automation led me down a road I didn’t expect. I find some of the home automation products out there limiting. What if I could mess around and build some of my own devices?

I’ve been thinking about putting some type of temperature sensor in the garage for a while. I heat the garage¬†up in the winter for workouts quite often and never know when it’s warm enough. I’d found my first project! I’d need another Raspberry Pi and at least a temperature sensor. I didn’t really know much about extending the functionality of a Pi, other than I’d need to do some soldering and learn a more about electronics, circuits, etc. Enter AdaFruit. It’s a very cool company with an awesome store and a ton of resources to learn.

Adafruit was founded in 2005 by MIT hacker & engineer, Limor “Ladyada” Fried. Her goal was to create the best place online for learning electronics and making the best designed products for makers of all ages and skill levels. Adafruit has grown to over 50+ employees in the heart of NYC with a 50,000+ sq ft. factory. Adafruit has expanded offerings to include tools, equipment and electronics that Limor personally selects, tests and approves before going in to the Adafruit store.

I saw¬†Ladyada’s Electronics Toolkit¬†in their store, which looked like a great way¬†to get started. My favorite item is the “solder sucker” even though¬†I¬†may never¬†use it. Such a cool name.

ladyadas-electronics-toolkit

Then I came across AdaBox.

AdaBox is a quarterly subscription service from Adafruit, centered around products from the Adafruit ecosystem. Each AdaBox will contain a curated set of Adafruit products that will help you get started with do-it-yourself electronics.

Introducing AdaBox!

The second box is shipping out to subscribers soon, but I was too late to jump on board. Lucky for me, they had some AdaBox001 РWelcome to the Feather Ecosystem still in stock, so I ordered one.

adabox-1-contents

It¬†has a wide¬†variety of components. Should¬†help so that I don’t start randomly buying items. I’m hoping to get in on the third subscription, which opens up¬†on the 19th and I will pick up AdaBox002 when it’s available in the store.

Once everything arrived, I started playing around on my kitchen table. I quickly realized it¬†wasn’t the ideal place. I needed a workstation. When I get into something new, I tend to go all-in, which I believe helps me stick with it. So I set a plan¬†to put a second desk in my office and bought more stuff:

I’m excited and really happy with how everything came¬†together.

electronics-workstation.jpg

I found these organizers for about $4 each at Walmart. They work really well for storing all of the tiny pieces.

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I haven’t built anything yet, but I’m learning a lot and enjoying the process. My list of project ideas is growing and will keep me busy for as long as I want. As a bonus, I now have a standing desk in my office where I can get actual¬†work-work done when I need a break from sitting.