6AM: I go to my “cloffice” and start my day by connecting with WordPress.com users via live chat. This is always exciting, as I never know the questions I’ll get, or what issues our users are facing.
8AM: Coffee and breakfast with my family.
8:30AM: Back to live chat, catching up on e-mail, and multitasking a bit, now that I’ve had some coffee!
11:30AM: Break to go to the gym, eat some lunch, and shower 🙂
1:30PM: At this point, sometimes I choose to go to a coffee shop to continue my workday. I then reply to some more messages, and work on different projects.
2:30PM: A 30-minute chat with a co-worker. We are encouraged to do this and have work “buddies” who can help us and be helped as we navigate the excitement and challenges of remote work. I always enjoy these calls.
3PM: If I’m home, I take a short coffee break and enjoy a few moments with my wife.
3:30PM: Back to the computer! I now check on our team goals, projects, and commitments and see whether we are moving at a healthy pace to reach our weekly goals.
4PM: Answer some more customer emails, follow-up on anything that needs attention before the end of the day.
5PM: Close the computer and end my work day.
This is a pretty typical day for me.
One of the neatest parts of my day is life’s little “interruptions.” Let me explain: Because we homeschool, my awesome wife Amy and our kids are home all day. I have an open-door policy, so they can always come in and give me a hug or tell me something they want to share – even if I’m working. Apart from the few times when I’m on an important call, these little interruptions do not distract me from what I’m doing. In fact, they remind me of why I work in the first place.
Automattic is a great company to work for, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work on something meaningful, while at the same time witnessing my family life from a front-row seat.
I’m sure you’ve seen a friend or two talk about 2016 as a terrible year. So many celebrities dead, so many wars, so many undesirable people elected to office, etc.
Well, I disagree.
While I respect people’s feelings, the world has always been a difficult place, and things don’t go the way we would like to all the time. Celebrities and non-celebrities die every day. Wars have always happened. Idiots are elected to office every year.
We all lived the same 2016. Yet for me (and for a few reluctant friends who dared to share their thoughts in social media) this was one of the best years of my life.
I think the secret to always having a good year is to
Understand what is and what isn’t under your control, and
For what is under your control, have a deliberate plan so things turn out the way you want them to.
If you think 2016 was a terrible year, I’ll risk a guess that you either are
Letting things that are not under your control affect too much of your life, or
Not being deliberate and planning how to tackle the things that are under your control.
The folks I quoted above are the people behind becomeablogger.com and Social Media Examiner. Leslie Samuel and Michael Stelzner are incredibly successful guys who really understand what I’m trying to explain in this post.
But in the end, bad things happen. They always do. If we can’t find a way to cope and have a strategy to deal with them, we are going to have a hard time in life.
We shouldn’t let our happiness be a direct result of these out-of-our-control events. Happiness needs to be more proactive, and less reactive.
What we can control
I’m a huge believer of setting goals for oneself. I’ve written in the past about having SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) as a way to turn their achievement more realistic. That is a great way to come up with a few items for the short/long term which you can have some control over.
This past year of 2016, instead of specific goals, I decided to focus on three areas of my life, and chose three key words to define what I would work on: service, simplicity, and strength. I opened the year by writing this post which delineated how I planned on attacking these areas.
Now, 365 days behind me, I see that I made good progress in all these three areas. Here’s what happened:
2016 was a year that I made a decision to be more available to help others. Though I still have a long way to go in this area, I think I did better than previous years. I helped friends move furniture, volunteered to teach the marriage preparation course at our local church, helped my dad with his business quite a few times, created a new website for our parish on WordPress.com, cooked a couple of dinners for my family (!), volunteered to teach an introduction to WordPress course at our homeschooling co-op group, and a few other things.
There’s much more to do here. But a year ago I decided to make some gains in this area, and I did.
As a result of working from home and needing only my laptop to do my job, I decided to get rid of things this year.
At first I started weighing all the items that I would donate or sell, with the intent of tallying it all up at the end of the year. That didn’t quite happen, because we were donating and selling so much that it became a nuisance to weigh everything as it left the house.
I’ve also decided to wear simpler clothes on work days, which meant I wore a whole lot of WordPress swag, making my choice on what to put on every morning a lot simpler.
2016 was a simpler year for me. I carried less weight with me, spent more quality time with my family, and did more with less. Just like I had planned it would be. Win 🙂
All of our 500 employees are distributed – this means that Automattic does not have a central office where employees go to work. We can work from wherever we want, and as a result, we have automatticians (how we refer to ourselves) living in 50 different countries.
Many companies have tried the “work from home” approach, but it seems like Automattic is one of the few which have made it work. In 2016, when we are tethered to our smartphones and communicate with people around the world instantly, figuring out a way to make remote work a viable reality is a huge deal.
In an effort to promote relationships and collaboration, every year the company organizes the Grand Meetup (GM). The GM is a week-long get together where we are encouraged to get to know each other and collaborate on projects, learn new skills, and cross-pollinate ideas across virtual silos.
To do that, Automattic tries to create environments for employees to meet each other in different contexts.
Here are some of the things we did this past week:
Flashtalks: each employee did a 4-minute presentation on a topic of their choosing. Some of these talks were funny, others educational, and some just plain silly. There was a Spanish automattician who showed us images of his home renovation. I learned about the wines of Portugal. I shed a tear when someone presented the life lessons he’d learned from his dog. It was fascinating, and I learned a lot about the people presenting.
Projects: in the weeks leading up to the GM, we suggested mini projects to be worked on during the meetup. These projects included improvements to our product, a new internal tool to make our jobs easier, the creation of a new app, and many others.
Classes: we could also choose one of a number of classes to take.
Meals: we went out to dinner in Whistler Village in groups of four. The dinners were all pre-arranged by the organizers, and they made sure we were dining with employees we had not yet met.
Town halls: we had several town hall-styled meetings in which we could ask questions of our CEO Matt Mullenweg and other leaders within the company. It was great to see how people communicate- discussions were open and frank.
Fun activities: we went hiking, zip-lining through the mountains, mountain biking, running…. We also sang karaoke, swing danced, played with virtual reality, played board games, showed off our talents during an “open mic” session, etc. It was really cool to see my coworkers in these unusual situations.
There was a lot more, including an epic closing party with live music performed by automatticians themselves.
So, where do I start?
Automatticians are a special bunch.
During this week, we took over two big hotels in the heart of Whistler Village, and had access to an open bar for the entire duration of our stay.
I saw people having fun responsibly, being respectful to each other and to hotel staff. I also saw countless examples of people helping each other.
Another amazing example of the spirit of my coworkers was when we all got together for a couple of hours to do actual work. We noticed that the support ticket queue was really backed up, so we spontaneously organized to work and get the queue under control.
I’ve never been part of an institution in which everyone is so happy to be in it.
What’s the secret? I think it’s a combination of factors.
First, Automattic produces services and products that are awesome. The company’s motto is to democratize publishing by making it available to everyone around the world. We all feel like we are making a difference.
Then there’s the culture. There’s a shared sense of responsibility. Though we are often in t-shirts and funny hats, there’s a feeling of being around grownups. I don’t mean “grownups” in a sense of having a diversified portfolio and owning a lawnmower, but in the sense that we are all responsible for our future and for the future of the company; that we have a job to do, and that it is important.
Complainers are scarce. Whiners non-existent.
The result is a group of socially aware, smart, attentive people who do the right thing, efficiently, and with panache.
And finally there’s the company itself.
I mentioned at the beginning that Automattic is redefining work. As a result, we are doing things in ways that nobody else is.
The upside is that we are leading the corporate world in how to tackle work in the 21st century.
The downside is that we have to make it up as we go. There are no consultants we can hire, no books we can read, no seminars we can take to learn how to do what we do, or what to do next.
As we discussed our products, how we work, and what to do next, we found ourselves often baffled by the unknown. The problems we have don’t yet have solutions. So it’s up to us to iterate and find the best way forward.
As I pondered how Automattic works, I kept remembering a scene from an old Disney cartoon called Saludos Amigos.
In that scene, Donald Duck is riding a llama in Bolívia, going across a suspension bridge. After a few mishaps, they find themselves standing on just a few boards, hundreds of feet up in the air. As the llama starts to walk forward, Donald grabs the last board and moves it to the front, so the llama has something to stand on. He then repeats that process, so the llama keeps walking forward:
Why did I keep thinking of that?
Because at Automattic, we are at the forefront of work. We are doing things that have never been done, in ways that have never been tried.
We create the path we walk on.
We are riding the wave, but as we look around, we can see that it is because of our disturbance that the ocean is waving.
Automattic is meta. Matt’s name is literally in Automattic. We are self-referential, we have inside jokes, and we all blog using WordPress, the product we ourselves create. Our logo is a circle. We love looping GIFs.
Some of this self-reference is due to loving what we do. But some of this looping and inwards looking is a result of having no one else next to us to look at as we lead the way.
While this can be exciting, it does not come without challenges.
I truly believe that years from now, Automattic’s true legacy may not be WordPress, but how we created exciting products that impacted the world in a positive way, redefining workplace communication, creating an environment of respect and support, and having a ton of fun along the way.
I feel privileged to be a part of this group.
Thanks Automattic for the amazing 2016 Grand Meetup. I look forward to surfing some more.