The working life of man is ever changing, society is coming up with new rules for the same game. We are constantly reading what’s good for us, and of course, everyone is now asking about the new phenomenon, is making Starbucks your new office the right choice?
Interestingly enough, the idea of remote work or working from home is not a new one, but in the 18th Century in the City of London most office work was done either from home or from coffee shops. Clerks used to live with shop owners and work from home avoiding commutes. It seems that remote work is rather retro. However, the 21st Century brings with it a plethora of technology and so in order to get a better idea of what remote work looks like today, I decided to go straight to the source.
How Automattic Does Remote Work
Luca Sartoni, Growthketeer at Automattic and Davor Altman, Happiness Engineer at Automattic, both currently spend their time working remotely and I had the opportunity to talk to them about it. Automattic employs over 450 people remotely, living and working in different countries, continents, time zones. These people work together to create, support, maintain and design new products, and they do this all online.
With everyone spread across the world, I wanted to know what is the secret to successful remote work.
Technicalities Behind Remote Work At Automattic
Every team is different and so is every organisation, but I wanted to get a better picture of how a team like mine, works in a remote environment. Luca told us about the Design Team he is part of, made up of 5 people, that cover almost all time zones. So, how are they efficient?
Weekly sprints, weekly growth hang outs, and meetup projects. The weekly sprint trello board, contains all of their tasks for that week only and no task should take longer than 2 days to complete. The weekly growth hang out includes various teams, where ideas are discussed in no more than 10 minutes per topic. 10 minutes is just enough to discuss ideas and not details, which are discussed in written form. Finally, the meetup projects get them all together in one room working for a week on a project.
It’s a fast paced work environment, where things are constantly changing and it works great for them. Everyone gets the freedom to try new things and the support from colleagues to execute projects well. Luca writes more about the growth methodologies on his blog.
We Love To Work Asynchronously
Not being awake at the same time and getting things done; got me thinking about how do you transition from full time office work to remote work. Not having an office to go to, a structured work environment – where do you start? “It took me three months to get used to the restructured way of working we have at Automattic. Now I’m very fine with it, to the point that I would find it extremely hard to get back to a different type of organisation”, Luca claims that after the initial transition period is over, you can’t go back and Davor is enjoying the extra free time he used to spend on commuting. If you are thinking of switching, be aware that there is a transition period, like with anything new.
Communication Is Everyone’s Panacea For Everything
Without communication a business can’t function successfully, it is necessary to maintain great communication among employees, and in an office it seems obvious that you communicate with people everyday, but how do you do it when far away? Looking at Automattic, I found that in fact communication happens more than perhaps in a standard working environment.
The above snapshot shows just how many messages are sent in an average week between Automattic employees – that’s communication alright! But, is online communication as effective as face to face, Luca and Davor believe it to be more effective. Davor explained that “due to the fact that every single information is written, nothing ever gets lost”, and Luca agrees “having all our communication in written form requires thinking before communicating making ideas more refined”. I thought about this and realised that it’s true, when writing emails I express myself more clearly and fully than when bumbling ideas on meetings, but I could not help wonder, is it the same without physically meeting your colleagues, can you get to know a person well enough without actually meeting them. I got the same answer from Luca and Davor, “I know more about my current coworkers, than I used to know about people at the office before.” Despite what most think, remote work doesn’t stunt communication, it actually promotes it and encourages coworkers to get to know each other better.
OK, You Get to Travel, But Does It Get Lonely?
The idea behind remote work is location independence, which translates to more travel opportunities. Luca travels roughly around a ⅓ of his time and Davor has a new found freedom to move around anywhere. I also found out that Luca is one of those rare creatures that can sunbathe in the garden and actually get work done. For us mere mortals travel and work is still exciting, even if it means working inside and then hitting the beach.
The other side of the coin, is sitting at home alone, can it get lonely? Davor, “never gets lonely working from home”, whereas Luca, “prefers going out and working from coffee houses or lounges”. If you are like Davor, staying at home is not a problem, but if you are like Luca, you can always choose to work surrounded by people in coffee shops. One thing that is consistent, snacking can get the better of you, stay away from the fridge if you are at home working.
Your Career in Your Hands
Working remotely means you are more in charge of your own time and in turn your career. With more control also comes more responsibility, explains Davor, but overall working remotely means being able to fully use your time. Luca agrees, “being able to fully organise my day makes me 100 times more productive than before”. Remote work does not restrict you in any way, no meetings and structured work hours, which means that your career is literally in your hands. In this situation it’s good to learn control and not get overworked, “I learned how to work the right amount of time”, says Luca. Davor explains the perks by showing us how he changes around his work hours, “sometimes, I’ll start working early in the morning, take short breaks every 2 hours, but keep working until late in the evening. Sometimes, I’ll work 4 hours in the morning, take a long break and then finish my work at 1 am.”
The mains things I learned from talking to the Automattic guys is that remote work is more freedom, more responsibility, more travel, more flexibility, more chaos and more snacking. It seems that people in the 18th Century knew a thing or two about efficient work, but lucky for us we have some additional perks that technology has brought along the way. This article if anything should debunk the myth that remote work is easy, and involves people sitting around at home in their bathrobes, as well as prove that communication and understanding can be achieved online between colleagues.
To answer the question, yes I think that the office today is having an identity crisis, and like with most things the past is back in fashion.
Thank you Luca and Davor for sharing your stories with us.
Part 2 is out and talking about why we at ManageWP choose office work.