I have had a lot of jobs. I started working full-time during the summer when I was 14 in the very odd family business of transistor fabrication. I also spent a few summers in the highly esteemed position of hospital kitchen lackey. When I was 19, I had the good judgement to prioritize partying above scholastic endeavors, and consequently dropped out of college. I have been working full-time ever since. Except for a year during my hippie phase when I stuck it to The Man by being an unwashed leaching bum. Take that, The Man!
I have had jobs that felt like indentured servitude. Jobs the weigh you down and crush your spirit, all the while screwing you with low pay and crappy benefits. Conversely, I have had jobs that shower you with gold bullion for doing hardly more than showing up for work. Ok, maybe not gold bullion, but you get the idea. I even spent a few years running my own software development company. And by “running” I mean running it into the ground so deeply in debt that it would never resurface. My shortest employment was with a telemarketing company for a total of 4 hours. I decided not to return after lunch on the first day because my reading of the sales shtick made an elderly woman on the phone cry.
I consider myself lucky to have worked in software development for the last 15 years. Liking what you do is a huge bonus, but I think it’s possible to be completely content with your job even if it’s not your hobby. 20 years ago when I ran the holy hell out of a box-making-machine to scrape a few extra bucks of performance bonus, I really did not give a crap about boxes per se, but I enjoyed the challenge of being the best box-making-machine operator I could be. I also enjoyed the challenge of leaving with the same amount of limbs I arrived with due to the overwhelming level of OSHA violations. The satisfaction of a job done right can be its own reward. But a few safety guards are nice too.
We all have different priorities for what is important in a job. Pay, hours, benefits, flexibility, not having to evade a noxious cloud created by a combination of the cleaning fluid in your mop bucket with a vapor leak from an atmospherically controlled wafer oven at a transistor factory. Surely I’m not the only one that has happened to? For me there is a simple metric that goes a long way to pushing a job from the “why must I endure this monotony of pointless existence” category to the “it’s not that bad” bucket. Bathroom cleanliness. Just kidding, it’s the people you work with (but who doesn’t like a clean bathroom?).
For me, the best job in the world is the one with the best people. I have a low tolerance for assholery. I don’t do drama. Unchecked egos make me wretch. Even disaffection gets my panties in a bunch. Maybe this is one of the reasons I like working from home – the additional layer insulating me from a potential personality conflict. Maybe it’s just my aversion to pants. And haircuts. And showering. I’m not suggesting work should be some sickly sweet love-fest, but working along-side motivated and friendly co-workers makes whatever you are doing inherently more enjoyable. Unless of course your arm gets ripped off by a box-making-machine.
I live in the future. My work environment is contained within a computer screen, and I can put that screen anywhere I want. I can have important discussions with co-workers while I treat myself for a foot fungus, and unless they read this blog they would be none the wiser. I don’t have to shower, change my clothes, or ever leave the house, and I often don’t. It’s heavenly. How can it be that I have found myself in such a wonderful, albeit unsanitary, futuristic world? Because I work for Automattic, and we do remote work right.
Opinions about working from home are all over the map — for every horror story you can find a matching anecdote of glowing praise. Some big tech companies have recently reduced or even eliminated remote positions, citing the need for more face time and in-person collaboration. My experience after six months working remotely is the exact opposite. I feel a level of involvement that surpasses that of normal drag-your-ass-into-the office work. Not only with the projects I’m working on, but socially as well. It’s not the same as hanging around the proverbial water cooler gabbing with coworkers, but in the important ways it’s actually not that different.
A big reason working remotely at Automattic is successful is because we are completely distributed. Everyone is a remote employee. This levels the playing field. Work-from-home folks are not missing out on some perceived interaction that only physical proximity to a central office can supposedly provide. At any given time teams may be meeting up at a company get-together or a WordCamp event, and a handful of people make their way into our San Francisco office space on an irregular basis, but those are the exceptions. Our culture is based around being a team of remote employees scattered across the globe. The way we communicate and interact works because it is built on that premise.
Another thing that makes being a remote worker here so effective is that a lot of effort (and expense) is put into doing periodic “meet-ups”. I have had the pleasure of attending two meet-ups since I started: a smaller get together focused on growth techniques earlier in the year; and the big company-wide meeting about a month ago. The company meet-up brings every employee, from over thirty-eight countries (and counting!) together for seven days of work and fun. I have never met so many interesting people in such a short period of time in my life. It was exhausting, overwhelming, and for someone who is not exactly a social butterfly, a bit frightening. After recovering from a meet-up it’s hard not to feel newly energized and inspired. As much as I enjoy the solitude of working from home, I can honestly say I am looking forward to the next time we get together.
There is no secret sauce to providing cohesion to a diverse group of remote employees. Success is less about the tools you use, and more about the way you use them. Making it easy to collaborate on work objectives is not enough. Our environment makes it easy to collaborate on anything. Read a great book lately? Played a cool game? Found a funny cat picture? Chances are there is already a group of like-minded people interested in hearing what you have to share. Using company resources to share cat pictures might sound like the kind of thing a traditional business model would frown upon, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that makes the remote work experience at Automattic exceptional.
We are often hiring at Automattic, maybe you should find out for yourself what it’s like and come work with us!