Automattic has been a fully distributed company from day one: it allows us to hire globally, it’s efficient, and it’s sustainable. We believe it’s the future of work. Because open source is a core principle of our company, we’re sharing what we’ve learned about remote work over on Distributed.blog. At Automattic, we use a variety of tools to communicate effectively and keep our business running smoothly, including P2s (internal blogs running the P2 theme for WordPress) for asynchronous communication, Slack for more synchronous conversation, and Zoom for video meetings. Being remote doesn’t mean being disconnected.
We use these same tools to socialize. In a co-located workplace, social interactions happen frequently and naturally: a quick conversation about weekend plans around the coffee maker, a few colleagues grabbing lunch together in the break room, a simple wave “hello” as a teammate walks by. These interactions build and strengthen the collegial relationships that we all need to feel good about logging on every day and to do our best work.
With Automatticians all working remotely around the world, we’ve had to be intentional about encouraging social bonds. Whereas some initiatives are company-sponsored, most are completely led by individual Automatticians. There’s always room for experimentation to find out what works well. Below are some of the ways we promote social communication and foster stronger relationships among coworkers.
Connectomattic brings together colleagues — and sometimes their family members — for hosted Zoom calls based on shared interests and experiences. Anyone is able to propose an activity as an individual post on an internal P2, and have it added to the events calendar. So far, activities have included:
- Adult Coloring: Using crayons, markers, colored pencils, or whatever to color companionably with colleagues.
- Chair Yoga: Modified yoga poses, perfect for when sitting in a chair on a Zoom call.
- The Tot Mess: Where toddlers of Automatticians run the show (and tell).
- Open Mic Night: Where we take turns holding the mic and performing music, poetry, spoken word, etc.
- Meditation: An opportunity for everyone to close their eyes and meditate together over Zoom.
- Baking: Working from the same recipe, prepare a delicious treat together on a Zoom hangout.
- Book Club: Take the time to read chapters offline, and then have discussions with one another live on Zoom.
- Virtual Dog Park: Here, the canines get some time in the spotlight, by making them the stars of the Zoom hangout.
- DJ Dance Party: Automatticians dropping the beat with their colleagues dancing at home.
A8C Lifechat & Donuts
Both A8C Lifechat and Donuts use the Donut app for Slack, which randomly pairs off Automatticians in a particular Slack channel at specified intervals. When Donut pairs coworkers, they reach out to one another and set up a time to chat, usually in a Zoom hangout or an asynchronous text conversation through Slack. Conversation can focus on, well, life, or more specific topics related to the Slack channel you share (e.g., discussing what it’s like to be LGBTQ+ in your area of the world, if you’ve joined the Queeromattic Donut). It’s a great way for people to get to know a colleague they might not otherwise interact with.
Fireside Chats bridge our professional and social sides. They’re division-wide calls hosted on Zoom, and although they are work-related, attendance is not required. Fireside Chats are meant to be experiential, and to ensure people feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly. They aren’t recorded the way more formal meetings are (e.g., all-company town halls, project discussions, or division AMAs). Topics discussed during Fireside Chats can include company and/or division goals, brainstorming new ideas to tackle current challenges, and anything else division leads wish to talk about.
People Lab Series
The People Lab is a monthly Zoom gathering, organized by Automattic’s HR team, where speakers present anything HR or Diversity and Inclusion-related. Presenters are both internal Automatticians and external speakers brought in to discuss their area of expertise. Past episodes in the series have included responsive design, accessibility, navigating illness and disability at work, unconscious bias, conflict de-escalation in text communication, and dozens more.
These are exactly what they sound like: two or more colleagues, working at the same time, on a call. They’re typically impromptu Zoom hangout sessions, where Automatticians are focused on their individual work and chatting as they feel like. The goal is for people to feel as though they’re working at a large desk together, to combat feelings of loneliness at work.
This is when Automatticians come together with their beverage of choice, and hang out through Zoom with the sole intention of being social. Tea, coffee, beer, soylent, a crisp rosé — it’s a completely informal hangout where everyone’s welcome.
In addition to our team and project-focused P2s and Slack channels, we have water cooler versions for talking about shared interests, experiences, and topics. There are places to talk about home ownership and projects around the house, explain what your furry friends are up to or to show off how cute they are, discuss the latest in video games and your high scores, share that new song you’ve been composing or practicing, and lots more (89 P2s and countless additional Slack channels!). There’s something for everyone, and if there’s not, anyone can start a new one!
This is a wonderful initiative that truly captures the essence of the global community at Automattic: Someone picks up a postcard from their local area and sends it to a fellow Automattician. Who doesn’t like to get actual, non-junk mail? The extra care that goes into a thoughtful note in an actual mailbox creates unprecedented warm fuzzies.
Holiday Gift Exchange
Automatticians organize an opt-in gift exchange program during the end-of-year holiday season. Each person participating is assigned a colleague at random to surprise with a delivered present, spending no more than $25 USD, and they’ll get their own secret gift from someone else. It helps colleagues learn more about one another — after all, you need to do a little research to find the perfect gift!