The Magic of Meetups

One of the huge perks with my job at Automattic (to me) is the ability to travel to interesting and sometimes far-flung destinations to meet up with other Automatticians.

Perhaps there’s something about getting together face to face with people I interact with on a daily basis at home but don’t actually see, or maybe it’s being in a foreign locale, or maybe it’s just that I genuinely enjoy being in the company of my co-workers and teammates, but when we get together, it feels like part family reunion, part frat party. Even though we do work on these trips, it never feels like work. Which is amazing.

I try to describe how this feels to other people and I don’t know that I can really capture it. For me, the feeling starts before we even get to our final destination. When we travel in for these meetups, our flights tend to converge on airport hubs across the world, which still seems a bit surreal to me, the unseasoned traveler.

Often, a little group of 3 or 5 of us or so get off of our individual flights and find each other at a gate in Atlanta or Heathrow or Amsterdam or New York. When that happens, it’s a weird feeling of “Hey! What are you doing here?” and “OMG, I’m so happy to see you!” Hugs and smiles all around. For me, that’s when I start to feel that things are real. I’m with people I know going to meet more people I know and it’s going to be GREAT!

I tell people stories of my travels and to them, maybe it sounds something like, “Oh, yeah, no biggie…I met up with some co-workers in [fill in the foreign airport name here] and then we went on to [fill in other foreign airport name here]. All in a day’s work {stifle yawn here}.”

But in reality, it’s so bizarre and amazing to me, still, the way this all works. Maybe one day, the magic will wear off and it will feel normal or routine, but I hope not. I can’t even describe the joy when I’m in a different city or country waiting for a flight and I see a familiar face and even better, it belongs to someone I like. And I know that soon, I’ll see the rest of my team – more faces belonging to people that I genuinely like to hang out with. 🙂

I was chatting with my husband about this whole meetup thing just yesterday and he said that he thinks that I actually know my co-workers better than he knows his – and he spends 45+ hours a week with them in an office whereas I only see mine every few months. I think he’s right.

Why is that?

There’s something immersive about traveling with people and spending basically all day (often 7am to 1 or 2am) with them for a week. You learn a lot about people’s personalities, quirks, interests, and viewpoints when you spend that much time with them and I think it makes our day-to-day interactions after we all go back home so much richer.

You also learn a lot about people when you remove the work component and do something that’s purely social. For example, in Cyprus when we went on a beach walk that turned into an impromptu mountain climb, I was unprepared since I wore sandals. One of my co-workers offered to take off his shoes and toss them down to me so that I could climb up. Another one came back down the mountain to show me and another person an easier path up. Such kindness! Or in Italy, when one of our teammates arrived without his luggage and all of us offered to give him bits and pieces of what we had – clothes, toiletries, etc. We were all just so happy that he finally made it after a horrific travel experience and I hope that our hugs and joy at seeing him there helped make up – even just a little – for the rough journey he endured to get there. Just watching people order their meal at a restaurant or aim their camera and look to see what they found interesting – you can learn a lot about people just by observing and spending time with them out in the world.

We’ve brought on several new team members since our last meetup in Cyprus in January and although I’ve been interacting with them over tools like Skype and IRC and Google Hangouts, those are no substitute for hanging out in person.

Since we returned from Italy, I can hear each of their voices in my head when they type something in a chat channel and I can anticipate their reaction to jokes, questions, and other things based on their personalities.

So, some people may ask, if being together in person is so much better, wouldn’t it be better if you did it all the time? Short answer: no.

You see, many of us are introverts. Sure, we have extrovert tendencies in that we like to socialize with other people, but at the end of the day, I’m sure that 98% of us are super-happy to head back to our hotel room alone where we can get the solitude we need to recharge.

Working from home for most of us is a boon for that reason. We still interact with people – and often a lot more than folks who are in the same physical location do – but we can step out of the social fray if we need.

Speaking of working from home, that’s another reason why I don’t see Automatticians ever working from a single location (or even a handful of locations). We all live literally across the globe so the logistics of centralizing work spaces would be impossible.

Some of my friends have said fine, we understand that you need to meet in person sometimes, but why Italy? Or Cyprus for that matter? It sounds like you guys just pick some exotic location because…well, because you can.

Well, yes and no. It’s true we can literally go just about anywhere we want but depending on the location, it’s a bit less exotic for many of my teammates than it was for me.

About half of my team lives in Europe, so a trip to Italy (or Cyprus) for them, I imagine, is like a trip from Florida to NY for me. Nice, but not very far or very “exotic”. In fact, a few of them have expressed interest in going somewhere in the US or not in Europe for that exact reason – they want to go somewhere far away/where they can have that “I’m in a totally foreign environment” feeling.

In terms of logistics, since we all live in so many places, a 16-hour flight for me is a 2 to 3 hour jaunt for half of my team. Likewise when we meet up in Park City, Utah in September. For me, that should take maybe 5 to 7 hours with a layover but for my European counterparts, it might be 15 to 18 hours of travel. Exotic and far-flung for them – around the corner, relatively speaking, for me.

One of my co-workers wrote a great piece recently on the importance of remote worker meetups that really explains these last several points well – if you’re curious about why we travel and why we go where we go, give it a read.

And with that, I’m off to work on a few more posts with pictures on our Italy trip. Until next time, ciao!

3 thoughts on “The Magic of Meetups

  1. This is a great read! I’m so jealous- a remote worker who gets to participate in meet ups like that. Wonderful opportunity. I agree that the full-time spent periodically with fellow remote workers allows for a richer overall experience. For me, having a change to bond with the people I work with every day in Real Time on occasion makes it so much more worthwhile!


    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. 🙂 Working remotely is a great arrangement for me personally and I totally agree with your comment about the value in having an opportunity to bond with coworkers in person (going to fabulous places is just icing on the cake). Cheers!


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