On today’s podcast, I’m excited to share with you my conversation with Cesar Abeid! Cesar is a Happiness Team Lead at Automattic - the folks behind Wordpress.com. It was fascinating learning about his processes and getting a sneak peek at the internal structure of Automattic.
Something for everything in this one, as Cesar has a diverse background (podcast host, engineer, project management professional) and therefore had insights and tips in many different areas. I found Automattic’s hiring process particularly interesting, as it is not one that I’ve heard of before (spoiler: they don’t actually talk to people they hire on a call until well into getting the job). Automattic is obviously doing something right, as they are one of the largest distributed teams around!
Interested in a job at Automattic? You should be. Check out their hiring page: https://automattic.com/work-with-us/
Also check out Cesar’s podcast Project Management for the Masses: https://pmforthemasses.com/
[00:00:00] Matt H: Hello everyone! My name is Matt Hollingsworth and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show! where we discuss everything to do with remote work with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening. The Remote Show! is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community for remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unit users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.
[00:00:27] My guest on today's show is Cesar Abeid. Cesar is a team lead for Automattic's Happiness Division and the team responsible for providing customer support for WordPress.com. Cesar has a background in and is a Certified Project Management Professional and is the author of Project Management for You: How to Turn Your Ideas Into Reality, Deliver on Promises, and Get Things Done. He is also the host of the Project Management for the Masses Podcast and works remotely for Automattic from his home in London, Ontario.
[00:00:54] Cesar, thanks so much for being on the podcast today. We really appreciate it.
[00:00:57] Cesar Abeid: Thanks, Matt. Thanks for inviting me.
[00:00:59] Matt H: Why don't we start by just giving our listeners a bit of a background about you and your role with Automattic? How did you get with Automattic, and what do you do now?
[00:01:08] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, there's a podcast involved in that story, so that's interesting. I went to engineering school. I have a degree in electrical engineering, but my dad has a very small family company that I worked in from, I don't know, like 11 years. In that job, I decided to do a podcast for the company.
[00:01:25] Matt H: Nice.
[00:01:25] Cesar Abeid: That was awesome. I just had a great time with that, and that led me in this path of new media, publishing, things like that. In my podcasting circles, I had a friend who was also a podcaster. He broadcasted about WordPress, and he was a developer, a website developer. We became really good friends. Then he, I think it was 2013, he actually took a job with Automattic and thought it was great. When it was my time to search for a new opportunity, I remembered him, and I connected with him, and said, "Hey, tell me about Automattic."
[00:01:58] At the time, it wasn't the obvious career choice for me. I was just intrigued with the lifestyle of working from home, and I knew how happy he was working at Automattic. I was just curious. But then the more I looked into the opportunity, the more it appealed to me. Then I applied, I think it was 2015 that I applied, and I was hired in early 2016.
[00:02:18] Matt H: Wow.
[00:02:19] Cesar Abeid: That's the short version of it.
[00:02:22] Matt H: It's interesting that you started with podcasting, then you got into your other career. Do you have a podcast outside of Automattic as well?
[00:02:29] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, I used to do it about every week, but it hasn't been so frequent now. But it's still on. It's called the Project Management for the Masses.
[00:02:36] Matt H: Nice.
[00:02:36] Cesar Abeid: Mostly for project managers, or for those trying to get into the industry and trying to do better.
[00:02:41] Matt H: Interesting, yeah. You're a pro then at podcasting, so I should be taking notes.
[00:02:45] Cesar Abeid: I don't know. That's the thing about podcasting. It's all so new, right?
[00:02:49] Matt H: True, true enough. Just going into your role with Automattic, your title there is what exactly?
[00:02:54] Cesar Abeid: I am one of the Happiness engineers, and I'm a team lead. Happiness is what we call customer support. It is our largest division within the company, and we are subdivided into teams. I'm the lead of one of the teams.
[00:03:11] Matt H: Nice. How many people would be in a team then?
[00:03:14] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. I think right now it's between 12 and 15, 16 people.
[00:03:21] Matt H: With that, so you mentioned that you got the job after having some connection with podcasting. Did you have anything, any management experience or experience in related areas, before getting onto Automattic, with the other company that you mentioned that you worked for?
[00:03:35] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. I was a project manager for a long time. I have a certification from Project Management Institute. It's called the Project Management Professional Certification. I had to write a test for that and study. I still have it, actually. You have to maintain it. Every three years, you have to go and do some paperwork, and anyway. That's what got me into that field of podcasting about this topic because I really enjoy talking about it, ended up writing a book on the topic.
[00:04:02] But the field of project management, especially the PMP certification, is more of a traditional project management approach. It's called Waterfall. These days, it's almost a bad word in the software industry. It's great for building bridges and skyscrapers and construction projects and things that are like that. But for software and application development, it's a bit rigid, a bit of an old-school approach to project management.
[00:04:30] Matt H: Interesting. With Happiness Team Lead then, so obviously I think it's intuitive why it's called "Happiness Team Lead". But is there anything specifically, that in terms of the customer support, that would make it happiness related? Or is there a metric that you use, that your team considers to be successful? Why is it called "Happiness Team Lead"?
[00:04:47] Cesar Abeid: Well, because we're the Happiness Department. There's something about happiness for our customers. So if they're unhappy with the product, right, with our services, then they come to live chat or they write us an email. Then it's our job to take that interaction with that customer and turn that into a positive or, if you will, engineer some happiness for the customer. The department that deals with that part, it's called Happiness. Within that, we have different teams. The managers for each of the teams, if you will, are called Happiness Team Leads.
[00:05:17] Matt H: Do you, as team leads, have some sort of metric that you use to dictate the happiness of your customers that reach out to you? Because I assume that if they're reaching out to you, they have either an issue or some feedback. And you have some sort of NPS score or something like that, that you use?
[00:05:32] Cesar Abeid: Yes. We have all sorts of different proxies for measuring. You can't really measure happiness directly, as you know. But there are different ways that we can get close to it. One of them is, after each interaction, the customer is invited to rate the interaction by good, not so good, or bad, which gives us an opportunity to reach out and follow up on the bad reviews.
[00:05:53] Then there's also a number. Are we keeping the queue under control, right? Is the customer waiting for a reply for a long time, for example? Or are they coming to live chat and not finding an available agent, for example? That's bad, so that's another one that we keep track of.
[00:06:10] Then there is also other things that are harder to relate to the support experience, but churn rates, renewal rates, and cancellations, and things like that. I'm always keeping an eye on that, making sure that our customers are happy. They're coming back to renew and things like that.
[00:06:26] Matt H: With that, is there any tool or process that you use, that might not be intuitive to other customer support people out there? Because I know that we have a lot of listeners that are involved in that end tech. Is there anything that you think that other teams maybe overlook, that might help them increase their, as you say, happiness level within their own customers?
[00:06:46] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, I think there's a couple of questions in there. One is about the tools we develop, right? We have developed WordPress.com and WooCommerce and Jetpack and a few other products. We have in-house development. We also make use of WordPress because WordPress, as you might know, is a very flexible tool. It's not just for building just plain websites, but it's basically a database.
[00:07:07] Matt H: I see.
[00:07:07] Cesar Abeid: You can tweak it to do whatever you want. So a lot of our internal communication, how we keep track of things, is by using internal WordPress blogs. I don't even know how many we have, but it's in the hundreds. Each team, for example, in the company has their own internal blog that we use for communication, right? I make posts and people comment. All those have URLs that they can refer to when we're talking about different things in Slack, for example. That is a tool that's super flexible.
[00:07:35] I think sometimes you're out there looking for the perfect tool, and all you need is something simple that is flexible. Then you can make it do whatever you want it to do. That's the case with the WordPress blogs that we use. We call them P2's because they use the P2 theme, but it's basically a WordPress blog. It has posts and pages and comments and tags and widgets, things like that.
[00:07:57] Then we also developed a live chat tool internally. We used to use a third party, but we developed our own internal tool for that. We call it Happy Chat.
[00:08:08] Then we also have another tool that's fairly new as well that we developed. That is a scheduling tool. We have an interesting conundrum at Automattic because we always start from the principle that, as employees, we decide when we are available to work, right? It's all part of that distributed workforce, so we're not tied to a 9:00 to 5:00. But, at the same time, we're telling our customers that we offer 24/7 live chat support. Well, we're seeing is, on one hand, we're saying, "Hey, employees, you can work when you want." Then we're telling our customers, "Hey, we can help you whenever you want." So that's a problem that's not trivial. So we developed this internal tool. It's a scheduling tool that tries to combine these two maxims, so we use that as well.
[00:08:55] Tools, it's always like ... Yeah, I always think about it this way first. Think about the system that you want to create. What is important to you? What's the culture? What's the creed of your organization? Then go out and look for tools that will fit it, rather than the other way around, if that makes sense.
[00:09:12] Matt H: It does, yeah. I'd like to get into that a little bit as well because I noticed, that just from my own research, that Automattic has a pretty unique and interesting mission statement. I think it's what you call it. And something that's important to the team itself and the company itself, so I think that's something we should get into.
[00:09:29] You mentioned something there as well, which is that you let your employees pick when they want to work. Then you also have the conundrum, as you said, about 24-hour live chat support. Was that something that your Happiness Team Leads came together on, and made this decision on, to allow for your employees to work when they wanted? Or is there something that led you to that, after iterating on different processes and things like that? Or how did that come to be?
[00:09:54] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. This is part of Automattic's culture. I would like to say we focus on output versus input, right? In theory, it wouldn't Matter how many hours you put in, as long as the output you're producing is appropriate, right? That's something that the company started with, and it's part of the DNA, if you will, of Automattic. It's trickier for our group in Happiness because of that problem, right? We need to provide coverage for live chat, for example, and also take in its email support. We're still learning, but we've made great strides in the last couple of years into providing good coverage for our customers, while at the same time ensuring that there's still flexibility for our team.
[00:10:38] Matt H: Yeah, and it's probably ... And, again, correct me if I'm wrong. But it seems like you'd have to be so strict and diligent about timeframes for the customer support team as well. There's a tendency to allow for people to continue to work overtime when there's things that need to be done, especially with the 24-hour coverage. How does scheduling work for the Happiness Teams within Automattic?
[00:11:01] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. The way that it works, it starts always from the Happiness Engineer, the team member. We ask everybody to provide us with eight hours of availability on a given day. So you say it's April 15th, I can work from let's say 8:00 to noon, and then from 1:00 to 5:00. Everybody does that at the same time, and we have people in all time zones.
[00:11:24] Then we have a team of schedulers who will look at that. Then, of those eight hours, we will assign six hours to each Happiness Engineer out of those eight. Then we have some wiggle room there to move those six hours around as we see fit, right? By doing that, we can cover most of our needs.
[00:11:42] Then there's gonna be days, and usually weekends or Friday afternoons, things like that, that we might be short. Then we might ask people, "Hey, is anybody flexible to actually move down an hour on the Friday or whatever?" We provide coverage that way.
[00:11:57] But the first step is the team member telling us when they can work. Then we work with that.
[00:12:01] Matt H: That's interesting. Is that something you've had for a long time, or you came to that conclusion after some iterations in that?
[00:12:07] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, that's what we're doing right now. I think we've been doing that for, I don't know, a year and a half, two years maybe. Time flies. It's interesting because nobody else does it this way, right? So we feel like we're always trying to invent it. We can't look up to any other company because nobody else is doing it.
[00:12:23] Matt H: That's probably something that you have come across in a lot of different areas, about growing Automattic as well, especially when you've implemented for your team, specifically, the customer support for 24 hours. Then because you're such a large team, then problems pop up that, hey, maybe not everybody else has come across, like this one. So it's something you're leading the charge in at least, and that pops up all kinds of different problems. There's no playbook to follow.
[00:12:44] Cesar Abeid: Right, yeah, and I often say providing 24/7 support is really easy. Just tell people when to work, right? Doing that, we could solve that problem overnight. But that would go against our culture and how we choose to operate.
[00:12:57] Matt H: Clinging onto that a little bit more, is there any other unique things that you do related to that, like allowing your people to choose when they want to work? Is there anything else that you do that's specific to Automattic, that maybe has led to a higher retention rate for employees or things like that?
[00:13:12] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. That's one thing, flexibility. We have a open vacation policy, which I think used to be more unusual. I think other companies are doing that too now. So if you need some time off to take care of your family, you can have it. Good benefits. You can work from home. We provide all employees with working desk and chair and computer, that we replace the computer every 18 months. So it's a good setup. It's flexible.
[00:13:40] I work from home, and we homeschool. So I'm hearing my family all day. If they need to talk to me, they just come into the room here. I have lunch with my family, and it's really great.
[00:13:49] On the other side too is WordPress is such a well-liked brand. It's one of the most trusted brands in tech out there. It's very fulfilling to be a part of this team. I mean, the team is fantastic. It's a great product. It's just a happy bunch.
[00:14:07] Matt H: Yeah, I think that there's not many people out there that can say the same thing. I think that Automattic is doing something right in that regard.
[00:14:14] I'd like to talk a little bit, you mentioned hiring. And hiring, to me, in a remote team, especially one that's as big as Automattic, is always something that's interesting. I'd like to learn more about your hiring process. So is there anything ... You mentioned onboarding there for a few months, I think. Is there anything else that you do that's unique or unusual, that nobody else does, that leads to better culture within Automattic?
[00:14:38] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. The hiring process starts with the person applying for the job. Then they're offered an interview if the hiring team decides to move on with the application. Usually there's one or two interviews. Then, if we like it, then we offer the person a trial. That usually lasts about five weeks.
[00:15:00] During the trial, you get feedback. You basically are acting as a full-time employee for the most part, 99% full-time employee. So you can do pretty much everything that everybody else can do. You have access to everything. You get feedback during those five weeks, and you can reach out to people and ask questions. It's done that way.
[00:15:19] Then at the end of the five weeks, sometimes earlier, there is a decision that we make a recommendation for hire to HR. Then you have a final interview with HR. This is mostly for the Happiness group. That's the process that I'm most familiar with. Then, if that goes well, then you're offered a contract.
[00:15:40] The interesting part of that is that this entire process is done without ever meeting anybody face-to-face or even talking to people on the phone. It's all through Slack. Then once you're in your trial, then you get access to the P2 blogs and you can communicate that way.
[00:15:56] In my case, for example, I had my two interviews. I think I applied in October. I had an interview sometime in November, I think. Then I started trial. I think I started full-time in mid-January. It wasn't until first week of February, I think, that I actually talked to somebody.
[00:16:14] Matt H: Wow.
[00:16:16] Cesar Abeid: Because we communicate via text-based communication for the most part. By doing the hiring that way, I think it removes some of the biases that we might have, by how people look and sound, right? Because it doesn't really Matter for this job. If you can write well and you can communicate well and you can do the job, then I don't care where you live in the world. I think it's really cool to do it that way
[00:16:45] Also the way we communicate with our customers is text-based, so that takes care of that. I think that's unique. I don't know if anybody else is hiring that way. I know that some companies do trials or auditions; but to be all text-based, I think we're unique in that area.
[00:17:02] Matt H: Yeah. Then I think you're the first person that's mentioned that, on the show at least. That's definitely interesting. I know you mentioned to me, you're not quite as familiar with the other hiring process for other teams. But is that company-wide, or is that specific to the Happiness Team?
[00:17:15] Cesar Abeid: Company-wide, you have a trial, and you'll have a final interview. But as far as the length of the trial, I'm not sure if it's all, everybody's doing the five-week trial, or if it's shorter or longer. Yeah, but that's the gist of it. I think it's the same across the entire company.
[00:17:30] Matt H: That's interesting. You mentioned that communicating is obviously one of the biggest parts of the hiring process for you. Is there any test at all in terms of the hiring process? Or is there a project? Or is it just a Matter of seeing how they communicate in the regular communications of the job, and then seeing how well that goes, and then from there it's a yay or a nay thing?
[00:17:50] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, I think during the interview process, there's a small project that we ask people to complete, so we can gauge their knowledge of WordPress and the tools. Then once you're working pretty much full-time in your trial because it's, the nature of the work is replying to live chat and replying to email, there is a trail that you leave, right, of your communication. All the communication in the company, unless it's like a zone call, is searchable, right? So if I'm the trial lead for a trial, I can always go into the tools that we have, and search for the person, and find every single piece of communication that they have had during the trial. I can gauge, right? There is no test, per se, during the trial; but the whole thing is a test, in a way.
[00:18:33] Matt H: Right. I think you've answered this question already. But do you, or does the Automattic team, look at other companies that are hiring for similar positions, and see what they're up to, and then apply things that makes sense to them to yours? Or is it, "We're unique enough that we need to come up with our own process entirely. We don't really care what other companies are doing, or what they've seen success in." Which one more falls for you and for Automattic?
[00:18:59] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, no, we do look at other companies to see what they're doing, to see what the other ... how they're offering their positions, right, in the career pages and things like that. I can't think of a specific example that we borrowed from somebody else. But I know that we do look.
[00:19:13] We participate in Slack groups for distributed workers' support work. We go to conferences and things like that. We speak and we attend talks on different things. Yeah, we're always trying to learn from what other people are doing.
[00:19:27] Matt H: I want to go back to the culture aspect of it because you mentioned that you have a team that seems to love working for Automattic, and you have people that want to work for you. What part of the hiring process do you test for the right fit, in terms of personality, and in terms of whether they're gonna fit the mold of what you think Automattic stands for? Is there something specifically, or do you just watch them throughout the hiring process, gauge from there?
[00:19:52] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. We Automatticians, as we call ourselves, right? We are fast learners and independent workers, right? There's a couple things that we try to look at when considering applicants, and the trial shows that as well. Can they work alone and independent? We try to make as much information available as possible.
[00:20:13] Let's say, one question that comes up for support. Let's say they're trying to cancel their account, right? It happens. We have internal documentation on how to do that, right? I mean, different locations within the intranet of blogs and things like that. So instead of going into Slack and asking, "Hey, can somebody help me with this?" We want to know, "Okay, well, did you look somewhere? Did you take ... Have you tried something before you asked for help?" We try to see if the person has initiative and is creative and can come up with solutions without ... I'm not saying never ask for help. Of course, you need to ask for help if you need to. But if the information is already out there, then try that first. And if you didn't find it, then why not, right, things like that.
[00:20:57] Then you, throughout the trial, we want to also see that the person is progressing, right? They're being more efficient, they're learning, and they're sharing what they're learning.
[00:21:06] That is what I would call fit. Can you do the work, and do you learn fast, and do you grow? Do you respond well to feedback? Things like that. A lot of companies rely on an interview to find that out. We just watch people actually do the job and see how they do it.
[00:21:24] Matt H: Right. Do you hire, specifically, people that have worked remotely before, or is that something that you're comfortable with teaching people as they come on?
[00:21:32] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, if they worked remotely before, that's definitely a plus. But it's not a showstopper if they haven't. I hadn't worked remotely before I started here. It's a little plus if you have, but it doesn't really affect much.
[00:21:44] Matt H: Right. Speaking of remote work, is there anything outside of the internal tools that you use? I know you mentioned that sometimes simpler is better. But is there a thing that you do during the day that you don't skip on, or is there something that you found to be more productive working from home?
[00:22:02] Cesar Abeid: Well, when you're working from home, you just you have to be very smart about being efficient for your time and not being distracted, right? If you are working support, let's say if you are working six hours a day in support, that's a bit easier. Because if, let's say you're hearing live chat for two hours straight and you're getting two, three chats at a time from different customers, then you have to be efficient, right? Because it's like the water hose is just spewing out. So you gotta get on it.
[00:22:28] But during the times when you're not doing that type of work that's highly reactive, then you need to develop your own systems for keeping track of things and ensuring that you are efficient.
[00:22:39] I'm a big follower of the GTD Method from David Allen, Getting Things Done. I use that a lot. My role is more like a manager lead role, so I don't do as much direct support as the folks on my team. A lot of my work is more undefined, which sounds great. But it's also difficult because you have to be good with your time. Otherwise, things just pile up and get out of control. So I use GTD. I use it for my task management.
[00:23:08] I use OmniFocus, which is a task management tool for the Mac, and iOS. You have to develop your own system when you're working remotely or distributed because it's really easy to just get distracted, and just go on social media, or answer the phone, or whatever, right?
[00:23:25] I find that what works best for me is to spend an hour, maybe 45 minutes in the morning before 9:00, before things start to heat up, and just plan my day. See what the big rocks are that I need to handle that day. Just put them on the calendar, so I'll be sure to get them done. Also be available to my team if they need me, right? If I'm always heads down into some deep work task, then I'm not available to my team if they need help. That's also that aspect.
[00:23:53] Matt H: Something that I hear often from remote workers and managers of remote teams is that they really try to promote teamwork in specific areas of the day for people. This might be different for a customer support team, or Happiness Team I should say. But is there a time that you allow yourself to be available specifically, or do you allow your notifications to be turned on throughout the day so people can reach out as they want? What is your process around that?
[00:24:19] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, my default is being available for pings, maybe because of the role I'm in, right? One of the things I like to do for a team is remove blockers and be there for them if they need anything. So if I'm not there, if I'm taking too long to reply, that's a bit of a problem. My default is to be green, if you will, on Slack.
[00:24:40] But there'll be times when I need to really work on this project. I will just, ahead of time, try to plan. "Okay, from 2:00 to 3:00 PM today, I'm just gonna log out, get this done."
[00:24:51] It's more like a default is I'm available. Then if I have things that I need to really focus on, then I will go off.
[00:24:57] Matt H: Right. I think Automattic is the largest company that we've been able to learn about, here on the show. Is there a process or a framework for people that are in their upper management, that they distribute to the lower levels of an executive teams, in terms of remote work and best practices and how they see success on a remote team? Is that company-wide? How do you distribute that sort of information in terms of best practices?
[00:25:23] Cesar Abeid: That's a good question. I don't think we have a standard like that. What we do have is we have a very strong culture of feedback and sharing. For example, if I know somebody on my team is really doing really well with managing their time because they tried this or that, what I will do is, okay now, I encourage them to write a post about it. Depending on the nature of the post, it would go on this or that blog, based on the viewership.
[00:25:49] There's a lot of folks sharing their setups and discussing that. We probably have more Slack channels than we have employees. There's a channel for everything. I'm sure there's a channel for work setup; I'm just not in it. More like an organic thing, rather than coming from the top.
[00:26:08] Because we have folks who travel full-time. We have folks who work from RVs, they're just constantly on the go. People who fly all the time and travel. People who work from home. People who work always from WeWork locations, for example. It's not one size fits all, right?
[00:26:27] Matt H: Speaking of that a little bit. Again, I think this is unique to Automattic because of your size. What has been the biggest issue, biggest problem, in terms of working remotely in such a large team? Is there anything that you've done to get around those issues? I'd be interested to hear from your perspective what the biggest problem is, or has been for you working remotely. For you individually, and for your teams, and then as a company, if you can answer that.
[00:26:49] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. In my case, it really works for my lifestyle. What would happen from time to time is that, okay, I just need a change of scenery. So I will just go to a coffee shop. I find that every few weeks I need to go and spend a whole day there and get a bunch of things done. But that's just me.
[00:27:08] From talking to different people, I find that it's ... A distributed workplace like that, it's easy for folks who are quiet to move to the background. That sometimes can be a problem, right? As a team leader, to always start to encourage people to communicate, to share what they're doing, right? Because I know, in working closely with them, I know that they're working, and that they're doing things. But what they're doing might not be very visible. That is one pitfall. You don't want to disappear for a number of reasons, right?
[00:27:39] But, at the same time, I don't want to force everybody to be an extrovert like I am, because that's not cool. So how can you just be a more quiet type of person, maybe an introvert? How can you still show what you're doing, communicate, and be there, and be seen, without being too much out of your comfort zone, right? That sort of problem doesn't exist in an office because people can just walk by the cubicle and see your face. Yeah, so there is that danger.
[00:28:04] Also getting out of the house and seeing people, again, I don't have that issue because I have a big family here. But a lot of folks who are single, and they live alone. So it's good to get out and go work somewhere, or go travel, go work from Costa Rica for a month. Stuff like that, so, yeah.
[00:28:23] Matt H: Is that something that you actively, as a manager, promote? Or do you highly encourage people to communicate when they wouldn't otherwise communicate like that? How do you deal with that as a manager?
[00:28:33] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. We can track communication. I have a one-on-one meeting with my team. At first, once a week; and then after they're onboarded, after a few months, biweekly. It's how I do it. Different team leads do it differently, but that's how we do it. I open up a bunch of links that I have here, and I can see the pattern of communication. We want to see a healthy dose of posts and comments. It's hard to measure that. But I can tell this person used to be very active, and now they're not. To me, it's an indicator that maybe we should talk about that.
[00:29:07] The other thing is encouraging people to share hacks and tips and things that they've learned, the things that they're good at. There is a tendency in the big ... especially in big support teams like that, for folks to feel like, "Oh, they're just one person in this huge sea of people." But I believe that everybody has strengths. The only way that you can develop them is by sharing them, flexing those muscles, right?
[00:29:30] If I notice that someone is really good at this one particular topic of support that we provide, let's say domains or CSS, right, things like that, that we help users with, then I'll try to encourage them. "Hey, it's been awhile since our last post, and that post was really good. How about maybe you can write a post about this topic here, since you're doing so well." That kills a lot of birds, right, because you promote communication, encouraging people to work on their strengths, making them more visible, and they start to create a track record on that topic. Eventually, they can become a little bit of a mini-expert in that topic internally. Then people start pinging them for help, which draws them out to more things. So that's one of the things I do with the team to get more exposure.
[00:30:16] Matt H: That's interesting. Do you do anything specifically, as a manager, to make sure that people within the team are getting to know each other, outside of maybe work context? Because I think it's important to make sure that not all communication is work-related, and you get to know each other maybe a little bit on a higher level than just work. Is there anything that you do to promote that?
[00:30:38] Cesar Abeid: Yeah. This is more company-wide. We have the yearly Grand Meetup that we call it. That's for the entire company. We go away for a whole week, and we hang out for a week. This year's gonna be in Orlando.
[00:30:49] Then each team will have their own team meetup, usually in the spring, spring/summer. Our team is going to Montreal, now in May. That's a week that we do some work together, but also activities. We hang out at dinners and go out and play, things like that.
[00:31:07] Then if you're local, and you have a lot of Automatticians who are local to you, even if they're not in your team, then there'll be a local dinner. In my case, there's only one person in town here that works for Automattic. But Toronto is a two-hour drive, and there's a lot of people in that area. So we'll try to do a yearly Automattic dinner in Toronto for people who are local.
[00:31:27] Yeah, I think that's the extent of how we do hanging out with the coworkers outside of a work environment.
[00:31:34] Matt H: Right. You mentioned you're close to Toronto, is that right?
[00:31:37] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, I'm a two-hour drive. I'm right in between Toronto and Detroit.
[00:31:40] Matt H: Oh, interesting. Whereabouts specifically?
[00:31:42] Cesar Abeid: It's called London. London, Ontario, Canada.
[00:31:45] Matt H: We're over in Victoria, B.C.
[00:31:47] Cesar Abeid: Oh, all right.
[00:31:51] Matt H: (inaudible) probably we should have hooked up beforehand. Just going on that thread a little bit too, is there something within the Slack channel that ... Is the conversation light sometimes? Do you put on a certain level of humor and maybe use some gifts? Is that something that you actively promote as a manager as well?
[00:32:07] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, I'm big on the humor. As you know, gifts are very important. I think Slack told us that we are the company that has the most custom emojis of their entire customer base.
[00:32:18] Matt H: Wow, that is saying a lot. I know your time is valuable here, Cesar. I wanted to ask you a couple more closing questions, if that's okay. My first one here is actually, what is your favorite unplugged activity? What do you do outside of work that is your favorite thing to do?
[00:32:34] Cesar Abeid: My favorite unplugged activity would be to hang out with my family, hang out with my wife. Yeah, we're at that age that the kids are staying up later. I hardly get maybe half an hour to an hour to sit and chill and have a conversation with my partner, spouse, wife. So I really look forward to that. We have friends that live nearby, and I also have kids about the same age. So I really look forward to meeting with those folks as well. Let the kids play, and then we can have adult conversations. Yeah, I'm at that stage in life now that that's important.
[00:33:07] Matt H: Yeah, you're definitely not the only one. I think that's a great answer. I think it should be that way.
[00:33:12] My last question here for you is one that's a little bit more unique, I think, to the podcast. But what is your favorite advice that you've ever been given, so work or otherwise? You can take that in any direction you like.
[00:33:21] Cesar Abeid: Favorite advice that I've ever been given. Wow, that's a good one. I think is favorite advice is that, for the most part, we are in charge of the choices we make. The choices we make tend to dictate how our life turns out. That's one thing I like to tell my kids and tell the folks I have some influence on is, "Your life is a project, and you're the manager." That's the title I have for my podcast and for my book.
[00:33:49] Matt H: Nice.
[00:33:50] Cesar Abeid: That really, if you try to be good and make good decisions and plan for the future, plan ahead, and have principles, then life is a lot easier because you just know what to do when things get tough. That's probably my best advice.
[00:34:03] Matt H: That's a great one. Yeah, that's a great answer. All right. Is there anywhere that you want to send people to see more of what you're up to and the team? Where should people go to get to know you?
[00:34:13] Cesar Abeid: Yeah, so you can go to Automattic.com. That's Automattic with two T's. The second T is doubled. It's a pun on Matt's name, he's our CEO. So Automattic.com.
[00:34:24] Then there's a Work With Us page there, regarding our culture and what it's like to work here and also the positions that we have open right now. You can go to WordPress.com and see ... That's the product that we support.
[00:34:36] Then, personally, you can go to pmforthemasses.com. There's also cesarabeid.com. It's just a placeholder site to recap links for the different things that I do. And the link to the Project Management for You book that I wrote is projectmanagementforyou.com.
[00:34:51] Matt H: Very cool. We'll have all that information in the show notes on the site as well, so people can check that out. Cesar, thanks again for coming on the podcast. We really appreciate it.
[00:34:58] Cesar Abeid: Sounds good. Thanks for having me.
[00:34:59] Matt H: All right, thanks Cesar.
[00:35:04] Thanks so much, again, for listening to the show today. Be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. And if you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest and easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone that we should talk to, invites you have, or if you'd like to sponsor the show, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's Podcast at We Work Remotely dotcom. Thanks so much for listening, and we'll talk to you next time.