Working Remotely, Thinking Globally, and FOMO

You’ve heard of FOMO already, right?

This is for all of you folks at home who would never click that link to Wikipedia:

Fear of missing out or FoMO is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”.[2] This social angst [3] is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.[2] FoMO is also defined as a fear of regret,[4] which may lead to a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying event.[5] In other words, FoMO perpetuates the fear of having made the wrong decision on how to spend time, as “you can imagine how things could be different”.[4]

Working as a team lead at Automattic, on our flagship product, WordPress.com, is a wild experience for a lot of reasons.

Here’s a post about creating a leadership development program at Automattic.

Here’s a post about seeking genuine feedback from the folks on my team.

It’s easy to remember that Automattic is a fully distributed company, made up of folks who work on their own schedule in their own town (or any town really). The fact that we live and work all over the world is easier to miss: we do interact virtually 100% in English, and even people living in my time zone sometimes work an opposite schedule to me.

Seriously though, we’re absurdly global. Check out this map. If you zoom way into New York State (that’s in the upper right hand part of the US) you can even see my mug on there.

One of the interesting ways that this global distribution has manifested is in a flavor of professional FOMO. That may sound odd – and it is – but stick with me; I’m going to tell you a tale of my own foolishness and anxiety, and from it we’ll all learn a lesson and have a chuckle at how silly I am.

It’s a win for everyone. Almost everyone.

I’ve mentioned my friend and colleague Davide on this blog before, and he happens to feature prominently in this story. For the sake of this story you need to know that Davide lives in Europe. I hope that is sufficiently non-specific so as not to be rude to share.

To understand this story you’ll need some context: at Automattic we have two primary means of communication. We have synchronous (or live) communication, which we accomplish using Slack, a chat app (but so much more than a chat app, it’s like an API speed dating service).

We also have asynchronous communication, which we accomplish using a system of internal WordPress blogs running the P2 theme (technically its successor, O2, but we mostly still say P2) which has been discussed elsewhere.

A P2 instance is essentially a tiny Twitter with nested comments that is focused on a single team or project, or possibly a topic like ‘Video Games’ or ‘Company Announcements’ or ‘Cats’ (we are still a tech company after all).

For example, my team (Athens) has our own P2 where we post work stuff and feedback, but we also share a P2 with the other timezone-based Happiness team, Sparta, for bigger updates and social chatter, and also consume and engage with a yet broader all-Happiness P2.

The P2 system is in general how we communicate the things that have to stick – conversations in Slack tend to be easy to miss if you’re not there in the moment, and keeping up with literally hundreds of channels is an insane endeavor and is suboptimal for everyone involved.

We have an internal verbal meme of sorts – “P2 it!” – which means exactly what you think it means; “Take this conversation and post it on the appropriate P2, so the 399 Automatticians who aren’t here right now can also partake in its value.”

My day, like so many other Automatticians, begins with a quick check in Slack to ensure I haven’t missed any direct messages or uses of my alert words (as of today: saratoga, espresso & crossfit), then I shift gears and read back through the P2s that I enjoy or find consistently germane to me and my work.

You should understand that the P2s that I enjoy and find germane to my work have a very serious overlap with the P2s that Davide enjoys and finds germane. Today, this isn’t a problem, and is actually quite nice!

Not long ago, however, it was a source of great consternation for me – when I did my initial run through my P2s, it seemed as though he were everywhere and posting everything. He seemed insanely prolific, commenting here and posting a study there, and I found myself suddenly feeling as though I was failing to communicate sufficiently, that I was somehow failing in my duties as a productive member of the company.

You see, when I was just getting around to starting my day, Davide had already had almost an entire productive day behind him; he had been on a roll for five or six hours by the time I saw the products of his labor – so of course I felt like I was behind.

was behind, in a literal temporal way – my 9AM occurred five or six hours after his 9AM!

It was not an artifact of a lack of hustle or insight on my part, it was simply my own perception – or, put less generously toward ol’ SAO, my lack of perception.

Do you see how FOMO fits in here?

By measuring myself against someone who had a six hour advantage on me, I’d forever be missing out on opportunities to communicate, to join in on conversations, to be a part of the important work.

Of course this seems ridiculous in retrospect – the entire point of P2s is to enable conversation asynchronously, to remove this anxiety altogether. But, yet, there it was.

Now I am able to better balance that understanding – the way that our company looks at any given moment is not a product of folks all sitting in one time zone, but rather one huge, roiling and ruckusing machine, with parts added and removed all the time, and trying to measure my own input against someone else’s, especially using a single-time-zone mindset, is a fool’s errand.

I do wonder if we have someone in Vancouver or Hawaii who logs on and shakes her head at my explosion of Posts the way I used to with Davide – if you’re out there, it’s OK, there’s another crop of folks coming up behind you, too 🙂

 

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