The company I work for, Automattic, is bleeding edge in a lot of ways – I’ve spoken about this before (here, here and here). Recently I moved into a Team Lead role, working with a team of Happiness Engineers. This new team, Athens, is also doing some really cool stuff – but this Post is about the Lead role.
For years, we’ve been working on democratizing publishing, and today more people have independent sites built on open source software than ever before in the history of the web. Now, we want to make it easy for anyone to sell online independently, without being locked into closed, centralized services — to enable freedom of livelihood along with freedom of expression.
It’s not a new idea: at a WordCamp a few years ago, someone stood up and asked me when we were going to make it as easy to create an online store as we’d made it to create a blog. Everyone applauded; there’s long been demand for better ecommerce functionality, but it’s been outside the scope of what Automattic could do well.
I’m excited to meet you, Woofolk! Welcome aboard!
Automattic is a fully distributed company; we all work from where ever we are, any flat surface with access to the internet. This comes with many benefits, as well as some curious downsides, but one of the most interesting things is the way that a fully global, exclusively-online working community interacts socially.
Like any group who spends time on the internet (ie in 2014, most groups) we are exposed to different memes and cultural references, and like any group, we create our own sort of tropes and references and inside jokes. One of these is “+t +d.”
“+t +d” on the most superficial level is an abbreviation of an abbreviation – you begin with “Totally, Definitely,” which is reduced to save time and increase it’s cool factor, to “Totes Def,” which of course is naturally shortened even further to “+t +d.”
Yes, there are those who see this as an affront against the English language, a further breakdown of the same sort as emoji and text message shorthand. There’s something to that – I can see it both ways. However, I think that looking at this piece of the Automattic Lexicon and seeing it only as a shorthand is missing a bigger piece of the message here.
“+t +d” represents to me not just a quick affirmation, but rather an aspirational view of the way that Automatticians (and I would suggest all remote workers) have to approach The Work. “+t +d” is our version of “Yes, and…” the cornerstone to all great improvisational comedy. It represents a necessary positivity that absolutely needs to be injected into all of our work, and all of our interactions.
Working with people almost exclusively through text means that you have to be generous; you have to read only what’s on the page, and make assumptions only when they are justified and work toward a goal. It’s very easy to slip into negativity and read a message into a sentence that simply isn’t there – but if you maintain a sense of positivity, an ingrained automatic response of “Totally, definitely,” things work. Things flow. Great stuff is created.
Working with distributed teams on cohesive products means that you have to make space for error, and for oversight, and for outright missteps. Your response to these things cannot be defensive or accusatory, but rather “+t +d, what can I do to help?” – “+t +d, how can we fix this?” – pushing for the positive, for the tide that lifts us all rather than the torpedo that sinks.
Rick Steves, reknowned travel author and someone I consider a role model, talks about the need for militant optimism in travel – this resonates with me when I think about The Work. I think that “+t +d” is our militant optimism. It’s not always easy, and I’ve certainly fallen victim to defensiveness and pointing of fingers – but I try to stay positive. We all do. And from that trying, we’re able to work together, from all around the world, to make things that simply did not exist before.
+t +d everybody.
October is looking to be a big month for tech workers in the Capital Region – in particular the week of the fifth – with the first Level Up Conference taking place on Wednesday and Thursday (10/8 – 10/9), and also the first ever WordCamp Saratoga taking place on Saturday (10/11), there is an awful lot of potential for professional education, personal networking and of course, beers with friends old and new.
For those of you who are running the full gauntlet, Sharatoga Coworking in downtown Saratoga is also offering a free co-working day in their Broadway shared office space for folks who will be in town for both events!
Hopefully this can grow into an annual Power Week for technology workers in our area – it’s great to be a part of a growing community with this kind of energy!
Full disclosure: I am speaking at LevelUp, organizing WordCamp, and am a founding member of Sharatoga. I do not have a financial interest in any of these events or organizations.
I am lucky in that I have some seriously smart coworkers – working at Automattic is a constant gut-check; the level of drive, creativity and ability are at a very high level. It would be exhausting if it weren’t so inspiring. We’re all lucky to work somewhere where we’re given time to work on side projects – in fact, some of these side projects take the form of project-based meetups, where a crew of Automatticians travel to a new city, and buckle down to work toward a goal.
I’m secondarily lucky that one of these project meetups came to a close at the end of last month, and some members of my squad came home with some very interesting insights. They had spent a week diving into the mountain of data that we have on feedback from our customers, looking for correlations. What was most closely associated with happy customers? How could we better calibrate ourselves to what makes our customers happy?
Admittedly, this is not the cleanest data set: the feedback mechanism leaves something to be desired, and that is certainly on our radar. But, this is the data that we have, and after some validation and cleaning up, they came to a surprising conclusion:
Reported User Happiness was most closely tied to the length of time between our first response, and resolution.
Why is this surprising? Because it turns out that the amount of time between a customer submitting a support request and when they first hear back from us is does not appear to be not all that impactful: falling around .1 points per day (on a 10-point scale.) That’s only a 1% loss per day.
When a customer has heard back from us, time passing has a much greater negative impact, going from an average of 8.8 after 24 hours to 8.0 in our largest queue. That negative impact is eight times greater than the same amount of wait time between their submission and our first response.
This data indicates to me that the idea of leveling the wait time across all tickets is not the right approach: it assumes a roughly even wait time sensitivity regardless of the ticket’s state. This does not seem to be the case: our customers do not mind a bit of a wait to hear back from us, but once they’ve heard – they want our full attention.
The question remains: how do we move forward with the lessons from April and the implications of this new data?