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Working Remotely Isn’t Just About the Work

Being remote doesn’t mean being disconnected. At Automattic, we find different ways to socialize and connect.

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With COVID-19, the business world has come to a fork in the road: Down one route, shuttered offices. Down the other, companies embracing remote work, showing us how businesses can survive — and thrive! — with a fully remote workforce. And that includes fostering strong team bonds and employee relationships; just because there’s no physical break room or water cooler doesn’t mean companies can’t create opportunities for colleagues to connect.

Not all businesses can operate with remote employees, and the world’s frontline workers don’t have the luxury of dialing in from home. But for those companies that can function without a central office, there are myriad benefits to a distributed workforce. Automattic has always been fully distributed, and we’ve learned a lot about how to build a productive and happy remote workforce over the past 15 years. (CEO Matt Mullenweg is sharing many of these lessons and chatting with other folks running distributed companies on Distributed.blog and on the Distributed podcast.) Lots of companies find themselves suddenly switching to a remote work environment, and there’s a learning curve.

One of the things that can be seen as challenging is social interaction on the job, which plays a vital role in productivity and mental health. When employees build friendships and strong interpersonal relationships, they enjoy their work more and do a better job overall. And if you’re reading this, thinking you don’t know anyone whose work improves when they have strong social bonds among colleagues, you do now — it’s me! As an extrovert, I get energized when I’m able to see people and faces, especially in person, but also online. I’m a conversational learner, too, so ideas stick better in my brain when I have the chance to discuss and brainstorm topics in real time with teammates.

These days, it seems teleconferencing software is as commonplace as coffee shops in Seattle. “Zoom” has become part of our vocabulary, helping us to remain close with family and friends (albeit not physically), and it’s become fodder for marketing and advertising campaigns.

It’s also our preferred conference tool at Automattic, and we use it for a wide range of work gatherings, like town halls and team meetings. But that’s not all we use it for. Knowing that social communication is vital to ensuring a strong culture of camaraderie, we use Zoom to hang out together: We host open mic nights, break out our pencil crayons and color collectively, or do some chair yoga with one another. We’ll also grab a beverage of choice — coffee, beer, Soylent, tea, a crisp rosé — and join a happy hour.

In addition to maximizing online communication tools, we strengthen our collegial relationships offline. For example, we take advantage of the fact that we are distributed all over the world and send postcards to one another.

Whatever we do, we do it because we know that social connection is important. That we’re not going to work in the same physical office just means that we have to be more intentional about making the time, and carving out the (virtual) space, to connect with coworkers. To help inspire other businesses with newly distributed workforces, we’ve put together a resource that lists the many ways we communicate socially at Automattic. You can find it on this page.

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New from WordPress.com Courses: Podcasting for Beginners

WordPress.com Courses is excited to offer Podcasting for Beginners! Our first 100 customers will enjoy 50% off the subscription fee with the code PODCAST50.

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Would you like to learn how to create your own podcast or improve your existing podcast? WordPress.com Courses is excited to offer our new on-demand course, Podcasting for Beginners. We’ll help you get started, learn how to publish, and even how to use your podcast to make a living.  

Our courses are flexible. You can join, and learn at your own pace. But that’s just the start. Podcasting for Beginners is more than just a course —  it’s a community that gives you access to weekly Office Hours hosted by WordPress experts. A place where you can ask questions, share your progress, and pick up a few tips along the way. 

Lessons include step-by-step videos covering:

  • The Foundations (Curating your content and an editorial calendar.) 
  • Interviews (Recording, editing, and outreach.) 
  • Configuring Your Site (Integrating your podcast into your site and distributing it.) 
  • Growing Your Community (Engaging with listeners.) 
  • Making Money (Monetization basics and preparing for the future.) 

Let us take you from “What is podcasting?” to launching a podcast of your own.

Cost: A $99 annual subscription gives you unlimited access to course content, our online community, and virtual sessions.

Join now as our first 100 customers will enjoy 50% off the subscription fee with the code PODCAST50.

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Automattic Awarded Coveted Spot on Forbes Cloud 100 List

Automattic recognized in the definitive list of the Top 100 Private Cloud Companies in the World.

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Automattic — a leader in publishing and e-commerce software and the parent company behind the industry-leading brands WordPress.com, WooCommerce, WordPress VIP, Jetpack, Tumblr, and more — was awarded a coveted spot on the prestigious Forbes Cloud 100 list, the annual ranking of the world’s top private cloud companies. In partnership with Bessemer Venture Partners and Salesforce Ventures, the Forbes Cloud 100 recognizes standouts in tech’s hottest categories from disruptive startups to internet giants.

A pioneer in democratizing publishing and e-commerce, WordPress powers 38 percent of all websites globally, has 10x the content management market share of its nearest competitor, and is the platform of choice for tens of millions of websites around the world. 

WooCommerce, Automattic’s e-commerce solution, powers 30 percent of the top one million global e-commerce websites — allowing anyone to sell anything from anywhere. With WooCommerce, people can build exactly the business they want, with everything they need to run their store on a single platform. 

Automattic’s technology also powers the largest brands on the web. The WordPress VIP Platform is used by more than 250 enterprises, including Salesforce.com, Facebook, Microsoft, New York Times, Spotify, and CNN, to publish content to hundreds of millions of readers and users.  VIP’s purpose-built infrastructure delivers flexibility, security, and control with unrivaled performance and effortless scaling.

Automattic’s innovation is also attracting a growing and diverse array of platform interactions  —  e.g. 1.7 million new users registering each month across the Automattic ecosystem, 1.2 billion monthly unique visitors on WordPress.com, and 9 billion monthly page views on Tumblr. 

“We are incredibly proud to be included in the Forbes Cloud 100 list — for the fifth year in a row — among so many other noteworthy companies,” said Matt Mullenweg, CEO, Automattic. “Our passion is making the web a better place, and I credit the extraordinary results over the years to the talented and wonderful people — both inside and outside our organization — who bring the Automattic vision to life every day.”

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Toward zero: Reducing and offsetting our data center power emissions

Following the massive Australian bushfires earlier this year, I was motivated to act within my role as a data scientist at Automattic to help fight anthropogenic climate change. Together with colleagues from across the company, we formed an employee resource group focused on sustainability. We are pleased to announce that …

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Following the massive Australian bushfires earlier this year, I was motivated to act within my role as a data scientist at Automattic to help fight anthropogenic climate change. Together with colleagues from across the company, we formed an employee resource group focused on sustainability. We are pleased to announce that as a result of our efforts, Automattic now offsets data center power emissions produced from non-renewable sources. This means that the servers running WordPress.com, WordPress VIP, Tumblr, and other Automattic services contribute net zero carbon emissions to our shared atmosphere.

Measuring and offsetting emissions is not a trivial task. In the interest of transparency, this post provides more details on the decisions we made and answers questions that readers may have on the topic. We hope that this will benefit other organizations that are in a similar position to Automattic. We welcome feedback and are happy to answer any other questions you may have.

The decision: For 2020, we decided to purchase offsets from Simoshi via the United Nations’ offset platform. These offsets are produced by improving the efficiency of cooking stoves in Ugandan schools. Emission reductions are achieved by using less wood to cook the same amount of food. This project also has third-party certification from the Gold Standard, and it contributes to nine of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty, Quality Education, and Gender Equality. See the project page and the following video for more details:

Why did we choose this project? Anyone who’s tried to purchase offsets knows that it can be complicated. We don’t have in-house sustainability experts, so we relied on publicly-available information to better understand the topic. Resources we found useful include: Carbon Offset Guide, atmosfair, and Greenhouse Gas Protocol. As the price of offsets varies widely, we chose to follow Microsoft’s approach and set our own internal price of $15 per metric tonne of CO2e. Simoshi’s project stood out because it matches our budget, has a clear emission reduction mechanism, is certified by the United Nations and the Gold Standard, and has many benefits beyond emission reductions, which align with our company’s values.

What emissions do our offsets cover? Automattic has servers in many data centers around the world, operated by different providers. As we don’t control the data center providers’ choice of energy utilities, we treat the emissions from data center power use as being in Scope 3, i.e., as indirect emissions from our value chain. For each data center, we used publicly-available information from our providers to determine whether they’re powered by renewable resources. This led us to conclude that approximately half of our data center energy use is covered by renewables paid for by the data center providers. For the other data centers, we used our servers’ power consumption logs to get the estimated power used over a period of one year. We then multiplied these figures by 1.5 to obtain a conservative estimate that accounts for power usage effectiveness. Using a variety of resources on grid carbon intensity, such as those published by the American Environmental Protection Agency and the European Environment Agency, we converted these power use estimates to emission estimates. This gave us an overall figure of 1,850 tonnes of CO2e for 2020.

Why offset rather than reduce emissions? We are aware that offsetting is an imperfect solution. Ideally, we would source all our energy from renewables. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t even be possible to buy energy generated by burning fossil fuels. However, given the current reality, setting our own price on carbon and offsetting non-renewable data center emissions is a good temporary solution. This also gives us a financial incentive to work with providers and shift toward greener data centers. In fact, this sort of shift happened last year when we changed our main European data center to a provider that operates on 100% renewables. We hope to continue making such changes in coming years, i.e., reducing emissions where feasible and offsetting the rest.

Why aren’t we doing more? From watching the climate action space, it seems like every announcement is greeted with demands to do more. This is a positive thing — society should hold companies accountable for their actions. As a company, we believe that we can always do better: The opening sentence of our creed is “I will never stop learning”, and we know that we are “in a marathon, not a sprint.” It is our hope that as we learn more about the space and our impact, we will be able to take stronger climate action.

What are we planning to do next? Automattic is a fully-distributed company. This means that our employees aren’t required to commute to central offices, which leads to significant savings in carbon emissions. However, we historically relied on flying to in-person meetups a few times a year to foster collaboration and bonding. Since March 2020, all business travel has been suspended, and it is still unclear what travel will look like in the post-pandemic world. In any case, as an employee resource group, we are planning on quantifying our travel emissions, and advocating for reducing avoidable trips and offsetting emissions from trips that are deemed essential. One change that is already taking place is aligning more teams around fewer time zones. In addition to helping with synchronous collaboration and decreasing isolation, this will reduce the distance traveled per person once meetups resume. We will share more on other actions we take in the future — watch this space! We also welcome feedback from our customers, so please comment on this post or contact us to share your thoughts.

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