Unexpected hitch of working in a distributed team

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

It has been about half a year after I became a freelance data scientist. Before my career change, I worked in a distributed team for more than five years. Today, I suddenly realized that working in a distributed team has a significant problem, inherent to its distributed, multinational, nature.

My team was always spread over multiple time zones. Sometimes, the time zone span was so broad, that we could never find a time slot where all the team members were ordinarily awake. Automattic, the company I used to work for, is a firm believer in asynchronous communication, but from time to time, you HAVE to meet over a Zoom/Slack/Whatever call. Since I wasn’t a manager, the number of live calls that I had to attend was kept to a minimum, and yet, I found myself at least twice a week in a 10 pm Zoom call. I don’t know what about you, but my brain keeps working for at least two outs after log off. Thus, twice a week, I would find myself going to bed after one o’clock at night. As a result, I was sleep deprived for the majority of the week.

Only now have I noticed the fact that my sleep has improved so much after the career change. I know that people who work in “colocated” teams also find themselves in late night phone calls, but working in a distributed group means that you’ll do it regularly.

Book review: The Year Without Pants. WordPress.com and the future of work by Scott Berkun

TL;DR Interesting “history of work” book (definitely not “future of work”) with insights on transition-state organizations. Read it if history of work is your thing, or if you work in a small company that grows rapidly. 4.5/5 (due to the personal connection)

I got The Year Without Pants in 2014 as an onboarding present when I joined Automattic. The author, Scott Berkun, used to work as a manager at Microsoft (and maybe more places) before he quit and became a career of an adviser and an author. In 2011, the Automattic founder brought Scott to work at the company. About seventy people were working in the company back then and the company was growing rapidly. Automattic has just introduced a concept of teams, and the idea was that Scott will work as a team leader, consulting the management on how to deal with the transition.

Being an ex-Microsoft manager, Scott was fascinated by the small distributed company, and wrote a book on it, proclaiming that the way Automattic worked was “the future of work”.

The book was published in 2012. Today, in post-COVID 2020, nobody is surprised by people who don’t need to go to the office every day. Automattic has now more than 1,000 employees and has adopted many of the rituals big companies have, such as endless meetings, tedious coordination, name tags, and corporate speak.

Why, then, did I enjoy the book? First, for me, it was a pleasant “time travel.” I enjoyed reading about people I knew, teams I worked with, and practices I used to love or hate. Secondly, this book provides insights on a transition from a small group of like-thinkers to a formalized organization.