We had our first North American team meetup this year. We decided, as a company, that face to face communication is one of our top priorities and in addition to our yearly WooTrip we want to have at least one smaller get together. Not only did I get to meet new coworkers face to face, but we also got to work together, and attend UserConf, a conference all about customer support.
Face to Face Communication is Priceless
We are a 100% remote team which means that not a single person has to go into the office. This is one of the best parts of working for WooThemes because there are no distractions, we can work where we want, and we can work when we want. All of these make for a very productive and happy team.
While there are huge advantages to working remotely we do have a few extra hurdles to jump over; the biggest one is communication. There's so much context lost when you talk over instant messenger or email. I actually pegged one of my coworkers, Roy, as a quiet & shy person. He's actually a really big jokester who is incredibly personable, ambitious, and perceptive. I would have never learned that if I hadn't met him in person.
Analyze Your Work Together
After meeting the first night and getting dinner we spent the better part of two days working together. This gave us the rare opportunity to look over another persons shoulder while they do their job. This is the perfect opportunity to improve our own processes and understanding of the job. We got to learn silly things like how to lock your iPhone so it doesn't rotate (seriously Danny how did you not know that!?) to product demonstrations, and a documentation sprint.
Being in the presence of my coworkers I was far too excited to handle my normal daily ticket volume and there wasn't much personal growth by doing the everyday work. What I'll definitely recommend next time is to do a reduced daily load and spend the rest of the time working on small projects within the team. Or we could take turns sharing skills. We have so much knowledge and so many skills that we can teach each other we just have to prioritize that above the daily grind.
Break Out Of Your Usual Conference
The final day together we got to go to UserConf, a conference all about customer support. The best thing about UserConf is that it isn't technology or industry specific. We got to hear from some brilliant minds like Carolyn Kopprasch from Buffer, Simon Chan from Wunderlist, Chase Clemons from Basecamp and so many more.
The best part of the conference for me was that it was outside of WordPress world. I love WordPress a lot. It pays for my livelihood and I love participating in the community, attending WordCamps, volunteering at Happiness Bars, and speaking at WordCamps. Going to UserConf exposed me to brilliant people in customer service that I don't usually hear from. We were able to hear from other industry leaders who've gone through the same growing pains we're going through.
Some of my favorite take aways from the conference were:
The kings of the last age were sales and marketing; the kings of the next will be product and support.
– Richard White
You shouldn't have to be a hero. You should have everything ready to solve so that you just need to push a button.
– Matthew Patterson
In an emergency have one place where your customers can find all of the up to date information
– Carolyn Kopprash
Shared struggles breed friendships
– Ryan LaBarge
When customer service and product development don't get along then good feedback stops getting passed along to the developers.
– Brian McMullin
Support reps need to be themselves, empowered to make a difference, and be given time to develop new skills and find passion.
If you only go to conferences for your particular niche you're missing out. There are so many talented people that use the same abstract techniques that you do. You just need to step outside your comfort zone and find them.
So how was everything? Awesome. We learned a lot about each other so we can relate and empathize. We learned different ways to operate our job so we can work more efficiently. And we also learned the finer points of customer service from experts in the field. It was definitely a fun and worth while trip for me – and I think Woo too.