There are few times during the year when our family is not together. We are accustomed to being together so when one of us is gone for 2 or more days, it is out of the ordinary.
When I was hired for Automattic, I knew that part of the job included traveling a few times a year. Not only does the company fly everyone to the same place for a week for what is called the Grand Meetup, but teams also are expected to meet up together for team meetups every 9-10 months or so.
While this is generally seen as an amazing perk for working for Automattic (don’t get me wrong, it IS an amazing perk), this has been one of the most challenging aspects of my job. For us, it means Dad leaving home for a full week. It means Nicole is on her own taking care of the house and kids for a week on her own. Getting kids out of bed. Doing school. Getting to lessons, appointments, etc. Putting everyone to bed. Thankfully Grandma comes and is able to offer a great deal of help.
We Do Meetups
Team Meetups are organized by the team. It needs to fit within a monetary budget (per person, per day) and must be in a location that is reasonably located in relation to the members of the team. Of course, the location must have adequate space and internet to accommodate the group as well. As long as it is within these boundaries, teams can choose any location in the world to meet. Yes, including exotic locations such as Hawaii, Belize, Mexico.
Meetups allow teams who otherwise never spend time in the same physical location a chance to work together in real life, or as we abbreviate in our company, IRL. It allows the opportunity for team building and a chance to work on something together, whether it is a special project, or their regular work. Team Meetups are important for the health of a fully distributed company.
At the time of this post, my team has members spread across from the Eastern half of the US all the way to Eastern Europe. We come from Texas, Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wales, England, Scotland, France, Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. We found Barcelona to be a suitable location for our meetup.
In the weeks leading up to the meetup, I had some anxiety about traveling. This would be my first trip traveling to Europe on my own. My first time arriving in a foreign country and having to get a taxi to a city apartment in a foreign country. As departure time came closer, I did my research and learned what I would need to do. This helped me feel better about things.
I flew out of our local international airport Thursday at 10. I had layovers first in Washington DC, then New York City before. I then took off around 6pm from JFK airport for about an 8 hour flight to Barcelona, where I would land around 7am local time. From there, I’d catch a taxi to our city apartment. All went well. My 14 hours of travel was grueling and I arrived in time to clean up, and start our first day of work.
Each day we worked a normal work day. We would take a break to walk to lunch, then end the day walking to dinner. There were a few times during the week we had free time to explore the city. Two of the mornings, I woke up early and did some exploring on my own.
Staying connected with home
We paid for a week of free texting with our cell phone plan. This enabled Nicole and I to text with each other throughout the trip. We also found time each day to video chat over Facetime. It was quite a challenge to coordinate this with a 6 hour time difference, but we managed quite well.
I also kept a video record of my days and sent home video highlight videos of each of my days. This enabled the family to see all that I was doing and what it was like.
Inspired to travel more
While exploring the city, I always had my family in the back of my mind. While in Barcelona, I mentally explored all the angles of what it would look like for my family to stay a few weeks or months in Barcelona. During some of the down time, I researched places to stay, read about expats living in the area, even churches we might connect with for community. I found my imagination wandering away even further – imagining Nicole and I exploring the city without kids.
I opted to leave a day early and skip out on the free day for the team. The travel home was even more tiring. I was picked up at my apartment a bit before 7am on departure day and would not arrive home until around 8pm that night – moving 6 hours ahead in the process as I traveled from Europe back to the US. All in all, it was close to 18 hours of travel and left me worn out in all ways. But it was a journey with a great reward of home and family waiting at the end.
In the end, I had an amazing trip, connected in person with the friends I work with online everyday, made some amazing memories, experienced many personal “firsts”, and I continue to be grateful for a job that lets me be home with my family, and occasionally do scouting trips for future family travel (ha ha!)