Fixing flat tires together is a bonding experience, but …

Next week is my customer support rotation week — it’s a required practice at Automattic since its very first days of operation. So yes, I’ll be the person on the other end of your live chat session or email support question working to help you solve your problems within one of our services at Automattic.

Automattic works super well as a distributed company culture, I believe, because of its annual customer support rotation policy. For a full week, every employee spends a week on the customer support lines.

One of our newer designers, Dezzie Garcia, wrote a fab post about her experience coming into Automattic:

All new hires at Automattic are required to spend three weeks as a Happiness Engineer, solving…basically anything one can create with a WordPress.com site. Plus anything that the phrase “systems thinking” adds to its scope.

Dezzie Garcia

The upside of the practice is that it gets us close to our customers. It’s great that we have a common experience across employees. But let me talk about the one downside of this practice that I’m currently working to correct internally. 

The downside for designers, however, is that it makes us fixate on the problems within the experience versus understanding the overall motive of the customer.

I liken it to fixing someone’s flat tire without asking them where they were originally intending to go as a destination. And why? Because it’s easy to forget that their goal isn’t to be using our service — their goal is to achieve some higher purpose rather than fix a microdetail for how a digital service works/behaves. 

And that’s especially important for designers because the instinct is to make the microdetail work perfectly. Or even making a larger detail work flawlessly.

Yet at the end of the day, it’s the perfect recipe for forgetting that the customer desired to make enough money to pay for rent that month. So making something boldface or having an image appear with a beautiful border isn’t going to be the make-or-break difference with the customer’s larger goals. OMG I forget this all the time because I love to tweak little things because it’s just so satisfying …

So the moral of the story is that distributed cultures that all do the same thing together is a key factor in creating cohesiveness. And it’s also important to add extra lessons around those customs to ensure that a design culture can takeaway the key learnable lessons — otherwise they can quickly get lost in the often disorienting ether of a remote work environment. Note that I haven’t figured this out yet, but that’s why I like to blog — to think aloud. —JM