Noel Tock is the Chief Product Officer at Human Made, one of thirteen WordPress VIP agencies. We had an incredibly interesting chat with Noel, discussing open source platforms, the problems that come with being a digital nomad working for a distributed company, and the benefits of company retreats. Covering a range of topics from mental health to the importance of meeting your colleagues face-to-face, this is a jam-packed podcast that you don't want to miss!
George: Right. So, today we have Noel Tock on the Surf Office Show, a partner at Human Made, a WordPress VIP agency. And he also happens to be one of the first ever Surf Office guests, back when, I believe, we just had an office in a garage, right?
Noel: That’s correct. It was just a garage. I thought it was pretty amazing.
George: Well, I mean, it’s great to have you on the show, and obviously, you know, Surf Office has moved on quite a bit since then, and I know you have yourself too. So, why don’t we start with you telling us a bit more about your role at Human Made and what Human Made itself does?
Noel: Human Made is a top tier WordPress agency. So, we help large enterprise and big media scale up their WordPress installs, which is quite a bit different than, you know, just your regular WordPress install. Within the company – and we’re, I think, 50 now, we just hired our 50th employee – I run product. So, I’m the – from the – towards the outside, I’m the chief product officer. But we’re three partners, so there’s Tom, Joe, and I, and we’re there to basically set the vision of the company, but then also help enable everyone so that they’re able to do their job successfully.
George: Just for the benefit of our listeners, could we take a step back and you give us a quick crash course in what WordPress is?
Noel: WordPress is an open source project, or a piece of software, which has its home on WordPress.org, which is also where you find all the free plugins which made it successful in the first place. On the other hand, you have WordPress.com, and that’s run by another popular remote company called Automattic, and that’s a website builder using WordPress. Now, those guys compete with Squarespace and Wix, but they have a department dedicated to the enterprise, which is called WordPress VIP.
So, examples of websites hosted there are TechCrunch, USA Today, and then, you know, various News Corp properties. But it’s essentially, the majority of it, is a hosting platform. And as a service company, we’re a company that they reach out to and provide referrals to us for clients that are on their platform or seeking to be on their platform, which require custom development. So, if you see WordPress VIP as, you know, the host, we are one of 13 service partners which helps with the custom development.
George: And could you just expand on the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org for me, please?
Noel: Yeah. So, WordPress.org is the project. It’s the open source project. It’s where the community exists, it’s where people upload free plugins and things like that. And WordPress.com, it almost has a confusing name. So, imagine it being called, I don’t know, something else, WebsiteBuilder.com, or something like that. It’s a premium service. There’s a lot of the same people that work between those two properties.
So, Matt Mullenweg, who was one of the cofounders of WordPress, pretty much runs WordPress.org, I guess, to a large degree, but then is also in charge of Automattic, which is behind WordPress.com. So, there’s a lot of overlap between the two. I guess you could consider .org being the open source community, and .com being, you know, the for profit corporation that, you know, builds websites for money. But as soon as you download WordPress yourself and install it on your own server, that’s just your own installation of WordPress, and I think that’s the big selling point behind WordPress, right? It’s the idea of demarketizing publishing and that you’re not tied down to any specific platform.
So, if we want to compare it to, let’s say, Medium, which has had a lot of success, your content is, you know, depending on – I haven’t read through the full terms and conditions, but I believe Medium has the right to do a fair amount with your content. But if Medium goes away from one day to the next, you don’t really have that content hosted on that URL anymore, and it’s just kind of gone. So, WordPress is really there to help you own your content, but then also give you a lot of control in terms of how you want to customize it, display it, and so on, which is why it works well if, you know, someone wants to create a small recipe website, or if they want to get a bit larger and have an entire ecommerce platform on it, or, you know, think even larger than that and have an entire enterprise solution built on top of it.
George: So, would it be right to say that we’re seeing more and more companies adopt open source platforms?
Noel: I’d say that the difference is surely a lot of the user experience has come forward and has been put into the hands of people who actually own the content. So, I guess, in one way or another, websites have become very commoditized, and are just kind of a standard product. They’re not really that special anymore. The idea of platforms being built on top of website software is probably a lot more interesting today. So, something like WooCommerce, which sits on top of WordPress, but then, you know, sells a vast array of different plugins and tools, has become where a lot of the game has kind of gone, these sort of marketplace concepts. But for the majority of people who have a small business, by all means, like, they’re able to set up their own websites, and they’re still interacting with developers, but I guess the difference is that these developers are now trying to create more standalone tools and plugins that they sell at scale, as opposed to doing more custom development.
That doesn’t mean to say there isn’t custom design and development anymore, that’s the big part of the game, but if there was any sort of such shift, I guess, it’s that developers are increasingly looking to find scalable products and side projects to work on for that, you know, grand idea of passive income. And on the other side, small business owners are looking to be able to control more and more of their website.
George: It’s great that business owners are being given that control to determine their own route a lot more. What would you say is the core ethos at Human Made?
Noel: Core ethos? Wow. That’s a tough one. I’ve never been asked that!
George: Yeah, I like the big questions.
Noel: No, it’s a good question. But I’d say that, in general, we haven’t been set on one single vision per se, but rather have experimented a lot over the years. We do a lot of large scale enterprise work, you know, and that’s what our marketing shows. But we also contribute a lot to WordPress and open source as a whole, be it through, you know, actual, you know, commits to WordPress core, or volunteering our time towards, like, WordPress events.
We also experiment with different products, so we have a premium WordPress plugin, we experimented with Happytables, which is a website builder for restaurants and a SaaS.
We have Nomadbase. We’re doing events. So, I guess, one of the, I guess, driving sort of elements that has made Human Made what it is today has just been experimenting in a lot of different areas. Obviously, with a big tie in towards the themes that are important to us, which are open source and remote working.
George: Sure, yeah. I think that was going to be my next question, is that you’re obviously involved in quite a few different projects, like Nomadbase and Out of Office. And I was wondering if you could just sort of go into a bit more detail about them?
Noel: Yeah, for sure. So, Nomadbase was this idea I had. It actually started at Surf Office.
George: Oh, really?
Noel: Yeah, it was 4:00 in the morning, and I was – I don’t know, I had this crazy idea of, “What if you could go on – if you could give in a location on a map, and then it would show you, like, the nearest but best gym, the nearest but best groceries, coworking spaces, and all the kind of things you need in whatever new city, and that that would be rolling off checking data from other nomadic people, so that it was a bit more relevant?” But a year later, we still hadn’t really built anything, and a year after that, DNX came around in Berlin. That’s where we met Daphne too, who works with us now. She does a lot of the PMing on Nomadbase.
So, at this point, we’ve transitioned the whole thing into basically a nomad discovery tool, whereby if we’re both the same place – where are you now, by the way?
George: I’m currently in Bangkok.
Noel: Right, so, if you’re in Bangkok and I’m in Bangkok, then all the sudden, you know, you see a notification, “Hey, Noel has just arrived,” maybe from wherever, and the idea being that it connects nomads that are in the same place at the same time. So, not necessarily – or, rather, trying to avoid the entire question of, “Who’s in Bangkok right now?” And, you know, asking on Facebook, asking on Twitter, asking on, you know, hashtag #nomads, asking wherever, but rather being able to just launch the app and see, “Okay, there’s, like, seven other nomads that are in town right now, and I can chat with them now directly.” So, it’s really a hyperlocal chat made for nomads.
George: That’s cool, because, like, I guess you can probably agree with this, that being a nomad and a remote worker can sometimes be quite lonely, and you’ve got to be proactive with getting out there and meeting people, right? And I guess tools like that can really, really help with that?
Noel: That’s the idea. The core interaction that we want to be able to get to is that nomads that are either strangers, acquaintances, whatever, are able to discover that, “Hey, we’re in the same place. Let’s do something.” And that they actually end up doing something. So, we’ve already had, you know, quite a bit of success down in Bali. We’ve been playing with it in Ko Lanta. Are you going to Ko Lanta at all?
George: I’ve never been, and it’s one of the big regrets of mine, and I’m going to try and make it down there this trip. I’ve heard it’s lovely.
Noel: You should. It’s a one hour flight, so just go for it. James is a lovely guy down there, and he really runs a great coworking spot. But we’ve run it down there too. So, we’re going to try and open more and more cities up now, so that, obviously, more people have access to it. But it’s only open in four locations, so we’re definitely still in the beta phase of trying to figure out, “How do people use this thing? What are their experiences with it? Are they actually meeting in real life?” And so on and so forth.
George: Sure. Yeah, I think it’s a really good idea. I mean, you know, speaking to a lot of my friends, they want to work remote, but they talk about maybe not wanting to travel so much, and how they would miss that office lifestyle. And so, I think the big problem for them is, you know, how would they meet people? And I guess it’s a great tool just to be able to know who’s in the same situation around you, and that you never know what will come from it. I found one client, just from a café in India, having used the hashtag #nomad chat. So, it really is amazing, the opportunities that come about from just meeting people, like-minded people in the same city as you, wherever you are in the world.
Noel: Yeah. It definitely is that. And you said two things now which are quite interesting. One is, “Like-minded,” and the other one was, “In the same situation.” And I feel like Nomadbase is probably towards people who are in the same situation, in the sense that they’re not tourists, you know, they’re not just visiting for a couple of weeks and trying to do tourist attraction things all day long, but they’re also not locals, so they don’t live there.
They’re kind of caught in this grey area of, “I’m actually working, I’m just here. I happen to be physically here.” And being able to bring people together like that is, I think, very important, which is also why Nomadbase is inclusive. You know, we don’t have things like, “What’s your origin country? How old are you? What’s your – which gender do you identify with?” Whatever. We don’t ask any of those questions. So, really trying to leave it completely open, just so that the only common denominators are that people are nomadic or remote workers.
George: Yeah, and I think, really, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter, you know, what age you are or what sex you are, it’s, you know, if you’ve chosen to become a nomad, then it’s because, you know, you’re after some control over your own life and some freedom, I guess. And that’s the kind of connection you want to make with people. And I think, speaking to a lot of my friends, you know, it’s not always about the travelling for them. And I think some people associate being a nomad with having to live in a different city, but sometimes they want to have that freedom to still live in the same city they were born. But then again, how do you make those connections? So, I think that’s why something like Nomadbase is a great tool, you know?
Noel: By all means.
George: So, I mean, where does your biggest passion lie then, at the moment, in the projects you’re doing?
Noel: Oh, wow. That’s a big question. I’d probably say I have a couple of threads, rather than, you know, one big thing. I do like to bounce between different places. The biggest, I guess, just by time, is growing Human Made as a whole. You know, like I said, we’re almost – or, we’ve surpassed our 50th employee, we – I think we made eight hires in the last month, so quite a lot of people, one of which happens to be the cofounder of WordPress, you know, so very humbled by that and it’s great to be able to have that kind of, you know, experience on board.
But remote working as a whole is very challenging, you know, especially with a global company like this. So, if you create a distributed company with the goal of saving money, I think that’s a short-sighted decision. I mean, Slack doesn’t power down between certain hours and say, “Alright, everyone, it’s time to go home!” And, you know, working hours become blurred between time zones, chatting via text as opposed to face-to-face makes people very uncertain about the meaning behind what is said. So, I think what I’m saying is that remote working, left unchecked, can heighten the feeling of anxiety, or even imposter syndrome, that people go through. And at Human Made, we’re quite a flat organization, so people are comfortable about addressing these issues, publicly or privately, and trying to find solutions.
So, for me, growing Human Made and being cognizant of these challenges, these sort of growth challenges, is probably something that’s really top of mind in that regard. Does that make sense?
George: Yeah, 100%. I know that, obviously, once you switch to remote work and working with a distributed company, the whole work ethic just shifts. Like you say, you know, it’s communicating via Slack, and, you know, I think I was working with Surf Office for about six months before I’d even met any of the team.
Noel: Oh, that’s hilarious!
George: Yeah, it’s – actually, one client I’ve been working with for a year and a half now, and I’ve still never met him, and it is a completely different world. And I think you do have to be very, very honest with the team about what’s not working, what is working, especially when you’re on different time zones. You know, I think I’m about eight hours of the team of Surf Office now. So, it is challenging, and you are more accountable.
Noel: Oh, completely. I mean, if anything, remote working is a privilege, not only for the employee, but also for the employer, and that’s something that both sides need to work on and contribute to. And it’s not like, “Oh, we’re a remote company, we’re now, like, 100 people, so we’ve made it!” It’s something that’s like, “We’re 100 people, so the challenges we face are exponentially larger,” and it just means we need to spend more time making sure everyone, you know, feels like this is home, that they’re, like – that they really want to be able to have a great experience in that regard
George: Yeah, I think, like, the main aim of this podcast is to show people that distributed companies do work, and I think companies that aren’t distributed don’t really understand it. They think that once you’re distributed, you lose all culture and all productivity. But I’m sure, as you’ve seen, and what I know as well, as that it’s totally possible to have a company culture while working remotely. It’s -just a different culture. But it does still exist. And then, for me, working remotely, my productivity has gone up, compared to when I was in an office. I don’t know if you feel the same.
Noel: Yeah, I definitely feel the same in terms of productivity. I’d say I’m quite introverted. People usually don’t realize that, but for me, to do my best work, I like sitting in a room by myself and knocking out, like, four, five, six hours, whatever it is, before I power out. But the interesting thing is you’ve just arrive in Thailand now, and it’s an amazing opportunity, because, as you said, you’re eight hours ahead, which means that as soon as you wake up in the morning, there’s no one there to bother you. And I use the word, “Bother,” loosely, but you know what I mean? It’s that you can focus on your stuff and really only have to worry about getting into this sort of reactive mode of communication later on in the day.
So, you can have a good six hours to yourself, and then, later on in the day, open yourself up to the whole Slack convos and things like that and let go a bit. So, if anything, you’re able to structure your day a bit better.
George: Yeah, I mean, I, yeah, personally, I really enjoy it, because, like you say, I get up in the morning and I can work undistracted. I think I’m the same as you in that I prefer working from a hotel room. I haven’t been to many coworking spaces, and it’s not always my thing. And then, yeah, when everyone comes online later, that’s when I can join in, and it means that the company as a whole, like you say, it never just shuts off. It’s almost like it’s running 24 hours, because someone is always up doing something, and I think it’s quite a nice feeling to know that the company is constantly in motion, you know?
Noel: Oh, completely. I think it’s been challenging for me being down here in Australia, because, you know, in 2017, I said, “I’m going to slow down. My health is important to me.” Because I have accumulated a few injuries over the years, so just having, like, the cheapest office chair or, you know, Airbnb mattresses, are not always conducive to my wellbeing. But I’ve been here now for, I don’t know, six, seven weeks? And it’s almost a bit of, like, a different culture in a company, you know? It’s a – because, before, I was on a different time zone with different people, and now I’m on a completely different time zone that has other people.
So, in a way, you miss one group, but then are happy to be able to discover, hang out, and, you know, just interact with another group on a very casual level, because I think, if you’re – if I’m in a previous time zone, in a European one, there’s a small window in which you communicate with, like, Australia, so usually it’s just work stuff, whereas if you spend a whole day in this time zone, it becomes more casual, and it’s a different kind of relationship again. You know, I don’t know where it’s going and where it’s heading, these 24 hour companies, but it’s definitely interesting.
George: So, how have you found it in Australia? Because, obviously, that time zone can be quite a dramatic increase from Europe and then, obviously, the Americas. Has that been hard to manage?
Noel: Yeah, so, for me, it is hard to manage, because I have – the small product team that I have within Human Made, everyone else in that is currently in Japan, Italy, and Toronto, which one of us – if you take one of these time zones out of the equation, it makes it all okay. But if – because we’re all spread across the entire globe in that regard, it’s actually – there’s no humane time zone for calls. So, it’s challenging in that regard, but what I do appreciate about, you know, everybody that I work with, is that they also understand that, “Okay, this is a challenge that we can work on together,” so, you know, people are not hardliners about, like, “Alright, I’m getting up at – I’ll be in the office at 9:00 and I’m clocking out by 5:00, and that’s it. You have to schedule my meetings within that time.”
People are flexible, because they understand that there’s a bit of a, I guess, responsibility that comes with the freedom. So, certainly not forcing anyone to say, “Hey, you know, try to be on for this 9:00 in the evening call,” but, you know, they’re a lot more proactive in terms of – or a lot more receptive to the idea, because they understand that this is just a challenge that we face being this kind of company.
George: Sure. Yeah, I think what you said there is both a positive and a negative, in that, you know, you do have a lot more freedom, don’t you? And it’s great, you know? You pick your own working hours, and you pick where you want to work from. But, in the same breath, I personally have found it a lot harder to switch off now. I feel like I am always checking my work emails, Monday through to Sunday, and I’m not sure if you’ve had that problem too, but a lot of people I’ve spoken to do say that, that the freedom means that they feel like they can never switch off, which is one good thing about a 9:00 to 5:00, is that Saturday and Sunday is your off days, you know? So, I think trying to find that balance is so crucial, isn’t it?
Noel: Yeah, the balance is big. I mean, I find – I think about this a lot, about the things you just said, and it’s hard to judge, I guess, accurately, simply because I really, really enjoy doing what I do, so I’m going to spend a lot of time doing it no matter what. But then, on the flipside, I used to work in banking, so up until, like, 2010 or whatever, I was still in banking.
And there was one door at the bottom of the building to get into it that was keycard accessed and there was two armored doors to get through. And then, I’d get to my computer, I had to put a card in for my computer, I’d put in a – I don’t know how many passwords before I got to my email. But the productivity was amazing, right? Because you’re blocked from internet, you’re in this bunker, basically, and you can just completely knock out your work, but as soon as you’re gone, you legally can’t take any of your work with you at home. So, I mean, I guess you don’t take physical – you don’t take real work with you, you take the stress of having to compete in that kind of environment with, maybe. But it’s that great disconnect. And as you say now, you know, like, so many of these lines are being blurred, so you might have clients that are, you know, on Facebook, you might have friends that are on Slack. Twitter is a mix of personal and professional, so there’s these – all these lines are being blurred.
And my personal opinion is that it really comes down to you as an individual to then filter those things out and decide on a way, or decide on how you work. What is your model for working? Do you get up and say, “I’m first going to check my e-mail at, you know, lunchtime, and before that, I’m going to go through these tasks, and not open up any of these social applications, or am I just going to leave my Wi-Fi completely turned off, you know? Or am I going to be in airplane mode or something else, to just force myself into a productive flow, I guess?”
George: Yeah, I think something that you sort of touched on just there and before with the stress is the health side of things as well, which, you know, people don’t always think about the – they think about the freedom of remote work, but like we said, it is easy to kind of see your health decline, isn’t it? When you’re moving a lot and you don’t have the right balance and you’re never switching off. And that’s part of the balance you have to factor in as well, is your physical health and your mental health.
Noel: Well, now we have just a bunch of mindfulness books that are here to alleviate everything, so everything’s okay!
George: Yeah, I think there’s been a massively increased shift onto mental health in recent years, but, you know, from remote workers and workers in offices, which I think is crucial. I guess, just when you’re a remote worker, it’s something you have to really think about yourself, because that constant moving around and that constant flow is great, but it does have its downsides too.
Noel: Yes, by all means. And I think, for the world as a whole, it’s taken quite a long time. If you look back towards I think it’s PTSD from the military, I think that’s also a relatively new concept. That’s just from, you know – it has come about in the last half century, even. So, there’s a lot of progress being made with regards to mental health. I think my larger challenge is still that there’s elements of it that are kind of unspoken.
So, it’s – people are worried that something like anxiety, it’s not necessarily a fully physical issue, but it’s not fully a mental one. What is it exactly? Where does the responsibility fall? So, people may not still today have the best resources they need to be able to tackle those issues, especially if they’re on the road and they’re working remotely, they’re feeling lonely, and imposter syndrome kicks in. It’s challenging for sure.
George: And you obviously live quite a hardcore digital nomad lifestyle. So, how do you find that?
Noel: “Hardcore.” I’m the certified digital nomad! So, I’ve been on the road for four years now, or so. And I’ve always come to the end of each year being like, “I need to travel less. I’m tired. Blah, blah, blah.” But then, when I look through the entire year again, I’m like, “Wow, this is amazing, and I wouldn’t want to give up any one of the experiences.” But, you know, relating back to sort of the concept of loneliness and stuff, maybe I’m in a different situation, because I’m part – I already had a community going into this, so it won’t – you know, the WordPress community is a big part of who I am, and I have – you know, I owe a lot to WordPress as a whole, and I’ve, you know, made incredible friendships through it, and the entire business is built on top of it, so wherever I go, there’s usually WordPress people.
So, even when I’ve been to Japan now a few times, you know, it’s been just the most amazing community out there, and they, you know, make you feel at home. And that’s everywhere you go. So, that ability to find like-minded people quite quickly, it definitely helps with that now. If you have loneliness for different reasons like, “I need to have a partner in life,” or, “I need to find romance,” or, “I need to tick this certain box so that I feel complete as a human being,” then I think that’s a different sort of challenge than, you know, just seeking out human contact.
George: Mm-hmm. So, can you see yourself settling down any time soon in one location, or do you think you’re just going to keep moving along the road for the foreseeable future?
Noel: No, I think I’ll probably stick around Australia for a while now. I’ll see if there’s an ability to probably get a temporary Visa or something like that here. And that’s mostly because of my back. I have quite a lot of back pains. So, I have two herniated discs which cause me a bit of trouble, so I’d just like to be able to sort those things out while still being able to do my work effectively. Last year, I took 74 flights, I think?
Noel: Not great for my back.
George: Good for your Air Miles though.
Noel: It’s not even that great anymore, depending on the airline. So, yeah, it’s been challenging to travel around that much, and I wouldn’t mind just kind of resting in one place for a little while, you know, just kind of figuring it out.
And so, I think Australia will probably be that, just because the weather is amazing here and there’s a lot of great people. We have an office here, so it’s just a nice place to hang out for a while. But no – I guess, what I’m trying to say is that whilst I’ll probably like to hang out here for quite a while, it doesn’t imply in my mind that I’m settling down in any way, shape, or form. I guess I could still pick up from one day to the next.
George: Sure. I mean, because just one quick look at your profile, and I can see, you know, you are in so many different parts of the world at any one given time for speeches and WordCamp and things like that, so I guess it’s hard for you to kind of just sit in one location for a bit, right?
Noel: It used to be, because I really love the opportunity of just, I don’t know, hanging out with new people, meeting a new community and things like that. But like I said, like, this year, I’m really trying to focus on my own health, so being able to, I don’t know, just slow down for a year I guess is important to me. Also, the idea – I’m not even sure if I’ve spoken this year yet. No, no, I’m sure I have. But my – I’m trying to speak less too. It takes a lot of time to prep, to get a talk going, and it’s – if you’re judging yourself by – I mean, assuming all your work – all the work you do or all the sudden a set of metrics.
I guess, something like, you know, doing, I don’t know, media pieces or doing talks at conferences become a sort of vanity metric in that regard. They’re a bit of fluff, and I’d really like to be able to sort of double down on, you know, certain parts of work, and be able to really throw myself at those things without having to spend an insane amount of more hours. So, How to Grow Human Made and things like that is not something I can just do in between a lot of other things. It’s going to, you know, take, I guess, my own divided attention this year to be able to push further in the right direction.
George: Sure. I guess, you know, if you want to provide real value, you have to, like you say, double down in that area. You can’t be jetting around the world every so often to give a speech.
Noel: Yeah, that’s still the – I guess, that’s the concept of deep work that has been popularized now, the idea of, you know, finding flow, being able to really push yourself in certain areas, and having, you know, a 50 person company with my, you know, two friends, is – this is new for all of us, and it’s also, you know, new for the employees that are a part of it.
So, we’re all building this together and it’s just very important that it – although it does grow organically and in the right sort of – with the right motives, and we don’t want to impose anything artificially in that regard, it still needs the right sort of actions and knowledge along the road, or along the way, to bring it there. It’s hard to describe, but I need to – I basically need to throw myself at it, and I need time for that.
George: Yeah, sure. So, do you guys at Human Made get to meet face-to-face often?
Noel: Yes. So, because we’re 50 plus people now, the annual retreat we do is probably just not enough anymore. So, we’ve been doing annual retreats for a while now. We’ve done them in Fuerteventura, we’ve done them in north of Norway, in north of England, in Spain, another part of Spain. Those were all amazing and it’s always so invaluable to be able to get everyone together because we just have such a great time. But then we also – we’ve also started doing team meetups now.
So, on top of the annual, like, grand retreat, or grand meetup, where everybody goes, we have team meetups now. So, two weeks ago, we had the project managers all meetup in London, so, you know, someone flew from down here, someone else flew from Singapore, someone from the US. People are flying in from wherever they need to fly in for these meetups.
George: Yeah, I think I – obviously, as we’ve said, the whole remote culture has shifted now, and everyone talks over Slack or Messenger, but there are some things that need to be done face-to-face, right? And those short meetups, where you can have heavy brainstorming sessions and strategy sessions, really, really kind of give you a set focus for the coming months or the year ahead.
Noel: I think yes, in a way. These meetups for us are primarily about seeing each other. So, there’s a lot of unstructured times. Well, it’s structured and unstructured. We structure in unstructured time, put it that way. So, we try to give people all the resources so that they can do stuff together. So, we’ll organize, you know, like, a field trip day, maybe some people want to go walk up a mountain, some other group wants to go to the spa, so we try to provide options in that regard, but it’s still a chance for everyone to hang out.
We always – we try to bring a cook along, or hire one locally, so tall the food’s taken care of. But in terms of structured time itself, where we discuss work related stuff, that’s certainly going to be less than half of the time, simply because that’s just not the most important thing. The most important thing is just seeing everyone else. And, like in your case now, if, you know, it took six months for you to finally head over to Surf Office and meet the crew. I’m assuming the first thing you did wasn’t talk about strategy for the next few hours, it was you were just happy to see them and hang out.
George: Yeah, I think that’s obviously the most crucial thing, whenever you meet up, is finally putting faces to the names, and then, you know, if you didn’t see each other again for a year, still, your relationship has changed from that one meetup, and it kind of allows you to work closer together, right?
Noel: Oh, by all means. Like, it gives you a much better lens through which you understand people’s written comments. You know, some people might have a very deadpan sense of humor, or a dark kind of humor, and these things don’t always translate very well on Slack, regardless of how many emojis you use. So, it’s important for people to be able to get that baseline feeling, I guess, from meeting someone face-to-face.
George: Yeah, 100%. Well, I mean, that’s everything I wanted to ask you, Noel, and it’s been great having you on the show, and you’ve obviously given us some deep insights into the way you work and the way Human Made works. I wasn’t sure if there was anything else you wanted to add?
Noel: Oh, nothing from my side, no. That’s plenty of stuff. Asking me about the grand ethos of Human Made really topped it off!