We arrived back home yesterday morning after about ten days of Joomla! related travel. In an earlier blog entry I have written a report of our visit to the JoomlaDay Germany 2012. After that great weekend we took a plane to Sofia where we stayed for a week, and ended our trip with a weekend of presentations and partying.
Joomla!Day 2012 Bulgaria was a well-organized event. From what I have heard it was the first Bulgarian Joomla!Day to which international speakers were invited, and also the largest one in terms of visitor numbers. The event was organized at a solid - yet slightly surprising - location, namely at a technology training center located in a wedding mall. Both the wifi and the available drinks were excellent and even ‘details’ like the name tag (with printed schedule) and speaker microphones were handled very well. However, even at good events there is always room for improvement.
Perhaps for next year the organizers might consider a more secluded and private location. As I’ve seen at Joomla!Days in Holland and at J & Beyond, having a private location creates improved group cohesion and allows people to interact more. Another consideration for next year’s edition might be to offer multiple tracks. One could think of a ‘Developer’ and ‘Non-developer’ track, or ‘Joomla!’ and ‘General web development’, ‘Community’ and ‘Business’, and so on. A final point of improvement, although relatively small, would be to offer some different types of snacks during the conference. I’ve discovered that Bulgaria has plenty of excellent local snacks to offer and would love to have seen more at the conference. An added benefit would be that people with filled bellies are happier people, and who wouldn’t want to see those at their conference?
The event took place in Sofia, which is the capital of Bulgaria and has a population of about 1.2 million people. Apart from the fact that Robin and I speak extremely little Bulgarian (essentially limited to yes, no and maybe), the city itself had other surprises to offer as well. For example, their major traffic rule appears to be one that promotes a survival of the fittest. The general traffic rules that exist in Bulgaria seem up for interpretation, rather than set in stone, which is the case back in Holland. Furthermore the city highlights the sharp contrast between a former communist city and a modern European capital. A groovy dance club that is accessed through a park with broken floor tiles, a large office building that has a rocky field as their parking lot, and so on. Speaking of dance clubs, one of the first nights we went to the ‘Planet’ bar in Sofia. This bar apparently is the place to be for people who want to see-and-be-seen in Sofia. Even though the rapper (which the promoters of the club referred to as ‘the Bulgarian Jay-Z’) perhaps wasn’t the best performer I’ve ever seen, it shows one of the benefits of having a local friend in a country you’re visiting: you actually get to see what the citizens of a country are doing.
Our hostess during our stay in Sofia was the lovely miss Tina Kesova (Twitter) which we had met earlier at the Dutch Joomla!Days and later at J & Beyond 2012 as well. Tina had generously offered us a place to stay for the duration of our stay in Bulgaria. I’m not sure though if she realized that this also meant that she had to be our personal tour guide, translator, driver, chef and cultural interpreter! However, she managed to fulfil all those roles with verve, and therefore deserves our sincerest thanks, or as they would say in Bulgarian: благодаря Tina (thank you Tina)!
While the night time was filled with wine tastings, clubbing and eating, the day time was filled with working at the new SiteGround office. Working from 9 till ‘Tina o’clock’ (a moment in time between 6 and 8 at which Tina had completed her work and came to pick us up to leave the office) allowed us to get a lot of work done! The added benefit of working at a new and interesting location both sparked us with new and creative ideas, and allowed me to study the SiteGround team from inside the lion’s den.
Just as Tina had offered a place to stay, the SiteGround staff had no problems with Robin and me working from their office for a week. While I could see how people would object to two Dutch people hopping around in their office for a week, they seemed to have none. We were free to go and stand as we desired and could enjoy all the benefits that the office offered whenever we liked to.
About 50% of the SiteGround office is used as a recreational area, which employees can use as much as they want. Several of the recreational options, listed in no particular order are:
Robin and I probably were some of the most frequent users of the recreational options listed above. In fact, some of the employees haven’t even used most of these options once! Being such frequent visitors of the recreational area seems to have caught the interest of some of the staff as well. At one point, one of the chief staff members struck a conversation with us about our usage of the area. He explained to us that all these recreational options present a ‘tease or please’ dilemma for the employees. While the employees are free to use the area as much as they want, they also have their own deadlines, meetings and targets to make. The more time you spend in the recreational area, the less time you can spend behind your desk. Even though I personally think that a moderate amount of recreation will significantly improve your overall productivity, the fact that ‘over usage’ is lurking of course can’t be denied.
Every Monday morning there is a company sponsored breakfast at the SiteGround office (which of course we made use of. After all, we’re Dutch). They also offer beer on tap whenever you like. Even though only few people seem to use it, the fact that the company offers this is great. Apart from the fact that having free beer in your office proves that you trust your employees, it also provides other benefits for the company. For example, it allows people from all layers of the (flat) organisation to communicate informally, it creates a lot of opportunity for random encounters, and offers a great way for people to ‘warm up’ and ‘cool down’ from a hard day of work. An interesting question arises from this organizational environment though: should you include the amount of beer you drank and the hours you spend on the tennis court in your daily reports?
Although it was new to me, making daily reports of your activities is apparently a common practice in larger companies. At SiteGround employees are required to write daily reports about their activities for that day and send them to their superiors before the end of the day. While at first I thought that this practice is belittling and time consuming, I slowly learnt to see the benefits as well.
For example, I find it a far better way to monitor the activities of your employees than with time tracking software. Especially for companies that deal mostly in ‘knowledge’ (rather than creating physical products) it can sometimes be difficult to see how productive a workday was, by merely looking at what work was done in a certain time block. In these kind of jobs an hour of research can sometimes save you a week’s worth of work. Important to notice though is that this practice does require empowered employees who want to excel at their job, and are capable of planning their own day. However, apart from the fact that some of their employees could use a little more training at pool or Zombie darts, I think SiteGround has that covered too. All in all I think that the daily reports are working pretty well for SiteGround, and I will certainly keep them in mind as a useful business practice.
Thank you Tina, SiteGround and Joomla!Day Bulgaria for having us, and hopefully see you again soon!