An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving WordCamps and Making it Out Alive

An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving WordCamps and Making it Out Alive

Going to WordCamp Europe just isn’t worth it. There are too many people, the commute is huge (Vancouver to Vienna!) and the whole trip is just way more expensive than it’s actually worth.

At least, that’s what I thought when I was initially prodded to go. I’m ashamed to admit I almost didn’t go this year because all of the trouble actually was worth it. The pros completely blew the cons out of the water. If I didn’t go, I would have missed out on meeting colleagues in person and the incredible networking that goes on at WordCamps.

Still, I was reluctant to go.

For the uninitiated, WordCamps are conferences centered around WordPress and they happen all around the world. Since WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg organized the first event back in 2006, there have been 604 WordCamps in 48 countries. You can sit in on talks and learn a ton about a wide range of WordPress topics, from contributing to the community to advanced development. You also get the opportunity to network and speak with people in the industry, not to mention pick up loads of goodies and information handed out by companies specializing in WordPress.

But if you’re anything like me you’re introverted. I’m happiest when I’m on my own and WordCamps seemed to me to be the opposite of that. Tim Bowers from our support team asked me if I wasn’t going to WordCamp Europe and I kept making excuses to explain why I couldn’t go and when I ran out of excuses I reluctantly – and nervously – packed up and went to Vienna for WordCamp Europe.

And it just so happened that WordCamp Europe 2016 was the largest WordCamp in history with more than 2000 people in attendance.

So. Many. People. What was I thinking?!

Turns out I wasn’t alone since other introverts working at WPMU DEV felt just like me about dealing with hoards of people. We not only blew past our hermit inclinations, but we also had an amazing time remote working together and team building.

And we’re all the better for it.

Pushing Past Introversion

I very much consider myself to be a hermit. I would rather stay at home or go for a quiet, secluded walk in nature than have to go somewhere where there are people – any people. I work out at home and even get my groceries delivered to house. It’s not uncommon for a week to go by before I realize I haven’t left the house.

I’ve been working with WordPress a few years now and writing for this blog for some time, and I kept hearing about WordCamps and seeing other people’s photos and tweets – but I didn’t like the idea of having to peek through my front door.

If you’re anything like me, I love WordPress for so many reasons including having the opportunity to work remotely in my home office. It really is an introvert’s dream. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m anti-social, I just like working alone and I’m perfectly happy with individual activities like reading and, well, writing, obviously.

The idea of WordCamps conjured up images of utter chaos due to a serious lack of personal space, forcing myself to be ultra sociable, and going way, way out of my comfort zone. This didn’t appeal to me at all and I dismissed WordCamps as all kinds of unpleasantness.

So back to Tim and his prodding. He goes to a lot of WordCamps and encouraged to me go along to WordCamp Europe as a bunch of people from the WPMU DEV team were planning to go. I immediately started making excuses.

Jokingly, I say that he wore me down after his never-ending and persistent tweets, but in the end, I actually ran out of excuses. I kept spewing reasons why I couldn’t go and when tickets were sold out I was happy since I thought I was in the clear.

That is, until an extra one floated my way and I couldn’t come up with a decent excuse. That’s not to say Tim wasn’t a large reason why I went since he helped me realize that the idea I made up in my mind of what WordCamps were going to be like just wasn’t accurate at all.

I must admit, by the time I had the ticket to WCEU in my name and realized I was going, I started to get a little excited, though I was still nervous, especially since I knew it was one of two largest WordCamps held annually worldwide, the other being WordCamp US.

I squeamishly packed my luggage and left for Vienna. Possibly one of the things about WCEU that delighted me the most when I got to Vienna was the fact that so many others I met felt just like me – many of them were also experiencing their first WordCamp as well and felt nervous, too.

Final presentation at WordCamp Europe 2016. The presentation slide says "See you in Paris" referring to WCEU in 2017.
The WCEU 2016 organizers and volunteers.

Some colleagues from WPMU DEV who came to WordCamp Europe also felt the same way despite the fact that they had gone to many WordCamps before. Like me, they weren’t anti-social, just introverted, and weren’t exactly thrilled about being part of a huge crowd of people.

Despite this, we got past our initial sense of introversion. There were a few things in particular that helped us get there:

  1. We were already a team on Slack – The fact is, we already knew each other – just not in person. Once we got over the initial awkwardness, we had a lot of nice things to tell each other and stories to share, and we started coming out of our shells.
  2. We networked together – Those of us who weren’t listening to talks during the conference mingled with other people at the event and introduced each other to people we did know and had met at other WordCamps. Sometimes it was just two of us and other times it was all of us. Being around familiar faces helped us feel more comfortable and less nervous, especially when we had others around to offer support if we felt we needed a timeout for a few minutes.
  3. We let others take the lead – If we met someone who had a lot to talk about and share, we let them. We listened intently and saw it as a temporary mini escape back into our minds and introversion. It helped us get back into the conversation afterward.

We built a stronger sense of togetherness within our own team and it naturally spread through the WordPress community as we began sharing our experiences with others. In the end, it was easier for me to get to know so many people after realizing just how many amazing people make up the WordPress community. It made me feel comfortable around others and I figured it would be a shame not to meet as many wonderful people as possible!

Some of the WPMU DEV team at WordCamp Europe 2016.
A team photo at WCEU with some of us in there.

With so many awesome people there with at least one big thing in common with me – working at WPMU DEV – it became increasingly difficult to not socialize, especially when I usually don’t have much opportunity at home to talk about one of the things I am most passionate about – WordPress!

When other WPMU DEVers and I became comfortable with each other IRL, we were able to easily support each other and network together. If you plan on traveling to WordCamps solo, I highly recommend reaching out to people in the WordPress community beforehand to create your own team in much the same way. You may be able to reach others in the Make WordPress Slack group in the #wceu channel as well as WordPress meetup groups and Twitter.

For those of us from WPMU DEV, not only did we completely blow past our introvert selves for the duration of WordCamp Europe, but there was a team building aspect of it that sort of crept up on us.

You Don’t Gotta Go to Work, Yo

Possibly the most challenging aspect of attending WCEU as a remote worker was finding time to actually get work done. While some people where on holiday, I was still on the clock and had posts to write for this very blog.

Every other day during the week I was in Austria, we would go to a coffee shop or anywhere we could find with decent WiFi and worked for about 2-4 hours. The goal was to get as much work done as possible, but at the end of the day it was more important for us to spend as much time together as possible for team building activities. After all, we rarely get the opportunity to see each other and just hang out.

Group photo with many members of the WPMU DEV team after eating dinner together, sitting at a long table.
Many members of the WPMU DEV team after a lovely dinner together.

The ancient Greeks realized the value of team building. The Spartan army and many others in history would be encouraged to spend time bonding with each other so that they would be more willing to protect each other in battle.

This concept rings true even in modern remote working situations. If you and your team can conduct work professionally and yet be friendly at the same time (or much of the time), you’re more likely to help others within your team and they’re more willing to help you.

The stronger your sense of comradery, the more it becomes a pleasure to get to work and converse with your co-workers constructively.

It creates a sense of happiness that translates into getting more work done. The University of Warwick found that happy employees are 12% more productive and unhappy employees are 10% less productive.

On top of that, here at WPMU DEV it gives us even more of a reason to work harder since it translates into attending more WordCamps with each other where we can spend more time hanging and team-building.

Plus, at WCEU, we spent time talking about non-work things we don’t usually go into on Slack. We shared stories about our lives and what WordPress and WPMU DEV meant to each of us. We also complimented each other organically and it all brought us even closer.

Even though we didn’t get as much work done as we would have liked, we got something more out of WordCamp Europe: any one of us won’t have to question whether the rest of the team has our back – and we’re going to be more productive for it.

Team Building on Steriods

Our team building didn’t end there. On one of our days together in Vienna we set out to play paintball. I wasn’t fond of the prospect of getting hit with paintballs so I decided to sit it out. In retrospect, I would have been fine joining in. If it really hurt that much, there wouldn’t be as many people interested in it!

Instead, I decided I could still be a part of the experience by live tweeting the whole event with #WPMUDEVpaintball and #WPMUDEVOnTour.

For us, paintball was going to be much more than a game. Not only did we get to have fun, we all got to share in our triumphs and pitfalls. Being able to share successes is easy, but being able to be vulnerable with others and share our mistakes is a lot tougher.

Paintball provided an opportunity for us to experience a lot of mistakes – bad shots, misfires, missed shots and accidental friendly fire – all in a safe environment. We knew that if we messed up, it wouldn’t be the end of the world because after all, it was just a game.

This gave us the opportunity to trust each other enough to open up about our mistakes within the game. We were all met with support and understanding and now that the game is over, we trust each other a lot more. As a result, we’re going to be able to trust each other with our mistakes at work knowing we’re going to be met with the same support and understanding.

That’s also what’s going to help motivate us to turn things around and fix our mistakes together.

We took a lot of joy out of the whole experience because it was a game, after all, and we created lasting memories that I’m sure we’ll still laugh about in future years. But it was a lot more than an afternoon of fun: we became a stronger team.

Even though I wasn’t a part of the game, live tweeting the whole event forced me to be involved and share in everyone’s experience. I couldn’t just passively sit and watch since I had to know what was going on to be able to tweet about it.

This means that any business can replicate our team-building experience, even if there are some members that don’t want to participate. They can still be a part of the event in other ways which they are more comfortable while still being a part of the team-building exercise.

We also enjoyed many other group activities such as going to an amusement park, Prater in Vienna, where we went on many rides including go-carting. They were a lot of fun and we shared a lot of laughs.

Just like our day of paintball, we opened up to the rest of the team. Even simple things like sharing which rides we wanted to go on, which ones we wanted to avoid and the reasons why helped us understand each other better.

We did lots of other things together, too, like lunches and dinners, shopping and sight-seeing. We also stayed in large apartments booked through Airbnb, so we spent a lot of time together even when we decided we needed some downtime.

Since we have a great hiring process here at WPMU DEV, we didn’t get sick of each other. Even as introverts, we enjoyed our time together. All the ideas and thoughts we shared with each other helped us relate to and understand each other a lot more.

I was sad to leave Vienna and my colleagues at WPMU DEV behind, but our team building helped us leave with a renewed sense of purpose and passion for our work and WordPress.

We also decided we’re definitely going to WordCamp Europe in Paris next year so you can catch us there if you want to join in on the fun! We also attend WordCamps all around the world so if you see one or some of us in a WPMU DEV t-shirt, come and say hello and introduce yourself. We’re a friendly bunch and would love to meet you :)

Image credit: Kari Leigh Marucchi of Found Art Photography, Milan Ivanović.

What are your experiences with working remotely or team building during WordCamps? Do you consider yourself an introvert who doesn't prefer to attend WordCamps? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below, especially so I can change your mind and encourage you to go to a WordCamp or two.

Jenni McKinnon

Jenni McKinnon Jenni has spent over 15 years developing websites and almost as long for WordPress as a copywriter, copy editor, web developer, and course instructor. A self-described WordPress nerd, she enjoys watching The Simpsons and names her test sites after references from the show.