I was talking to a friend yesterday and he said, “Just another Monday.” But yesterday was Tuesday. I asked him what he meant. He said, “Every day feels like a Monday – I just get up and do it again.”
It has been 427 days since I mark the start, for me, of the Covid crisis (March 11th – the first day I stayed home.) As the world, at least in some places, loosens up a lot, people are anxious to get back together in physical form. I see it everywhere around me – dinners, meetings, people in Zoom in offices, background noises, air travel, and endless requests to get together in person.
Fred wrote an interesting post titled In-Person vs On-Screen that starts out:
Last week I spent three hours with my six partners in a conference room talking through what we are investing in and why. It was a terrific session and I had more “ahas” in those three hours than I have had in many many months. There really is no substitute for sitting together with your colleagues working things out face to face.
The post describes his thinking around remote, hybrid, and in-person. He talks about his, and his partners, current dynamics. He ends with a strong assertion.
Each company needs to figure this out in a way that works for their team and culture and I believe that there is no “right way” for everyone. But I also believe that in-person interactions remain critical to making better decisions, better products, better cultures, and better companies and so I would encourage everyone, including the fully remote teams, to figure out how to make in-person interactions happen on some regular cadence.
I see this in my own partnership. Several of my partners are regularly getting together in person. While I’m supportive of that, I have no interest in it and would rather continue to be fully remote for now. Fortunately, they understand. We are working on understanding and implementing our own hybrid dynamics that work for each of us and the team as a whole.
While we are privileged to be in a business and an industry where this is something we can explore, I immediately think of Susan Cain’s essential book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. When I read it in 2012, a few puzzle pieces slid into place for me.
I strongly agree with Fred’s statement:
Each company needs to figure this out in a way that works for their team and culture and I believe that there is no “right way” for everyone.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been in numerous “back to the office” conversations. I’ve participated in public discussions about remote vs. hybrid vs. in-office. I’ve talked with almost every CEO and board that I work with about this topic.
I’ve been asserting, like Fred, that this is a custom answer for each company. However, I’m adding a twist. I encourage the CEOs not to let their personal bias drive the answer. For some CEOs, that’s intolerable. For others, it has been enlightening.
I know several CEOs who are desperate to get back to the office. They hate working at home. They struggle not traveling around and being with their team. They are miserable with remote work. So, regardless of what anyone on their team says or wants, they will not have a remote work option. And, in one case that I’m aware of, there is not going to be any semblance of a hybrid option.
I know several CEOs who have let their leases end or sublet their offices. They love working at home. They have no interest in going to the airport. They deeply embrace remote work. No matter what, they are going to be a remote-first company in the future. And, in more than one case, there is no plan ever to rent any office space again.
When you suspend your individual bias, I expect you’ll find interesting and unexpected answers from different people in your company. When you ask them for approaches, you might find some that you hadn’t thought of. Knowing that there is a wide spectrum of desires among your current team, especially after 427 days of Mondays, is an important starting point for figuring out the best configuration for your company going forward.
I’ve described this magic approach to staying connected with family when you are far away three times in the past few days. The first time was to a set of entrepreneurs in TechStars New York who were from Vancouver and have spouses and significant others back home. The second time was to an entrepreneur at the NewMe Accelerator who has a spouse and kids in Atlanta. The third was last night to a team of entrepreneurs we are in the midst of closing a financing with. Since it came up three times in rapid succession, I decided it was time for a blog post describing it.
If you find yourself in this situation, where you are deeply engaged in something for an extended period of time (say – an accelerator) and your significant other – and kids if you have them – are somewhere far away, I expect you’ll do the equivalent of a Skype call each day. There will be periodic emails, texts, and phone calls as well. While these are all good, in many cases they increase the loneliness factor. You are deeply immersed in what is going on and no matter how hard you try to be present, will often be distracted during your Skype time. And you’ll get off the phone, or video, feeling more homesick then when you got on. No matter how homesick you feel, the people on the other end, who are immersed in their life, but often not having the same kind of deeply intense experience you are having, will be missing you more.
Go to the drug store – Wallgreens, CVS, or whatever the nearby equivalent is. Buy a large package of 3 x 5 index cards and some Avery labels that you can print out. Swing by the post office and pick up some stamps for post cards. Go back to the office and print out the mailing address for your sweetie and kids at home on the labels. Put the labels and stamps on each of the index cards. When you go home at night, put the stack next to your bed with a pen.
Each night, before you go to sleep, take five minutes and write a short note on an index card. Write about one special thing that happened to you that day. Draw a doodle or a picture. Tell your family that you love them. During this five minutes, think about one thing that is special about them, why you love them, and why they are important to you. Now, go to sleep. In the morning, read the card when you wake up. On your way back to the office drop the card in the mail.
After a few days a steady stream of cards will start showing up at your house far away. If you have kids, they’ll run to the mailbox to see if something new came today. Rather than a single Skype at the end of the day, there will now be something special that shows up in the middle of the day. And – it’ll be from the past – talking abut something that happened a few days ago. The connection will be through both space and time, using a media (postcard) that current generations rarely use any more.
It’s magic. I did this in college with my parents who I missed a great deal. Several years ago my mom sent all of the postcards from my freshman year to me. It blew me away that she’d kept them and I relived a bunch of past moments sitting down and reading through them with Amy. Some are awesome, some are silly, and some are totally crazy, but they were all a part of me and what I was thinking at the time.
If you like this idea, don’t wait. Go do it right now. And tell me how you like it. Or feel free to drop a post card in the mail to me every now and then.