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  • September 8, 2016

R.I.P. Office

I turn 47 this week. I think? Sorry. I stopped counting when I hit 21. As I approach the mid-century mark, I’m pretty much reflecting on everything. Decorative Illustration It’s not really a mid-life crisis (I’m not pondering a Camaro purchase), but more of a “state of Greg” analysis. What have I done well? What have I screwed up? How can I change for the better? How can I make work better for our staff?

Knowing What You Know

Having been born (well) before 1985, I am part of a demographic that lived and worked in pre-internet times. As a result, many of my views about work environments were shaped in-part by a bygone era; one where people worked from nine to five, in the same room, sending inter-office mail envelopes to people in other rooms. I ate lunch at noon every day with my co-workers in the onsite cafeteria. I even worked for a company where a bell rang twice a day to signal a coffee break. Everyone got up and left their desks like robots. It was surreal. My reality wasn’t too far off from the movie Nine to Five, only less Dabney Coleman and hijinx.

Viva Technology

Fast-forward 18 years, and I’m running my own company. Against my instinct at the time, we enabled a couple of our employees to begin working on a distributed basis in different cities. These folks had been with us for some time, and we trusted them to make it work. And they have. And nowadays, technology has evolved to an extent that you can literally work from anywhere, at any time. Between Basecamp, Slack, Google Apps For Work, Zoom, Github, Sifter, and all of the other tools we use, we’re fully connected—so much so that we need to set “do not disturb” zones to let folks know we’re not.

Increasingly, I’ve also noticed the number of “WFH” (work from home) designations on our company calendar growing exponentially. More times than not, I’ll walk into an office that’s largely empty. Rather than being the real-time collaboration hub I’d always championed, it was the opposite. Crickets. It was me, and maybe a couple of other folks with headphones on, having Slack conversations with each other. I was commuting 20 miles to sit in traffic in order to sit in a different room and type conversations.

All The Cool Kids

I’ve been fortunate to meet hundreds of leaders of client service and product companies at Owner Camp. I’ve learned a lot about what makes distributed companies work. I’ve had conversations with folks from Basecamp (who wrote a book on the topic), Lullabot (including Jeff Robbins who now has a podcast called Yonder about distributed working), Four Kitchens (who just made the switch themselves and are writing about it), Summit CPA Group, InVision, nGen Works, and more. The common themes amongst most folks I’ve spoken to are the game-changing opportunities distributed work offers. Employees are:
  • Working more efficiently
  • Saving money on transportation costs
  • Saving their sanity by avoiding long commutes
  • Spending more time with their families
  • Creating work schedules that map to their lives, not dictate them
  • Able to minimize interruptions

And as an employer, imagine a world where your recruiting ground is, well, the world. That’s compelling stuff.

To be fair, there are cautionary tales as well. There are things you can no longer take for granted that you used to, like assuming others always know what you’re doing. Or assuming people are aware when you’re heads down. Under-communicating. Not maintaining culture. Fortunately, I’m confident that enough remote-working experiences have been documented by the trailblazers that I have a leg up in avoiding some big pitfalls.

Best of Both Worlds

As a guy with two young kids running around the house, I still need somewhere else to go to work. And some of my colleagues still prefer to rub elbows. So, with the help of our accommodating landlord, we assigned our existing 7200 sq. ft. lease to some good friends of ours running a growing company. Win-win.

And after weighing lots of options, we decided to ante up with WeWork—a company that runs coworking facilities all over the world—to provide the perfect hybrid work solution for us. WeWork offers month-to-month leases, beautiful workspaces, lots of amenities, and yes, real live people with a built-in community. So now, our employees who want to work wherever they want can, and those who want to “come into the office” can just pop over to WeWork. Victory.

This feels like a logical progression for Happy Cog— one that best serves the evolving needs and desires of our employees. And for once, I feel I’m in lockstep with the future of working, rather than playing catch-up. Happy birthday to me.

P.S. – This is our 300th post on Cognition. Seemed fitting to post about a milestone for our company for a milestone for our blog.

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