The Essential Nature of In-Person Work For Early-Stage Startups

tldr: instead of choosing between in-person or remote, your seed stage company (or team) should be more hybrid, tied to the type/phase of project going on. With in-person being used during periods of intense team ideation, collaboration or debate. While remote is best for execution sprints and concentrated individual problem solving.

2020 has turned out to be a really interesting test of what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. The Real World. Uh, sorry, as a MTV generation kid, that reality show opening is hardwired into my brain. What I meant to say is 2020 has provided us a bunch of forced learnings around collaboration given that much of the tech world shifted from “mostly together in offices” to “mostly apart, at home, supported by software.” While we all agree that ‘apart’ is best right now for reasons of safety, the discussion around what a post-COVID world seems to be largely bifurcated into Office vs WFH/Distributed. More recently there’s some acknowledgment that maybe a hybrid will be the path back, where different people are in the office for 2–3 days/week to take into account social distancing and give people productive time away from the office sans commute. But these aren’t the discussions I enjoy most.

Instead what I prefer are conversations around linking team presence (being together, whether it’s in an official office or just somewhere) to the nature of the work to be done for a period of time. Within the world of tech it’s my overwhelming experience that work which involves collaboration around new ideas; team building; or bursts of execution involving cross-functional participants, all benefits from being together, in-person IRL. We’re human beings who still require up close interaction to build ties. And group creative work (as opposed to solo creative work) is hard to force into tight meeting windows and collaboration SaaS. Look at many of the tech companies who do remote right and you’ll see they allocate budget and staff to ensuring people get together as a company and as teams. At Google, when I was managing and/or working with teams across the world, we often would pick opportune points in project lifecycles to come together — kickoffs, planning and milestone celebrations.

None of this should be read as “in-office teams always beat remote teams,” or “Hunter won’t invest in remote-first companies.” But the nature of early startup work does lend itself to enough of the in-person conditions discussed above for me to believe that having meaningful time together *is* a competitive advantage. This does err towards founders in the same city and if not, then founders who have worked together before and know how to manage the distance.

Where do I hope this heads? Well, that forward-thinking project management tools like Asana start to learn about the type of work being done and recommends best periods for teams to be together vs apart. The first generation of “future of work” software products were largely IQ-tools — utilities that moved information efficiently. We’re starting on a next set of FoW software which I’d call EQ-tools, and these are more attuned to ‘HOW’ we all work together, productivity gains from feedback, emotion and preventing burnout. We happen to have invested in several of these and I’ll be excited to talk more about them in a future post!

Notes and More

💰to Fair Fight supporting voter rights.

📦 Things I’m Enjoying

Salonpas patches for back pain because I’m old, Andytown coffee and this GQ article about a band of watch thieves.

🏗 Highlighted Homebrew Portfolio Jobs

Orum is a NYC-based financial technology company that makes money move fast. Experienced leadership, well-funded, and hiring in engineering, product and operations.