Scattered observations from six-weeks of “work from home” at startups

By Micah Rosenbloom, Managing Partner

Over the past month, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking/chatting about remote work … From software companies to manufacturers, VCs to educators, organizations large and small are engaging in a massive natural experiment in the science of remote work.

Some thoughts:

🤯 Working from home creates new stresses: Some folks have told me they feel more tired at the end of the day despite not having a commute. The endless hours sitting in the same position in front of a small screen likely has something to do with it!

If your means allow, consider upgrading your “home office,” even if it’s just your kitchen table.

💡 Consider more/better lighting

🛋️ Set up multiple locations to take calls

👣 Do some walk & talks, even if just around your apartment

This is obviously harder if you have roommates or a tiny apartment, but taking some time to set up your space could pay dividends. I’d also encourage founders to consider offering employees funds to buy an extra monitor, better chair, or other productivity enhancers.

Some have shared that they miss their commutes. In many ways, commutes are a time to clear one’s head. Try scheduling a workout mid-day, a relaxing ritual, or even a nap or favorite Netflix episode to mark the end of the day.

Remote management requires more time to be spent on calls, providing context via email, monitoring Slack for questions — and of course — optimizing Zoom backgrounds. All of this leaves managers less time for focused work and deep thinking.

The COVID means many workers have to pull double-duty as a homeschool teacher. Some founders with kids are reporting that it can be hard to get to 50% of their normal production, while many non-parents are putting in 150%.

The reality is that for families with two wage-earners, companies need to be flexible as parents sort out who will watch the children at what times. Many are just working this out, but the formal end of the school year will add new complexity. (camps=essential svc!)

We encourage broad latitude here. If your kid shows up in the background of a call, it should be acceptable, even encouraged. At FC, we host a talent show featuring one of the office children before each Monday meeting!

As this shutdown persists and the initial feeling of solidarity subsides, managing these varied schedules may require additional creativity — if nothing else, more of a focus on asynchronous communication, and perhaps stretching the workday to include earlier/later calls.

One of the trickiest challenges is what to do with people who thrive on interpersonal team dynamics — those who “manage by walking around.” At the early stages, “social cognition” is a superpower and remote work can be a form of kryptonite.

or “Zoom Paint Night” are one solution to this social isolation. We’re seeing a lot of ad hoc get-togethers via Zoom, around common interests, e.g., music, yoga, etc. It’s the closest thing to a virtual water cooler that we’ve seen so far.

While these seem simple and organic, there’s overhead — and skill — required to make this work. You need to maintain the balance between friendly and professional, accommodate different time zones, and yes, someone has to facilitate and keep the conversation flowing…

One interesting learning from this sudden shift to remote work has been how many edge cases exist. Companies making physical goods faces unique challenges — Where is the employee supposed to set up a soldering station in their studio apartment?

One company had to send an employee home with a high-end industrial sewing machine, creating something out of Depression-era Lower East Side! I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg of odd working arrangements.

Office decorum has been refined for over a century, but remote work is forcing etiquette to evolve at a record pace. We’re now mercifully free of deskside flossers, but a new cast of characters has emerged to take their place!

A few examples I’ve come across:

🔇 That guy who can’t be bothered to mute on a 20-person call

🎭 The one who inexplicably keeps turning their video on/off during a call

😜 And ofc, the Zoom background “comedians” (guilty as charged!)

Overall, Zoom is seeing a boom, but new opportunities for startups are making themselves clearer by the day. Just in the last month, two use cases have started crying out for solutions:

⚖️ Work/life balancing: What does peak productivity look like in a world of blurred boundaries?

🙉 Automating overhead: How do you stay connected while maintaining space for concentration?

It’s too early to make bold predictions about the nature of work, but remote productivity will obviously be a bigger part of the mix. Learning how to manage remotely, while staying productive, and maintaining mental health is the new MBA.

What are you seeing that works?

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