External office hours.

July 7, 2020. Filed under management 114

While I was taking some time to rest before starting at Calm, one day I had an appointment downtown and decided to run an experiment to see if I could grab coffee and lunch with folks I didn’t know. The day before I typed up a tweet asking if anyone would be interested in meeting.

I was a bit surprised to learn that other folks do this semi-regularly, with Kellan naming these Office Hours. I was more surprised that this worked. I had about fifteen folks reach out, and end up meeting with four folks, three of whom I met for the first time, and learning a lot. The serendipity of the internet – it works!

As a small caveat, I’m fairly confident this wouldn’t have worked for me a year ago before An Elegant Puzzle dropped, so there must be some reach threshold before this works. However, I’ve always found you can substitute intentional effort for reach, and I’m confident that anyone could deliberately reach out to folks to make something like this work.

Thinking about the experience combined with the role of learning circles for succeeding in senior roles, and I’ve started to ponder whether something like this could be done in a more routine fashion. Dreams of an informal come-as-you-please weekly lunch discussion dance in my head. I suspect attendance would follow the same curve as paper reading groups, starting high and drifting towards zero in the long run. This is fine by the way, a lot of the value in these sorts of large ad-hoc forums comes from the early network creation, durable forums require deliberate curation of the attending group.

As an interesting juxtaposition, I’ve always been suspicious of internal office hours, as they feel a bit too much like enforcing hierarchy. “You can only meet with me at the times that I define” isn’t the sort of low power-distance organization I hope to create or participate within. Most office hours that I’ve seen have been more effective at creating the appearance of availability rather than actual availability, but I’ve heard from folks within companies with a heavy focus on office hours (by which I mean, Google), that they work well for them and get heavy usage. Maybe it’s just establishing a consistent pattern that matters the most.

If they did get heavy usage, I think they would be powerful for reducing the activation cost for folks to reach out to you for discussion, particularly for folks who don’t work with you on a close or routine basis. Would be interesting to get attendance data from a variety of folks at a company that does this regularly and see if it encourages a broader group of folks engaging!