Posts from employment

Remote, Hybrid, or In-Person?

We have been watching our portfolio of ~130 technology companies wrestle with this decision for the last two and a half years. Brought on by the covid pandemic and the work from home moment that it created, there has been a sea change in the way that technology companies organize themselves to get work done.

Ben Horowitz observed this in a piece last week where he described A16Z’s decision to embrace a hybrid model that he called “HQ in the Cloud.”

It turns out that running a technology company remotely works pretty darned well. It’s not perfect, but mitigating the cultural issues associated with remote work turns out to be easier than mitigating the employee satisfaction issues associated with forcing everyone into the office 5 days/week. 

https://a16z.com/2022/07/21/a16z-is-moving-to-the-cloud/

Most people are happier having a lot of flexibility around where they work. We have seen that people who are raising families have benefitted from the flexibility of working closer to where their families are and the ability to be somewhere quickly. But that is only one example of why flexibility around where you work is so powerful. Many job functions require, or at least benefit from, the ability to concentrate without interruption or distraction. A quiet home office is vastly better than a busy open workspace for that kind of work.

And then there is the commute. I am writing this on a commuter train heading into NYC. For a time in my life, I took a train like this into the city every morning at 6am and got back on it to go home at 6pm. It was almost an hour each way, so I spent almost two hours a day, five days a week, commuting. This can be a productive time, particularly if you are commuting on mass transit like I am right now, but many people don’t have convenient mass transit options in their lives and must drive to and from work, often in traffic. Eliminating the need to commute to the office might be the single best reason that people are happier having a lot of flexibility around where they work.

The numbers are telling. As of this spring, only 38% of NYC office workers were in their office on a given day based on this survey by the Partnership For NYC (a leading business group in NYC). The numbers are similar in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Some cities around the US have much higher numbers but I have not seen any city higher than 70% on this score.

The Partnership concluded that remote work is here to stay:

Remote work is here to stay, with 78% of employers indicating a hybrid office model will be their predominant post-pandemic policy, up from just 6% pre-pandemic.

https://pfnyc.org/research/return-to-office-survey-results-may-2022/

But I want to return to Ben’s quote and talk about the cultural issues. I don’t believe we (the tech sector broadly) have done a good job of “mitigating the cultural issues with remote work.” I think a lot of the challenging morale and retention situations in our portfolio and across the tech sector suggest the opposite is true.

Here is the quandry we face:

People are happier with flexibility around where they work.

Companies, teams, and organizations are happier when people are working together.

Aren’t companies just collections of people? Yes. But groups of happier people are less happy together when they don’t get the face time that makes group dynamics easier.

We all know that people are nicer to each other in person. Email and slack and zoom don’t bring out the best in people. Having a meal together does.

So what should we do about this quandry?

I don’t think the answer is restricting flexibility around where people work. That feels like table stakes now for knowledge workers. I think the answer is figuring out how to get people back together more frequently in ways they want to convene in person.

There are many ways to do this and we have seen some good ones.

At USV, we have two days a week where we meet together and as a group with founders (Mondays and Thursdays) and those days tend to be much more popular to be in the office. We don’t require people to come to the office on those days, but we do see that most people opt into coming in those days. We also make sure to order a great lunch on Mondays and Thursdays. We could and probably should add an after-work happy hour and/or sports teams/leagues to make those days even more attractive to the team. The basic idea is to make coming to the office an attractive option a few days a week.

One USV portfolio CEO suggested a great idea in a CEO zoom we organized on this topic a year or so ago. He said that he wanted his teams to come together for a week at the start of a project and again for a week at the end of a project. He wanted them to be together to kick it off and again to ship it. I think that’s a great idea and have been encouraging the teams that I work with to do that.

Our portfolio companies used to do exec team offsites a few times a year. A few of them are now doing them monthly. That makes sense to me. I can’t imagine an effective exec team that isn’t in person together at least once a month. And yet so many of the exec teams I have exposure to are not spending nearly enough time together right now and have not for the last few years. This same thought can be extrapolated to any team in any company.

Those are just some examples of things that can be done and should be done to get people working together again in an age of remote work that is not going to end. I am sure there are many other great techniques and if you lead a company and/or an HR team, you should be collecting and using as many of them as you can right now.

At USV, we feel pretty strongly that getting people back to working together in person is important to the success of our portfolio companies and the broader tech sector. So we recently opened our new office in NYC that is designed to host individuals and teams from our portfolio and the broader tech ecosystem that need somewhere nice to work together. Think WeWork meets SohoHouse meets VC firm. We are still working out the kinks this summer and plan to open it up more broadly in the fall. Stay tuned for more on that here and elsewhere.

All change has good and bad downstream effects. The broad-based adoption of remote work in the tech sector (and beyond) is allowing people to balance work and home life in ways that are extremely beneficial to them. But team morale and the broader cultural needs of companies have suffered and we need to recognize that and address it. We can’t accept that as the new norm. It is unacceptable the way it is right now. A hybrid model that provides continued flexibility while creating a lot more face time is the long-term answer and we must keep innovating until we find the right balance.

#employment#enterprise#management#VC & Technology

Tech Year NYC

Tech:NYC is launching a new initiative, Tech Year NYC, which helps young people from underrepresented backgrounds get access to careers in NYC’s fast-growing tech sector.

Tech Year NYC is a rollup of several existing city programs into a single point of entry and engagement for tech companies and students. The idea is to make it easier for local tech companies to engage with this population and easier for the students to get access to these pathways to jobs.

Students are compensated for their participation by the city and industry partners and will come out of the program with professional skills essential to work in the tech sector and additional skill-building opportunities.

Tech Year NYC is an expansion of a project-based learning curriculum that Tech:NYC developed with the Mayor’s Office of Youth Employment back in the summer of 2020 called Summer Bridge. Over the last two years, over 100 tech companies and over 3,000 students have participated in this effort.

The summer 2022 Tech Year NYC pilot will run from July 5th to August 12th and serve over 1,000 students. 500 of these students will continue career exploration and skills development through the fall semester. If and when this pilot proves successful, Tech Year NYC will be expanded to reach many more students and employers.

Tech NYC is recruiting employer partners to lead these 5-week long project-based programs, open your doors for “tech open houses”, and participate in professional skills workshops for these students. You can learn more and register to be an employer partner this summer here.

#employment#hacking education#NYC

Working Multiple Jobs

Since 2016, I have been working “half time” at USV and taking half of a partner’s carry. That has allowed me to allocate more time to things like building green buildings with the Gotham Gal, building a philanthropic organization with the Gotham Gal, sitting on non-profit and civic boards, and a few other things.

The truth is I still work at least 40 hours a week at USV, probably a fair bit more some weeks, but I still have time to spend on these other things and my partners understand that I am doing that and my compensation reflects that.

The move away from commuting to the office, spending eight hours a day or more there, and the rise of working remotely has upended so much in the last 18 months and one of the things I am noticing is how many people are doing what I am doing – working multiple jobs at the same time.

I am not talking about freelancing, consulting, and the other forms of working for many clients. I am talking about holding down multiple full-time jobs at the same time. Early in the pandemic, there was a story about a software engineer that had full-time jobs at both Google and Facebook. It was somewhat amusing to read that Google and Facebook were being played like that, but the truth is this is happening all over the place.

In some cases, like mine, the employer(s) know about the arrangement and the compensation reflects it. In most cases, the situation is not transparent for everyone. And that is a problem because eventually, most things become public.

Employers are going to need to wrap their heads around this situation and create plans that allow this. I suspect the reason many employees are not transparent about what they are doing is that their employers won’t allow it. So they do it anyway and keep it under wraps.

Employers are probably reading this and saying “But I need 100% of their time. I can’t allow them to give me only half of their time.” But here is the thing. They are already only giving you half of their time.

I can tell you that being able to work on many different things at the same time makes me better at every one of those things. I have always had that situation in the VC business. I get to work with dozens of companies at the same time. But now I get to work on all of them and also different problems in different industries. It keeps me energized, motivated, curious, and excited. And productive as hell.

I think it is high time for employers to understand that some of their employees, often their best employees, need to work this way and will be happier working this way. The employers that lead on this issue will become the places the best people want to work. And they will be more productive and more successful.

We already have a model emerging where this happens. The most common form of organization in crypto is the DAO and most DAOs have this model of part-time work and compensation that reflects the contribution. I know of many people who work for multiple DAOs, get paid by multiple DAOs, and where all of this is out in the open and transparent to everyone.

I am certain that the model of employees working for multiple companies at the same time is here to stay and will grow over time. The only question for employers is whether they will lead or follow in this new model of work.

#crypto#employment#enterprise

Return/Hybrid/Remote

With vaccinations topping 90mm doses in the US and upwards of 75mm doses likely to be injected into arms in the US in March, many companies are starting to think about what a return to the office might look like this summer and fall.

I read two great posts this weekend talking about what this all means for knowledge workers and the companies that employ them:

Imagine Your Flexible Office Work Future – Anne Helen Petersen

We’re Never Going Back – Packy McCormick

They both reference the writing of Dror Poleg on this topic so I will link to his blog as well.

What Anne and Packy are writing about is the future of our work spaces and whether our employers will require us to come back to the office full-time or will something else emerge.

Anne opens her post explaining that while the pandemic has proven that knowledge work does not need to be done in an office filled with all of our co-workers, what we have been doing in the last year is not what we will likely be doing in the future. As she observes, we have simply been working from our homes in the last year and that is not necessarily the future.

Packy asserts that employers don’t really have control over the decision of where we will all work going forward, employees do. The war for talent will determine where all of this lands.

Both are extremely thoughtful posts. I have been thinking about this topic for the better part of a year, for USV and for the 150 portfolio companies that we have invested in and advise. Anne and Packy’s thoughts line up pretty cleanly with mine. I think the change in venue for knowledge work is likely to be one of the biggest changes that we will see this decade.

Last summer, the Gotham Gal and I decided to make a co-working space where people living in the Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy neigborhoods in Brooklyn could work when they don’t want to go to the office but also don’t want to work from their kitchen or bedroom. We call it FrameWork and it will be opening next month. The tagline is “Your Home Office Away From Home.” We are very excited by the possibility that many more people will work most of the time in the neighborhoods that they live in and commutes will be an occasional thing versus an everyday thing. I think the quality of life improvements and the quality of neighborhood improvements that will emerge from this will be dramatic.

FrameWork is just an example of the many ways that knowledge workers will choose to work going forward. I expect the innovation around work spaces will be fast and furious once we can actually start working somewhere other than our home. And I expect that to start to happen in the second quarter of this year as I explained in my Jan 1st 2021 blog post.

So if you are an employer, what do you do? This suggestion by Packy is interesting:

instead of mandating a certain number of days in-office, companies should view employees as customers who they need to convince to come in with a great product:

Re-design the office to facilitate things that employees can’t do at home: whiteboard rooms, podcast and video recording studios, screening rooms, maker tools, etc… 

Take less space on more flexible terms in order to adapt and evolve as employees’ needs do.

Make the office feel more like a social club, with more focus on spaces for employees to share meals, have spontaneous conversations, and take in work-related programming. 

Hire hospitality and flexible operators to help them figure it out. Alma does hybrid work/social well, so Carlström set up Another Structure to bring that expertise to companies that want to build the right spaces for this new world. 

Infuse the space with technology to facilitate communication and collaboration with remote employees. 

https://www.notboring.co/p/were-never-going-back

But it is this observation by Anne that I think is maybe the most powerful of all:

The idea of “boundaries” has become so porous when it comes to cultivating work/life balance that it’s lost all meaning. People don’t respect boundaries. You don’t respect them. Even when the pandemic is over, it’s going to be very, very difficult to try to rebuild them. What we actually need are guardrails, big and sturdy ones, to protect us from the runaway semi-truck of work.

In our current framework, boundaries are the individual’s responsibility, and when they’re broken, it’s because the individual failed to protect them. But guardrails? They’re there to protect everyone, and they’re maintained by the state, aka your company. There are a lot of ways to actually build guardrails around employee’s lives, and we discuss them at length in the book. But the larger shift has to be away from all of this worthless “personally-maintained boundaries” bullshit.

https://annehelen.substack.com/p/imagine-your-flexible-office-work

As Anne correctly points out, working from home has meant working non-stop for many of us. I am guilty of this and I feel it after a year of working this way. Employers will need to figure out how to constrain work hours for their employees because it turns out we can’t do that for ourselves. Office hours (9 to 5) did that for us. What will be the new office hours? We will need to figure that out.

We have the possibility to fundamentally change the way knowledge work is done and how we who do it experience it. The opportunities around this are almost endless and I am personally very excited by it.

#employment#entrepreneurship#NYC

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

In my Jan 1st post talking about what I expected to happen this year, I wrote:

I think we will see the end of the Covid Pandemic in the US sometime in the second quarter. I believe the US will work out the challenges we are having getting out of the gate and will be vaccinating at least 40mm people a month in the US in the first quarter. When you add that to the 90mm people in the US that the CDC believes have already been infected, we will have well over 200mm people in the US who have some protection from the virus by the end of March.

Seven weeks later, it seems like that is pretty much what is playing out. I have read that about half of the population of the US now has some protection against the Covid 19 virus, either via having had the disease or by being vaccinated at least once. At the current vaccination rate of 1.8mm a day, the number of people who have at least some protection against the Covid 19 virus will be about 70% by the end of March.

What that means is the virus will spread less, infecting less people, and less folks in the hospital or worse. I believe that means a gradual re-opening of the economy throughout much of the US in the second quarter with schools, stores, restaurants, and nightlife coming back. I am sure that precautions will continue for much, if not all, of 2021 because nobody wants to take this lightly after what we have all been through.

If that is in fact the case, and we don’t know for sure that it is, what does that mean for the economy, businesses, tech, and more?

I wish I knew. But I have some suspicions.

As I have written here quite a few times, I believe that habits that we have formed in the last twelve months will stick with us even when we don’t need to use them anymore. I believe work from home has proven to be very effective for some, possibly even a majority, of knowledge workers. E-commerce has delivered (no pun intended) and the gains it has made against in-store retail will not be given back much, if at all. Remote learning is here to stay. So is telehealth.

I also believe that the things we have not been able to do in the last year; travel, be tourists, see live music, live theater, live sports, and all of that will be in more demand than ever. As Joni Mitchell said, “you don’t know what you got until it is gone.” We want all of that back and I think we will embrace being with others experiencing things in the real world with a passion.

But where all of this lands is anyone’s guess. And there are many businesses whose near-term fortunes depend on how the balance of remote vs in-person lands over the rest of 2021.

I also think a re-opening may not be great for the stock market, which was a major beneficiary of the pandemic. The NASDAQ is basically up 100% since March 20, 2020. I wrote a bit about why I think that might be the case last week. I don’t know how quickly a re-opening will impact the stock market, but I do think it could.

But let’s not get negative here. And end to the Covid pandemic and a re-opening of the economy would be about the best thing that could happen to the US and the world and I am becoming more and more optimistic that it will start happening in the second quarter of 2021.

#Current Affairs#economics#employment#stocks

Six Months Later

In early June, I wrote this post explaining that I and we need to do more to reduce the inequality issues for Black people in tech, venture capital, and startups.

I think MLK day is a good time to talk about what has happened since that post.

We have identified a number of areas where we must do better:

  • Increase the number of Black founders we back
  • Increase the number of Black team members at USV
  • Increase the number of Black VCs we work with and support
  • Increase the number of Black board members in our portfolio
  • Increase the number of Black leaders in our portfolio
  • Increase the number of Black employees in our portfolio
  • Increase the number of Black engineers in our portfolio
  • Increase the number of Black investors in our funds
  • Increase the number of Black college graduates going into tech, venture capital, and startups
  • Create pathways for Black students to study STEM and find their way into careers in tech, venture capital, and startups

We have ongoing projects, workstreams, investments, and efforts in each and every one of these areas and we have made tangible progress in almost all of them.

I believe that the inequity issues are so severe and deeply rooted that it will take a concerted effort over a number of years to truly erase them.

But we are making progress and if we keep at it, across many dimensions, we can get where we need to go. Roughly 15% of Americans are Black. Until we can look around the room and see at least one Black person for every six in the meeting, we haven’t done enough. Today is a good day to remind ourselves of that and recommit to the work that needs to happen.

#employment#entrepreneurship#management#VC & Technology

The Work-Life Balance Revolution

Yesterday, I had a gap in the middle of the day. So the Gotham Gal and I took an hour-long walk with our dog Ollie. It cleared my head and when I got back to work, I was full of energy and clarity.

I’ve been working exclusively from home since the end of November 2019 when we left NYC to go to LA. It has been a stretch of incredible productivity for me.

I am not arguing against going back to the office. As I’ve said in many posts recently, I can’t wait to go back to the office. But I am sure that many of us have had the same experience that I have had working from home during the pandemic. It has its advantages.

And in that realization exists the possibility that we are on the cusp on a revolution in how many of us can find work life balance going forward.

My friend Tom wrote this post last week suggesting that a husband and wife can now work a total of 50 hours a week between them and have two full-time jobs and raise a family. This part sums up the idea pretty well:

Why do I think 25 hours/ week is the equivalent of a 50-hour week (counting commuting)?

Given a nine-to five schedule with an hour for lunch, the 40 hour work week was only 35 to begin with.

As an ex-CEO, I think that at least ten hours of each workweek go to socialization, surfing the internet, checking with the spouse or checking up on the children, chatting on smartphones etc. (Mary thinks only five).

Meetings and travel to meetings waste a huge amount of time and money. One reason that Zooming appears not to have reduced productivity is that many of the meetings weren’t productive to begin with.

Office space and often parking are expenses to the employer but they are not income to the worker. If office space and all its attendant costs can be drastically reduced, employers can afford to pay more dollars in salary for the same productivity.

Commuting expense including perhaps even the second car, daycare, clothing and dry-cleaning bills, and paid before and after school activities whose purpose is to supervise school age kids are all expenses which go away when parents can work from home. Even if the WFH employee has less gross taxable income, he or she will have more cash at the end of each month.

https://blog.tomevslin.com/2021/01/newnormal-the-50-hour-family-work-week.html

Even if Tom is off by a bit with his math, he makes a terrific point. Companies can ask for less of a family’s time, pay them more, and get the same amount of work done using the techniques we have perfected during the pandemic.

I realize that not all jobs lend themselves to this approach. But maybe more than you think. Take doctors. We used to have to go see doctors in their offices. Now with digital health services like those offered by our portfolio companies Brave and Nurx, the doctors are seeing the patients from their homes (or wherever they are).

Teaching is another occupation that presents a lot of opportunity to rethink time and location. Many teachers have been learning how to help their students master new things from their kitchen counters over the last year.

I want to say it again. I am not suggesting that we won’t be going to offices anymore. I am not saying doctors won’t have offices anymore. I am not saying teachers won’t be in classrooms anymore.

What I am saying is that we can and should be asking how much of our work time needs to be in person, face to face, and how much can be virtual. And I am certain that we will be asking that. In our year-end reviews at USV, we heard again and again from our team that they wanted to ask those questions. They should. Commuting and business travel are not the necessities they were last century.

And, naturally, this coming work-life balance revolution presents tremendous opportunities for new products, services, and companies. We have been seeing many of them crop up over the last year and have invested in a few of them.

From bad comes good. This pandemic and all of the things that have come with it has been awful. But I believe it will unleash all sorts of new behaviors and businesses that will be for the better. If you squint, you can see them coming.

#climate crisis#economics#employment#enterprise#entrepreneurship#Family#hacking education#health care#management#VC & Technology

Some Good News

There has been a fair bit of good news in the last 48 hours. Here is some more. I logged onto Twitter just now and saw this tweet from my colleague Matt:

It has taken almost nine months, but our USV portfolio companies have as many open and unfilled jobs this morning as they did prior to the pandemic. That is approximately 1,500 open positions.

That’s very good news. If you want one of them, go here and check out our job board.

#employment

NYC Tech Companies: Please Consider Participating in Summer Bridge

NYC’s Summer Youth Employment Program is the nation’s largest youth employment program, historically connecting NYC’s neediest young adults (between the ages of 14 and 24) with a paid work experience every summer. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into it this summer and it was canceled. In response, the City and State and over 50 nonprofits have come together to design the Summer Bridge program for summer 2020. Summer Bridge will provide low-income NYC students with City and State-funded professional workplace experiences in the tech industry and beyond.  

Summer Bridge will provide summer internships to 35,000 young adults this summer.  Student interns will participate in workplace challenge projects for 10-20 total hours (2-4 hours per week for 4 weeks.) The program begins on August 3rd and finishes on August 28th.  Summer Bridge and its non-profit partners will match student interns with companies, compensate students with a stipend ($700-1000 for the summer), and manage day-to-day-student relationships.

We want the NYC tech sector to be a big part of Summer Bridge this summer. Please consider having your company involved. Here is our ask of your company:

  • Design a “workplace challenge” for students based on a real business need or problem in one of four areas: product, engineering, marketing, or design.  Tech: NYC is providing templates for these challenges.
  • Recruit employee volunteers to meet weekly with small groups (15-20 students) for hour-long virtual interactions. Ideally, each volunteer would see 2-3 groups a week.
  • Offer feedback to students at a virtual final workplace challenge presentation.

We hope your company will participate in Summer Bridge this summer. If you would like to participate, go here and sign up.

#Current Affairs#employment#NYC

Location and Work

I am confident this pandemic will end. At some point, we will have a vaccine, therapeutics, and/or broad based immunity. When that will happen is less clear to me. I believe that at some point, we will be able to resume living and working as we did prior to the pandemic.

However, I am also confident that we will not resume living and working exactly as we did prior to the pandemic because some of the things we have adopted to get through this will reveal themselves as comparable or better than what we were doing before.

One of the places this is happening is knowledge work which is a growing percentage of the workforce in the US. What we have seen in this pandemic is that knowledge workers have been able to be comparably productive working from home and that has caused many large (and small) employers to consider different work/location options.

Yesterday, Twitter told their employees that most of them can work from anywhere going forward:

A number of our portfolio companies have made that decision already as well:

I can imagine large and small banks, law firms, accounting firms, media and entertainment companies, and other knowledge based businesses making similar decisions.

I am not saying that remote work is ideal. There is something very valuable about being able to be in the same physical space as your colleagues. USV will likely keep an office for exactly that reason.

But it is also true that USV is operating incredibly well during this pandemic and we have not (yet) missed a beat.

What this means for large cities where many companies that engage in knowledge work are centered is an interesting question.

I saw this chart this morning on Benedict Evans’ Twitter:

That compares two of the most expensive cities in the US (and world) to each other. And as bad as NYC is on the affordability index, SF is way worse.

So when you combine these two situations; large knowledge work hubs getting prohibitively expensive and remote work normalizing, it would seem that we are in for a correction.

What is less clear is where knowledge workers who can increasingly work from anywhere will choose to live (and work). Will cities remain attractive for the quality of life they offer (arts, culture, nightlife, etc)? Or will the suburbs stand to gain? Or will more idyllic locations like the mountains or the beach become the location of choice? Or will second and third tier cities become more attractive? I do not have a crystal ball on this question. I suspect it will be some of all of the above.

But this may become a big deal. Like the “white flight” that happened in the 50, 60s and 70s in a number of large cities in the US. Wholesale movement of large groups of people can have profound changes on regions.

Like many disruptions, this is both bad and good. Affordability (or lack thereof) and gentrification have been a blight on our cities. If we can reverse that trend, much good will come of it. This may also be helpful in addressing the climate crisis which remains the number one risk to planet Earth. So there are reasons to be excited about this. But wholesale abandonment is terrible. We should do whatever we can to avoid that.

It is early days for this conversation. But it is one we are going to have all around the US, and possibly all around the world. So it is time to start thinking about it.

#climate crisis#Current Affairs#economics#employment#NYC