Mark Suster took up the challenges that come with scaling a small, scrappy startup office culture into a decent-place-to-work culture here. In my last post I reflected on my first, “scrappy” remote office and the challenges it presented. Just like a seed stage startup, for me the scrappiness was charming, exciting, fun. The novelty of working from home, the freedom of not having a commute, and even the challenges of working in a significantly worse environment were all new and interesting. That newness made it possible to put up with the pain and still do some really great work.
But over the years, as I increased the amount of remote work that I do until now, where it’s my full time job, I had to scale up my office, just like those scrappy startups have to when they start to encounter a bit of success. Suster pointed out that for a startup making the transition, one of the most important investments they can make is to hire a great office manager / admin person. Just that phrase reminds me of two very impressive admin’s I’ve known.
At Microsoft, Amy was the admin for the Outlook team and she was awesome! For any question you had, she would find an answer. In a big company, political environment, she knew just who to talk to to get things done, but she also always had time to just shoot the breeze. For me, the team was never the same after she left to work at a smaller branch office.
During my time at Fog Creek, if Joel was the head of the company, Liz was the heart. She was just like Amy in so many ways, but at a small company she handled logistics more than politics, and made sure everything ran perfectly. She impressed me from our first conversations in the hiring process, she helped convince my wife that New York would be a great adventure for our family (and it was), and she’s still teaching me great stuff on her new blog: check out Cupcakes in Paradise.
Since leaving Fog Creek, I haven’t had an awesome office manager for one simple reason. I am my own office manager. Remote work is the future of work, and I’m sure that in time, as an industry, we’ll build up a really nice infrastructure around remote work that will handle most home “office management”. But the fact is that it’s still a ways out there. For now, every remote worker is their own office manager.
Doing that job well is not easy. What is easy is waking up to work on Monday and realizing your home office hasn’t been cleaned in a couple weeks. A thin layer of dust covers any surface area not in regular use. I don’t have someone refilling the candy jar or keeping the free drinks stocked. I’m not getting the standard issue laptop, desk, chair, speakers, keyboard, etc. I have to pick all that stuff out, which might be a bad idea for an OCD perfectionist. And don’t even think about the extra stuff, like fresh flowers in the restroom each week, catered lunches, funky artwork on the office walls, etc.
If I were a good office manager, I would do all the stuff that Suster recommends at the end of his post. I would have a comfortable chair, clean bathrooms, and a stocked kitchen. I would put up pictures, and make things comfortable. I spend 8+ hours a day in my home office, and sometimes I feel like it loses out to the rest of my home in terms of maintenance and upkeep. It’s time to change that.
How do you manage your home office? What do you miss about having an office manager?