Coffee is for Closers

August 1, 2023

I recently toured a freshly opened office building of a major player in Silicon Valley. I had toured this office numerous times before, but I was wearing a hard hat and safety vest each time.

I was wearing hard-hat this time because it was dress-up day at work, and I’m in the Village People. It wasn’t a construction site this time. Now it had lots of LED video walls, awesome boardrooms, and a fancy executive briefing center.

On this trip, the building was open for business and teaming with workers. It vaguely resembled what I had toured during construction. As it turns out, we didn’t really know what return-to-work was going to look like. We thought people would come back and do a “hybrid” version of what they did before. In one word: wrong.

We got it wrong. And that is amazing. We got it wrong, and it is the best thing that happened to AV in a long time. We got it wrong, and Silicon Valley is going to thrive for years to come, even in the face of ridiculous real estate prices, crowded freeways, and homeless camps. We got it wrong and that is fantastic news.

So here is I think what we got right:   

  1. Not everyone will come to work every day.
  2. Most meetings will have one or more distant participants.
  3. Cool tech helps with employee retention. People want to work for an up-to-date employer

And here is what we got wrong:

  1. The open office plan I have scoffed at for years is not dead… and it works. It really works. For some, not all.
  2. People HATE the open office plan and opt to spend a lot of their days in a phone booth. Literally. A phone booth. We don’t have enough of these. I don’t understand, but they are full of folks all day.
  3. For the millionth time, nobody wants to use an electronic whiteboard. They like analog.   
  4. BYOD is not that big of a deal. People go to a room because it is a room. Rooms have stuff in them like furniture and lights. We don’t bring our own table, so why we would we bring our own conferencing system? 

The last thing we got wrong is that we don’t really have to force people to come to work. We have hired a new generation of brilliant folks during COVID that have never really worked in an office environment and are eager to try it out. The smartest minds in tech are wandering around buildings and don’t know where to go and how to interact. That wandering and bumping into folks is exactly how the magic happens.

If you feed them, they will come.

The one thing they ALL agree on is EATING. Each and every person has to eat. It also turns out that each and every person needs some sort of fancy barista-made beverage.

The food court and coffee areas at this Silicon Valley office building were teaming with brilliant young minds. And it was LOUD. They were all in conversation. There was no avoiding the fact that happenstance brilliance was occurring in that room right then. They were not all sitting in silence staring at their phones. I was watching in real-time how eBay and Google rose from the primordial tech soup of San Jose. It was chance meetings at restaurants and bars. Those very sparks are going to start flying in the dining areas of all tech. This is collaboration. It is not on a calendar. It is not coerced or planned. Neither is life.

So why am I so bullish on AV right now? 

We are at the very beginning of this next generation of workers expressing their needs. We think we have it all figured out, but we are just beginning. If you think hanging up a camera/soundbar in a room cuts it, you are just wrong. It suits TODAY’S needs (barely). Those things will all be at the recycler before you can say GEN Z.

Today in any meeting, the distant participant always seems to have more weight than the locals. The distant participant is on a fancy screen and coming out of fancy speakers. They must be more important than the people in the room using boring old mouths and ears and whatnot. We focus on the screen, so we don’t have to make eye contact with those in the room. The new generation is better at this, but something will change to make it more natural. Joey D’Angelo of DNA has some very interesting ideas. The ideas are out there. This next-gen will make them a reality.

I am old, but not too old to see a tech revolution coming. It is like a freight train. There will be so much demand for this new way of working. People love the office. People hate the office. Bosses love the office and hate paying for it. There is certainty in uncertainty. We totally have it all wrong, and it is the best news ever.