Location, Location, Location

Welcome to Quarantine 15: a spot of joy in your inbox on work, life, and navigating the start of 2021. In case we haven’t met, I’m Nikki Gusz, a co-founder of Lloyd, a career GPS for young professionals. You can follow me on Twitter @nkgusz or subscribe to this email newsletter here.

Today, around here you’ll find:

(1) A little reflection on the week

(2) A conversation with Nathanael Ngbondo Koweda and Will Mitchell, the co-founding team of Tangle

(3) An activity to make your working from home (WFH) setup sparkle

(4) A treat from me

(1) A little reflection on the week

In the past year, most of us have clocked more hours connecting with others by a home computer rather than a handshake or hug. It’s no question the pandemic has changed how many of us work. Even for our brave frontline workers (thank you!) who may still be going into a workplace each day, most people have likely attended a meeting, conference, party, or weddings via Wi-Fi rather than in person. This is especially top of mind for me as I plan a remote, multiple time zone Lloyd retreat, and I’m missing the way having people together can bring the feeling of “energy in the room.” With this in mind, I wanted to explore WFH, but how we can make it a little more human / better.

(2) A conversation

This week, we’re chatting with Nathanael Ngbondo Koweda and Will Mitchell, the co-founding team of Tangle, a product that aims to improve collaboration for remote teams. Tangle’s goal is to make you feel more like you’re sitting around a desk at the office, while respecting the privacy and autonomy that people love about working from home. The team met while MBA students, where they graduated amidst the global pandemic, launching Tangle shortly before graduation. Nate and Will consider themselves lucky to have been friends first, Nate being the go-to for the gnarliest tech questions and Will as the one who weaves the stories. Since we might get feedback from our colleagues but don’t necessarily get the chance to ask them questions we’re curious about, we changed it up this week for a more human perspective and had Nate and Will interview one another.

Nate: Our story started before the pandemic, Will, but obviously became very compelling because of it. How would you describe our beginnings and how the pandemic has impacted our thinking?

Will: You remember during our first week of business school in August 2019, where we were trying to figure out if there was a way to capture and analyze audio simultaneously and in real time? Really, we were talking about how close technology was to creating in-person experiences in the digital world. From the beginning, we’ve been thinking about technology applications in general, and about remote work specifically, as a human problem (i.e. user experience / human computer interaction) instead of as an operational / functional problem. This is why Tangle’s communication is through visual and vocal cues (human) as opposed to dashboards and lists (operational / functional). The solution is a human rather than computer / machine-centric operating system because our technology needs are more human than ever, whether it be social, emotional, or familial.

Will: Building off of that, we often talk about wanting to duplicate the “intimacy” of the office, but in the remote space. Why is “intimacy” an important word to use, Nate?

Nate: Teams require work with other human beings, which means there are aspects beyond the work itself that you cannot disregard. Unfortunately, the existing tools neglect the human aspects, instead focusing on collaboration in terms of exchanging information related to work. For example, when you’re having a bad day, it’s not well captured by dashboards and lists. Yet, when face-to-face in the office, you can more easily sense the human nuance of your coworkers and empathize with your colleagues. You interact with them every day and develop an understanding of their patterns / habits.

In a team, you want to contribute to your colleagues’ success because you care about people on a personal level. When communication is reduced to scheduled meetings and / or instant messages, that human element is frequently stripped away, and negates the ability of a team to become more than the sum of its parts.

So, back to your original question: by intimacy, we’re referring to our intention to bring communities together through nuance, feel, and subtlety, but without requiring physical / geographical proximity. The most successful organizations in the world are those in which the people within them have a purpose beyond the completion of tasks in exchange for a paycheck, and that is why we’re building a product to make up this missing layer for remote teams.

Nate: Thanks for coming to my story time. Ok, Will, back to you. What is your best remote work hack?

Will: Move around a lot! Also, work with your internal clock. Sort of like Judo where you use your opponent’s force towards your own end, I find it’s best to use your productive hours when they come, and recognize when you require something different whether leisure or exercise, and do that without hesitation. We actually thought a lot about this when building Tangle. With Tangle, each person has an avatar, and you know I’m away or available because my avatar reflects it so simply. It’s sort of like coffee breaks in an office—all you have to do is look. It makes for less guesswork around who’s doing what, and it allows us to understand those human patterns in our colleagues and in ourselves.

Will: Apparently the readers want to get to know us a little more (dangerous question). Nate, if we had to describe the other as a fictional character as a coworker, who would we pick and why?

Nate: Will is Morpheus, minus the calm part. Always providing what’s needed to make other people successful, and being able to push others to get the best out of themselves. Questionable fashion sense as well.

Will: Nate, you’re hands down Doctor Octavius because you can do many things at once, you’re a technical genius, and the ultimate pessimist. Plus who wants to see the good guy win every time? That’s boring, and I root against superheroes.

Nate: Ok Will, another one for both of us. What are the three essential elements of a great WFH setup?

Will: Extra monitor, adjustable desk, and lots of space. I have none of them.

Nate: Sounds not essential. Wi-Fi, no power outages, laptop.

Will: Nate, if you had a crystal ball, how do you think working from home will be different in one year?

Nate: A hybrid model, I don’t believe the world of work will move fully remote for multiple reasons. Younger people like more flexibility to be “digital nomads” and travel, and companies will accommodate them. However, many workers can’t move around, particularly those with families. Also, people in big cities, like NYC, don’t have the space to be WFH all day. So, I think companies will have touch-down spaces—maybe corporate, maybe co-working spaces. Once or twice a month, people will gather to connect. It’s kind of like the concept of home—you need a physical home base, for your work, too. It’s important to be able to shake peoples’ hands. Also, companies have tried to go fully remote before, but it doesn’t always work. Maybe workers don’t have the right tools, but I think it’s also an organizational culture issue. If I had to guess, that will be the future, and it’ll be starting about a year from now.

If you’re interested in learning more about Tangle, reach out to the team: contact@horaizon.us.

(3) An activity

Let’s make your WFH a little more kind and human this week—all in 15 minutes.

0-4 min: Watch Ergonomics Expert Explains How to Set Up Your Desk. When watching, your goal is to identify one improvement you can make based on the recommendations to make your workspace better for your uniquely human body. I like this video because it shows high tech and low tech ways to improve a WFH setup.

4-9 min: Based on the one improvement you identified, determine the next step you need to improve your setup. Examples include: walk across the room to grab a ream of paper and place it in the appropriate place, visit a website to purchase the item to improve your setup, or block a time on your calendar if it requires a little more time / effort. If you’re having decision anxiety, Wirecutter’s reviews can be helpful (usually offering options in a variety of price ranges, but if that is not the case, it at least can provide a little inspiration).

10-15 min: Look at your space. What can you do in 5 minutes to improve it for this week? Examples include: wash and put away the coffee cup from Thursday, find a fun drink coaster, or file that document from 6 months ago (or maybe that’s just me . . .).

(4) A treat

It's hard for even the most motivated among us to meet regular expectations when each day seems to bring unknowns and breaking news. Join us on January 28th for an event on how to build habits in uncertain times. Speakers will include a behavior / habits researcher, a wellness startup CEO, a professor who studies sleep, and an Olympian coach / former Chicago Bulls trainer.