(This is going to be a short blog post but I’m committed to writing something today because of this Back to Self challenge I’ve been doing all month. Read more about it here.)
I took on a new job at an exciting startup called Bolster in the midst of the pandemic and have now been working here for almost a year. I started as fractional (Yes it’s really a thing! And a great way to “try before you buy” in a new job context) and then full time in January.
While it’s true that a lot of the operational stuff and logistics has been easy enough to adapt to in an all Zoom era, the thing I miss the most about this new world order is the lack of peripheral learning.
By this I mean, quite simply, picking up things on the fringe. Learning by osmosis. By simply being around other people doing the thing, you get a little better at it yourself.
I’ll admit; I got a little spoiled by this at USV, whose culture is in large part all about the edge learning. While I’ve never personally delivered a VC pitch at a partner meeting, I’ve sat through hundreds of them. I’ve also observed all sorts of interactions, meetings, sidebar conversations. I’ve been a part of dozens of ad hoc “meetings after the meeting” which often is where the best stuff gets laid out.
And this is the part I just can’t seem to figure out how to unlock in an all remote culture. Where do the sidebar conversations happen when the host ends the Zoom meeting and you’re all kicked back into your own living rooms? Where’s the water cooler banter when there’s no one else in your kitchen?
The other day, while in an actual office, I took a partnerships call out in the open workspace, and I got to see the real time reaction of someone else in the room listening in who had never before heard my pitch in that way. This was supremely helpful to me. It felt like I was back on the sales floor again, listening in on other bits of conversation, co-opting the phrases that worked best for me, then trying them out myself.
I think peripheral learning is particularly useful for more junior employees. It’s so helpful to have examples of model behavior, to learn the little tweaks or approaches that the pros take on to be so great at the work they do. How does someone take notes in a meeting? What was their reaction to that comment or strategy shift? How do they action the next steps? What are other ways that colleagues facilitate introductions? Even the basics — how are the people I work with most closely spending their time? (And how can I optimize mine better?)
I won’t lie to you; I’m a huge eavesdropper. Let’s call it, “naturally curious.” But listening in on other conversations and other meetings is an incredible way to pick up a sense of business norms, acumen and your own personal style. To be a fly on the wall in a Zoom meeting doesn’t quite have the same feel as “just bringing along a colleague to tag along for lunch.”
Just as lot of language is non-verbal, a lot of learning is unstructured. I’m trying to find ways to optimize my unstructured learning, my peripheral learning, in an all remote working world. What’s worked for you?