A little over a year ago I drove through Boston on my way to Cape Cod. The pandemic had started to spread across the country, and the previous day my company closed our downtown offices for mandated work from home. The early morning light on the empty rush hour streets gave the city a surreal post-apocalyptic look. In a little over an hour I would be in the coastal town of Orleans, Massachusetts, where I expected to spend the next two to three weeks working from home before heading back into the city. That was a year ago.
In three weeks, I’ll finally be returning to Boston. I know some people think I’m headed in the wrong direction. In the last year many family, friends, and colleagues have moved to the suburbs or even out of state. The pandemic has caused many of us to rearrange our lives, and with more businesses supporting work from home, some of us have chosen to untether ourselves from cities. I am not one of these people. Here are my reasons:
I Want to Be Part of a Tech Community Again
One of my favorite things about living in Boston is the vibrant tech community - both in the companies for which I worked and in the city. Pre-pandemic, every night there would be meetups and industry events happening all around you. Even sitting in a local coffee shop, you almost always would run into a colleague from the tech community. I know I can find virtual community in Clubhouse, Reddit, and Facebook - but it’s not really the same as a real living and breathing community. I want to be part of the Boston tech community again. Physically. Not virtually.
I Want a Company Culture
One of the things I enjoyed the most about my last startup, CloudHealth Technologies, was its culture. When employees talk about this culture, they frequently talk about it in the context of our first office on 280 Summer Street. As a small company, we started by subletting space in an old warehouse in South Boston. As we grew, we acquired more real estate within the building until we had three full floors to ourselves. If there was a beating heart to our company, it was this fragmented, crowded, and noisy office space. It was where we solved problems for customers, collaborated with colleagues, held company events, played games, and built bonds with each other that transcended work. I can’t imagine our people would have the same reverence for our culture had we been a fully remote company. I want to return to a real company culture - office space and all.
I Don’t Want to Work From Home
I have enjoyed my time working from home. Taking 2+ hours of commuting out of my day allowed me to rearrange my life in unexpected ways. I did things this last year that I had never done before - e.g. fishing for striped bass over lunch time, making morning walks to the beach to watch the sunrise, taking late Friday afternoon meetings from a boat (shhh, don’t tell anyone). But I also lost something too. There is an energy to working with people in shared space that cannot be replicated over Zoom and Slack. Post-vaccine, I want to get back to arguing over a whiteboard, exchanging ideas over a cup of coffee, and learning more about people over a beer. I have a deep passion for building software, and this last year made me realize how much of that passion comes from the people with which I choose to do it. Don’t get me wrong: I strongly believe in flexible work. But all remote is just not an option for me.
I Want To Innovate, Old School
While many organizations have proven the ability to execute pre-existing plans while working from home, most are also struggling with their ability to innovate remotely. Innovation requires people of diverse experience having frequent and high bandwidth conversations. I’m not saying you cannot innovate remotely - companies such as Elastic and Atlassian have proven this is possible. But spending 10+ hours a day on Zoom calls is not exactly a conducive environment for innovating. I am looking forward to getting back to innovating with trusted colleagues in shared office space. As one of my former colleagues said: “Innovation is more like a cocktail party than a boardroom.” I want to get back to that cocktail party.
Cities = Opportunity
I’ve heard both sides of the debate on the future of work. On one side are the people who believe location no longer matters in technology, and we can work from anywhere we want in the world. On the other side of this argument are the people who believe we will quickly be returning to the way we worked pre-pandemic, complete with offices and daily commutes. I believe the future of work will be somewhere in between. There is no doubt that for those people who want to work from home, they will be able to select companies that provide them this opportunity. But I also believe that the substantial challenges of innovation, company culture, and employee retention in all remote businesses will drive more companies to try to blend the best of an office-based culture with flexible work. If I am right, the future of work will be different than it was pre-pandemic, but offices and cities will continue to matter.
I Miss Boston
I am a transplant to Boston. I arrived here more by happenstance than plan. As my college graduation neared, I noticed all the technology jobs seemed to be located in San Francisco or Boston. Since Boston was closer, I decided it must be the right place for me. I have not once regretted that decision. Over my years in the industry, I have traveled across the world and found many beautiful cities - e.g. London, Paris, Sydney, Singapore, Venice. But none quite compare to Boston for me. The walkable city, the diverse mix of industries, the food scene, the culture, the sports teams, and the mix of modern architecture with Old World charm, all combine to make it a city like few others. I know I could choose to work anywhere in the world these days. I choose Boston.
I realize the Boston I will return to will not be the same city I left. It will take time and shots in arms for the city we know to return. But I am looking forward to helping Boston technology return to its pre-pandemic heights. The movers are scheduled, our furniture and accessories are packed, and my wife and I are working through the last of our check lists. I have loved my time on the Cape, and will always remember my year on the Nauset Estuary. But it’s time for me to get back to Boston.