Unlike the urban sprawl of Silicon Valley, the Boston tech community is small and compact. Within a few square miles, we have a diverse mix of big tech, startups, biotech, world class research facilities, and top notch universities. It’s small size makes the community approachable, allowing you to be within two degrees of separation of almost anyone you want to know. And once you get past the reserved exterior of many New Englanders, you will find a community that is welcoming and highly supportive.
But 13+ months after the Covid-19 shutdown, our tech community is fragmented and disconnected. While our industry has thrived, our community has suffered. Many of us have been working from home, doing our best to get our families safely through the pandemic. Some of us have struggled with young kids and remote learning, others have dealt with loneliness and isolation, and yet others have lost loved ones. But as we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel - a full reopening by August 22nd - we have a unique opportunity: a first-mover advantage in reigniting our technology sector. Here are 5 thoughts on reigniting Boston tech.
By the end of this month, almost any adult who wants to be vaccinated in Massachusetts, will have received their shots. We are fortunate to live in one of the leading states for vaccinations in the country, with one of the lowest populations of vaccine skeptics. While the CDC safety guidelines state that fully vaccinated people can safely meet indoors and outdoors without masks or social distance - provided you are not around someone at severe risk from Covid-19 - the etiquette around asking for vaccine status is still unclear. Is it acceptable to ask someone their vaccination status? Is it okay to make vaccination a prerequisite to returning to the office, attending an event, or meeting in-person? And how do we take into account the people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons or are vaccinated but have family members at high risk? We need to develop guidelines for managing these questions consistently and ideally without causing offense. The more we can normalize the conversation around vaccine status and personal safety guidelines, the easier it will be for us to safely gather again.
#2: Return to the Office
By now most businesses have decided how they will be managing work in the future. Some have chosen to go back to an office, others have adopted a hybrid / flex model, and yet others have gone fully remote. After a year of working from home, we all know the benefits and challenges of remote work on hiring, retention, innovation, execution, communication, career development and culture. While the debate between remote work and in-office continues, I’m a big believer that returning to offices full or part-time is going to be critical to the future of Boston tech. There is something about the energy of people collaborating in shared physical space that cannot be replicated remotely. I also believe there is more to great companies than the aggregate output of its employees. Whether it’s full or part-time, I think it’s time we put away the sweatpants, purchase a Charlie Card, and start getting back in the office.
#3: Events & Meetups
At first there was a novelty to online events and meetups. I remember how impressed I was with the active Zoom chat at my first online event last spring. But with my most recent conference, there was so little chat I wondered if people were using the event as background noise while they did other work. The novelty of online conferences has definitely worn off. Humans are social animals that are hard-wired for a physical world. Online conferences will definitely have their time and place, and will continue to do so in the future. But it’s time we tackle the logistical and safety challenges to allow us to bring back in-person gatherings. Once I am fully vaccinated, I am looking forward to attending a meetup, having cocktails at a rooftop event, and attending a real live conference (but please no Vegas).
#4: Coffee Meetings
Pre-pandemic I did a lot of business over coffee meetings. I hired people, got advice, mentored others, and just enjoyed shop talk with colleagues. The best part is: I don’t even drink coffee. I miss the Boston coffee meeting. I even miss the SNL Dunkin parody of our coffee culture. I know it’s convenient and efficient to meet people over Zoom from the comfort of your home. I also know that as an introvert, it’s a lot more comfortable too. But it’s time for us to get out of our comfort zone and start meeting people in person again - while of course following state, CDC and your own personal safety guidelines. Spring has sprung in Boston, and most of my favorite places also have outdoor seating. Let’s bring back the coffee meeting.
#5: Give Back & Promote
There are many ways to give back to Boston tech: supporting a local business, helping an entrepreneur, providing advice to a professional in need, being a mentor, volunteering in the community, and more. Our fragmented and disconnected Boston tech community needs our help now more than ever. Until Boston tech is fully back on its feet, I have personally decided to only take formal board member and/or advisor roles for companies headquartered in the Greater Boston Area (which I define broadly as anywhere they root for the Pats 😉). I’m putting Boston first in all I do in 2021.
With vaccinations on the rise and Covid-19 cases declining, we have a unique opportunity to reignite Boston tech. But to do this, put away our yoga pants, close the Zoom app, leave the comfort of our homes, and start to engage with each other again. I know it’s hard breaking out of the new normal, but together I believe we can re-envision how we bring back a better and stronger tech community. It’s time to reignite Boston tech.