A rainy afternoon like this one at HQ can be a delight. Listening to the polyrhythms of the droplets outside, the gray sky and the shadows, all from a warm comfortable space with a purring cat and favorite music. It can be a great time for focusing on creative projects, or just lying around and experience the “disintegration of thought.”
Rainy days at an office can be more challenging, especially when said office is one of the worst offenders of “forced togetherness.” I retreated into my work, getting better acquainted with the Swift programming language and listening to music on my headphones using the mobile music-play I was tasked with building. To this day, I associate Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23” with rainy days and the mental and personal space I created for myself.
In my mind, I was in a dank 1970s wood-paneled den with a stereo with large speakers – maybe a lava lamp or two – as the gentle rain outside provided a foundational background noise. A bit melancholy but also happy and contented. I also played a lot of Ornette Coleman on our app as I was building and testing it. It was no accident that Lonely Woman rose in the play statistics against the insipid contemporary pop tunes form our top charts and staff picks.
Another aspect of rainy days at this particular office was that our external network often went down. It is rather difficult to work at or run a technology company without internet, so this logically led to an exodus with most of us working from home the remainder of the day. On one occasion, one of the co-founders exhorted us all to come with him to his apartment building with the selling point “we have a rec room!” This was quintessential forced togetherness, as it is unclear what possible benefit a rec room would have to do with getting our work done. Now I don’t know what was going through his mind – perhaps he was just lonely, and maybe he even thought he was being generous – but it was par for the course for a company whose culture seemed about hanging out together. This was, after all, the same company with the coercive lunch behavior that I described in the previous installment of this series. Even before joining, when I balked at an embarrassingly low offer, part of their response was a series of emails and links to blog posts of them hanging out and partying, presumably intended to show me “how cool they were.” This should have been a red flag, but I did not take the warning. A bit older and wiser, I do take such warnings very seriously now when I evaluate business and career opportunities.
However, it still remains an open question as to why young companies, particularly with young founders, tend to put such a premium on togetherness to the point where others are pressured to participate. We will continue to unpack this in future installments of this series.