After over a year away, Paul and Rich are vaccinated and back in the office. From the Postlight recording studio, they discuss their experience of returning to the office — overwhelming at first, but ultimately a refreshing reset. They also reflect on the importance of in-person work for effective communication, connection, and planning for the future.
Paul Ford Google Analytics for humans is going to happen, right?
Rich Ziade Yes.
PF And if you need someone to build that—[Paul & Rich laugh]
RZ We will build that for you!
PF No, we will not! [music ramps up, plays alone, fades out] Richard.
RZ Yes Paul?
PF Richard. I don’t know if people are gonna be able to hear the difference.
RZ They can feel the difference.
PF They can feel the difference. We are at 101 Fifth Avenue.
RZ What’s that? Who? Where is that?
PF That is the office of Postflight.
RZ Woah. 101 Fifth Avenue. That’s just on the edge of Flat Iron in New York City.
PF It’s the best place in the world and I am spraying you with so many molecules of my mouth poison right now.
RZ We are both vaccinated. It’s weird. This is my first day back, not your first day. It’s strange to be back.
PF I’ve been in here a couple of times. Been in here a couple times. Yeah, we’re fully vaxxed. We’ve we’ve got our Excelsior passes on our phone. So which I think you can use to buy Bitcoin?
RZ Probably every time you check it you bought Bitcoin.
PF Frankly, Andrew Cuomo is going to give us all about $5,000 worth of Bitcoin, just to kind of—
RZ Just to calm down.
PF Yeah, just to keep everything going. You know, you just went through it. I went through it a couple weeks ago. Let’s talk about the moment of transition when you return to working in an office. Right. So I’ve been here a couple days. How did you feel when you open that door?
RZ Well, let me go. Let me rewind back, I reminded myself that my train ride is two stops. I’d forgotten. They’re two very long stops. I live in Brooklyn, the office is in the city. It was just really weird. The whole thing is felt strange, I wasn’t sure which direction the train was going to come in. It feels like a lot more time has passed, then has actually passed. There’s a very well known psychologist who talks about long term memory. You’ve heard the term long term memory?
PF Yeah, sure.
RZ Not long term memory isn’t like, I can remember from childhood, long term memory in that the first time you walk down brand new street, you store away in short term memory. And what happens is, your experience there is very different that first time from all future times. Because once you file it away, it becomes something very, it gets registered very differently in your brain. And it becomes part of sort of hardwired memory that you just recall. And what’s happened is a lot of the things that you experience in your day to day because you do a lot of the same things every day, gets filed away in that long term memory and then the system gets shut off, right? Like there’s no more of that routine. And then you come back to it and you think you could just resume that same data inputs those same usual routine data inputs like usual and you can’t. Your brain actually, the flash drive, like the SSD in your brain wiped out and you have to rebuild it again. And a lot of it is rebuilding, I think those things that you took for granted, and just thought were just normal, which is weird and creepy, but you know, the brain adjusts fast I feel like.
PF Pause for one second, right? This has been a tough year. A lot of people lost people. Like there’s just a lot that was really bad about it. So don’t read our enthusiasm and our like, well, here we go again! Like I’m not saying that all didn’t happen. It’s just like, well, here we are. And we’re going back for it. I’m wearing—you’re wearing a nice sweater today and a watch.
RZ I am.
PF I’m wearing a sweater and a nice shirt underneath. I’m feeling good. You know what happens when you get on a video call with people from the office?
RZ You don’t put pants on?
PF No, they look bananas. And we look tiny. Because we’re in a conference room—
RZ And the cameras not six inches away.
PF Like everything was oriented around like let’s you know, let’s make sure the groups of people can talk to groups of people. And everyone’s kind of staring. And you can see Slack reflected in their eyes. And what you’re realizing as you if you come back into the office, you start looking around, you realize this isn’t all going to happen in one day. Just what you’re saying about long term memory. It’s going to be a big reset that will take many months. So first of all, Poslight isn’t open for business. We’re in here because we’re fully vaccinated and it’s safe. Postlight is open for business, but the office is not. So I think like the adjustment is going to be both it’s really exciting and fun to be back. Actually, I get, I was very productive. Day one was not productive. Day one was a disaster when I came in.
RZ You’re storing the new data back in.
PF Your brain just is like what do I, what do I do now? What do I do? And every conference call I’d get on everybody would be like, it’d be like five minutes of like, ‘whoa, you’re in the office!’ But then day two, I was like, This is amazing. What a technology for productivity. Four walls! And you know, artificial lighting. You can get so much done here.
RZ I have a lot of thoughts about this. First off, I would just want to send love to New York City. I think this is the greatest city in the world. And it’s it’s quieter than usual. It’s a Thursday.
PF It is. You get off that train and it’s not as busy.
RZ It’s not as busy and you know that energy and that, that sort of, I don’t know, it’s sort of a low hum that makes the city, the city. And I’ve been to a lot of places around the world and the dynamism that makes this city what it is, you know, I miss it.
PF It’s got a pressure, right?
RZ It’s a pressure, I have pride in our ability to have succeeded here. There are a lot of people who—when people say, you know what, I’m done. I’m moving upstate, and I’m gonna pay, you know, 1/10 for cost of living. All I can think to myself is, wow, you’re a loser.
PF Yeah, that’s great.
RZ I’m kidding. I don’t think that. [Paul laughs] But I love that, you know, I was listening to Fareed Zakaria on a podcast recently. And he was talking about what’s, when we are past this, to how does this play out? And what does it look like? And he brought up this this point around how people thought that cities only arose because they were transportation hubs. And it just turns out, people looove the home. They love being close to each other. And they love that action.
PF You know, so when I moved to New York City, the number one thing—I was a designer back then, which is, we don’t talk about anymore, but I was never good.
RZ I didn’t know this.
PF I was not good. I mean, I was good enough for the early web. [Rich laughs] Yeah, no, I, I sort of traveled closer and closer to sort of the platform architecture type of stuff pretty quickly. But yeah, no, I did a lot of design. I was very font aware. And I remember cutting the city and just realizing how much typography was around me, right? Like it was constant.
RZ As you’re looking up at signs.
PF Just endless stimulus that way. And actually, I gotta give it to Silicon Valley, right? You walk around in Silicon Valley, and people are talking about like, low level cloud services. Like they’re talking about, I’m getting a cup of coffee, right? So there are these places have cultures. What I love about here is that you can talk real fast all the time, and everybody’s into everything. And that is like, there isn’t one, publishing and banking and money and not money and NGOs and you know, real social progressives. And real hardcore banks and just it’s all a horrible mess. It’s been a horrible mess for 300, 400 years.
RZ Yeah. And and I think humans need it.
PF Yeah. Andrew Yang might be our next neighbor. So it might be over. We might be—[Paul laughs]—did I say neighbor? I meant Mayor!
RZ Let me ask you this. I was I was reading recently about how people even though all the boxes will be checked, vaccinated, numbers are near zero. Everything’s fine. It’s still there will be a lag between people, just it’s not a switch you can flip
PF Well we’re all still wearing masks outside.
RZ We’re still wearing masks outside. Nobody wants to hear me yell out on the street corner ‘I’m vaccinated’.
PF Exactly. You and I just went got a cup of coffee. Yeah, I want to show people my Excelsior pass so bad.
RZ Okay. tell people what the Excelsior pass is.
PF It’s an app you get on your phone.
RZ Is it Bitcoin? [Paul laughs]
PF It really is. Okay. So New York State has released an app and it basically produces a QR style code that proves you have been vaccinated. And the way you get into the app is you log in, you say when your second vax was, the date, your name, etc. And it goes, it hits the database of who’s been vaccinated. And it says, yep, legit, and then they give you, you know, and I think mine is good through, I don’t know, like September. I have my little QR code. And I can walk in anywhere that they demand it and I can hold it up. And I can say, Bill Gates implanted his microchip directly into my brain. I am vaccine for work group 3.11 compliant, and they’ll go great. Come on in! None of the restaurants are checking this, nobody’s checking this.
RZ Well, they don’t want to exclude—first off, what percentage do you think of the 10s of millions of New York’s people, in New York state who are vaccinated have the Excelsior pass, and it filled out the application?
PF Probably, surprisingly, and difficulting low, although it works fine on Android. So that’s always a good sign.
RZ Answer the question, Paul!
PF 3%. [Rich laughs]
RZ Exactly. We’re nerds. And we like oh, cool! This is gonna be my key to freedom. It’s the minute I install this, my wife will be more comfortable with me being in her physical space.
PF Being nearby. Oh, my God, our spouses are so done.
RZ Everybody’s done with everyone. And so that mobility, that freedom, I know, I know, there is this has opened up the possibilities of having greater flexibility. I recognize that and I understand it. But I think there are certain dynamics that are going to kick in that are going to draw people back in. I’ll tell you why. Because New York City arose by being a trade hub.
PF Sure, it’s the marketplace.
RZ And then that died, right? Huge tankers filled with containers. Don’t come into New York City, but guess what?
PF Yeah but we don’t power things by whale oil anymore either.
RZ There’s that. And so I think I think with cities, once you spin, it’s like putting a satellite in space. If you do it just right, it spins forever. And cities, I think once you have just enough energy, and action that’s happening in those cities, there are going to draw people in, you know who you can ask as to what the future looks like? Ask the teenager who lives in a suburb who likes to drive into New York City to go out, right? That is I grew up in many years in the southern part of Brooklyn, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. And it was a big deal to plan out who got the car to drive into the city to go out.
PF It’s a big part of Saturday Night Fever, right? They don’t even make it into Manhattan, if I remember.
RZ That’s the story, right? Which is he’s dating this woman who is a, you know, intellectual living in Manhattan. And it’s just a dude from Bay Ridge, which is pretty much my story.
PF Of course!
RZ It’s worth sharing. But that pull doesn’t go away. We’ve had pandemics before, we’ve had other things happen before.
PF Well, you know, what, what you’re never allowed to say from any direction is the role that sort of like pleasure and checking things out and talking to people and just shooting the shit actually plays in living your life and how important it is and how much like, like, you know, the water cooler is a big part of any job. And but so is like, the sense of how am I doing? Am I thinking interesting thoughts here? How am I doing? If you’re not motivated towards that, that’s fine. And there are wonderful ways to work remotely. We’re not arguing that. It’s just that like, there’s always this this sort of fundamental assumption that oh, this Agora style technology, a technology of bringing humans together through infrastructure, you know, that’s going to eventually it’s going to expire. And it’s like, no, we’re gonna, we’re, there’s gonna be parts of the space, the enormous asteroids that we live in, where they’re a little cooler than the other parts. It’s just everybody thinks they’re going to solve for humans with technology, and actually saying that, like, everything’s gonna go remote, I think it’s a pretty good example of that. It’s not that lots of things won’t be remote, and we won’t be flexible, but just, you’re just occasionally not going to be able to reproduce humans in the office. So here we are, right?
RZ The greatest moments for work and work for me are ones where something comes out of a collaboration that wasn’t anticipated. But like customer service, your job is to chew through 200. Like they rank you.
PF I’ve done it. I’ve been there.
RZ How many calls—not even calls, you’re the live chat person on the bottom right corner of of Amazon or whatever.
PF Let me help you with that.
RZ Last week I did, I averaged 160 a day, this week, I’m averaging 180 a day. That is a job. That is it’s difficult to find. First off, even in that job, you do want to be noticed, you do want to hear from others who have advanced, who have ideas about how you can do better. You do want to be seen! You want to be, especially by people who actually control levers of your around your success. These are all things even in the most wrote, like basic job, you still want that connection, right? I’m not convinced that you can translate that into “Hey, I looked at you on the dashboard this week, Jim, in Iowa, and your charts looking great.”
PF It’s just leads to hell.
RZ It’s just not good.
PF It just leads to hell. And that’s I mean, you know, one of the words that’s call center is famously, whenever you talk to people who are to call centers, right? It’s a very specific kind of experience, because you’re just totally commoditized, you’re turned into Yeah, a couple numbers. And then the manager who used to be you has decided that they’re not going to let themselves die inside, they’re going to make you die inside, right? And it kind of goes up. And you know, and it’s just all these things with escalation. Your numbers aren’t that good. And it’s the most commoditized version of humans that you can find out of an assembly line, right? But they’re trafficking information, literally, because AI hasn’t gotten to the point.
RZ Right. It’s like halfway you can tell when a human joins the conversation. You ever like, ping Best Buy? Yeah, it’s like, “Hello, I’m Anastasia, can I help you?” And then it’s clearly spitting up scripts.
PF You know it sucks too, is like, this is the thing. We’re headed there. Like, everybody’s like, oh, giant, giant technology companies are going to be totally willing to let all of their employees work remotely. Yeah. And it’s like, okay, and that is really good. That’s really good for people with disabilities. It’s really good for people with young kids.
RZ That flexibility is great.
PF But then that dashboards coming.
RZ It’s coming! Now shifting to sort of what I do.
PF Finally we can get an answer to this question.
RZ Yeah, I’m incredibly fortunate because I stare into a lot of uncertainty. And there are hard problems ahead. And I think, you know, if people who want a glimpse into our work dynamic, a lot of it is just highly, it’s just a lot of volleying of thoughts.
PF It looks like we’re sitting there and talking. It’s the worst thing in the world. If you were to look at Rich and I working it’s conversation to the point of exhaustion. I have noticed this, let me go deep for a second. The more and more senior you get and I would say the last year has made us very senior we’re running a company that is headed towards 100 people, we delegate a lot more. We’re at some in some aspects a company this size you treat it, like the finances become a little more like a bank and a little less like a deli. Like you know, there’s a—
RZ No offense to delis. No, but let’s just stay out loud. We don’t want to offend delis, we don’t want offend customer service people. Who often eat at delis.
PF We need both of them, you used to work at delis, lots of people worked, I’ve done a little customer service. It is what it is.
RZ I used to make a sandwich. Yes.
PF Exactly. So the thorny part is that what the awful thing about high level managers now that I kind of am one. You truly are. And I know a lot of them. All of us are exhausting. We exhaust all of the entire probability space in front of us, we force people to defend and communicate around it. And we look for probability after probability. And we sometimes just seem like idiots. And sometimes it seems like we’re worried about the wrong thing. And yet you look around and this company exists. And it’s not an accident, right? Like there’s a reason it’s here. And I see that with lots and lots of leaders that I work with. And I don’t actually I used to take it very personally and be like, Oh, boy, they really came at me hard. And I didn’t I didn’t meet the standard. And now I know, it’s like, oh, this is just someone who operates on the principle of exhaustion, whether they would ever name it that way or not. You might call it, as a former lawyer, you’ll say Socratic method. I’ll say, well, I just—
RZ Let’s articulate what you’re saying. You’re talking about this sort of very dialogue driven pelting of questions.
PF Let’s play it out. Let’s come up with a scenario and you will be you and I will be the somebody who’s trying to convince you of something.
RZ Paul, I read your note! I don’t usually get notes, emails on Sunday nights, but it was an interesting email to get.
PF I was drinking. [Paul laughs]
RZ What are your thought? Walk me through it. Worth pointing out. Let me just pause you there. Leaders will, if it’s something big, and meaty, they will always ask to talk to you. Good leaders will always ask to talk to you. If they’re responding back in the email. You pretty much didn’t make it through. Just saying, interesting. Let’s catch up on that sometime. Okay, so yeah, I saw your note, Paul, what’s up?
PF Look, I looked at a lot of our inbound recently, there’s a lot going on in Europe around the sort of platform based technology stuff. And I would love to see us get some of that business. I think you have a first of all, just personally, I think it’s really interesting. I think it’d be interesting to set up an office over there. I’m curious to see how that would go. But if you look at the numbers, that is a huge growth sector, in the UK. And also in the US, of course, now, it’s complicated with Brexit. But I want to talk about that with you, too.
RZ Yeah. I like the idea. I think it’s interesting, because it’s ambitious. But you know, planting a flag means you got to have someone that’s going to carry the presence in the like, do you have someone in mind?
PF Well, let’s say we could find that person. I think there’s a lot of good leaders over there. I know there’s a lot of small agencies, maybe could we buy an agency over there?
RZ That’s interesting. That’s more interesting, because here’s my fear. My fear is you stand up all the people that can execute on you landing some business in London. But there’s nobody there that is creating heat and attracting interest in the fact that like, we’ll do the best we can, we’ll write a blog post, maybe talk about on a podcast, maybe we’ll get someone with an English accent on the podcast, which could really boost sales. But until then, that’s pretty terrifying.
PF I got some bad news for you. There’s 28 minutes left in this meeting. [Paul & Rich laugh] This is real, right. So like—
RZ Does that mean, here’s, here’s something that a lot of people misread when we have dialogue like this. They think too highly of us, because they think I’m trying to get you to the answer I want you to have. And it turns out, I really don’t know a lot of time.
PF I don’t, I don’t know the answer.
RZ I really don’t know a lot of the time.
PF We have gut instinct, we have a rough sense of quality. And then, you know, and sort of what products might work here. And also we have a very good sense of what our clients need, because there’s just decades of sort those relationships. But after that, this is something I have a lot of trouble communicating this, I need to write about it. It’s one of the hardest things to get across because and I’ll tell you, when I was younger, I used to think that there was a store of secret special knowledge that I didn’t have access to. And that access that might include like, what the economy is doing what is happening in the marketplace. And I would think about things like the Bloomberg terminal.
RZ The black boxes that just hold power and knowledge.
PF Money and power have all this secret information. They have better information that are more highly vetted and cost more. But there is actually very, very little secret information. It is all about having the power to operate on the information in front of you. And the ability to sort of make decisions. But you don’t know, really anything that someone with a good with Google and maybe like $6,000 in the bank, yeah, couldn’t go find out. Read, figure out, you don’t have it. I don’t have any secret information that lets me be a better capitalist.
RZ Yeah. It’s hard to get that across to people because they see this current state of success.
PF They don’t, no one in power actually has all that mountain. I mean, the President does. Even Jeff Bezos sees probably about 10 times, he can contextualize probably 10 times more than we can. Because he has the entirety of Amazon filtering out to him. So he can see the whole economy in a very specific way. But all that information is actually only valuable if you’re if you have something that can operate upon that information. You know, I mean, what would be the one, if I could fantasize for one minute? What is one thing that you wish you could find out?
RZ Wish I could find out. It’s it’s always forward looking. Whenever I find that we’ve reached a an island of calm and serenity. My brain leaves the island and goes to the island where the volcanoes oozing out. And all the villagers are running. So looking ahead, I mean, all of all of decisions are really driven around where you think things are going to be not where they are today.
PF I would love, I would love accurate market sizing and current trends in climate and digital work, because we’re seeing more and more climate work. And the people who have that information now are more on the like consulting side, Gartner side, McKinsey, Deloitte. Those are the people who are able to do that research and get actually understand the market, like Accenture knows more about what’s happening with digital climate than Postlight does.
RZ They also know more about what people are talking about inside of a lot of big companies.
PF That is correct. And at the same time, we’re getting more and more climate work. And it’s more and more interesting. So they have direct information in their hand that I don’t have access to. So we have to guess cuz we’re little. Yes. Now what what is the tremendous fortune we have is we are in an industry, that is highly, it’s a volatile industry, but it moves very quickly. And it’s still a very, it’s still a very well funded forward moving industry. So we’re able to make some bets without tremendous risk, like we don’t have the pressure. If you own a deli and you have to own if you have to open up another deli, the bank is where you go. And that could be your whole life.
RZ It’s straightforward, because it’s like, I’ve been a good citizen. I’ve never been late on my loans payments. Let me borrow some money. And off you go, right. I want to bring this back to remote versus in person. I want to share a thought and then ask you a question. My thought is this. One of the most frustrating things I found with working remotely as a leader is that all problem spaces are bounded into calendar boxes.
PF That’s correct. And it’s a very hierarchical structure too right? You can only go one level up or one level down.
RZ And sometimes I don’t know what I want the outcome to be out of an important discussion. And all I see is the clock ticking because there’s another box righ after.
PF I gotta tell you, open ended questions, like you drop an open ended question in Slack. And it just sits there.
RZ I think this is where we’re hitting the wall.
PF And so we are at the stage of leadership, where like, I want to come in and say to leaders at Postlight, what do you think is coming for us in the next couple of years? Right? And I think we’re having those conversations, but you can actually see them go like, whoa, that’s a huge brain reset. And you can’t you can’t just drop it in Slack. There’s actually hours of conversation that have to happen.
RZ Paul, pre pandemic, people to ask that question would first go into the woods, and sit around a campfire. And then they have good catering usually, like there’s like a there’s a whole buffet.
PF Potbelly sandwiches?
RZ No, we’re upgrading. We’re on an off site. We’re in a lodge. You know what I’m talking about? It’s an offsite!
PF Offsites are probably so cheap right now, you can probably get an offsite scheduled and like a large upstate for like, $45.
RZ I’m not sure because I think everybody in New York City is there, right now? [Rich laughs]
PF Yeah, it’s probably true.
RZ But you’re raising a hugely important question, right. And this is, I think, telling about the transition back, which is even without a pandemic, when the big questions had to get asked. And when the leadership was trying to think about where things were going. You left the office, they often it was very ritualistic, they were like, keep your phone in your hotel room.
PF It’s true. No, we would go get breathers sometimes. We would go get breathers or these rental meeting rooms all around the city,
RZ Because it’s important to be able to kind of flop around and there the big thing for those conversations is to subvert the hierarchy in the organization.
PF And to have a different setting. And not to sit there on your email and let’s call it, I’m guilty as guilty as anyone else. The eyes shift away that Zoom call and you’re checking email.
RZ We’ve all been on Slack for a year. And you just sort of scrub the channels while people talk. And I mean, we’ve all heard and this is me, this is you and this is everyone that I know has heard 20 percent of the words that have flowed through their ears.
PF And you know what it is too, I have this habit, I’m not clicking on anything, I’m constantly clicking on my mouse pointer. And it’s not touching anything. It’s bananas!
RZ That’s what I’m saying. When you’re when you’re here in the office, wearing your sweater, drinking your water out of a bottle, like, like a civilized human being. And then you look onto the people on video, it’s like, Lost. It’s like you’re watching an episode of Lost. Like they’re just on the plane and they’re, their eyes are darting and they’re, they’re clearly in a state of risk.
PF Yeah, it’s really bad.
RZ It’s bad. It’s bad.
PF And it’s, you know, again, people are very sensitive about remote, we’re gonna be very fluid. But it’s been a year of crisis. We’ve all gotten used to crisis, it’s gonna take us a little bit to unpack that.
RZ Yeah, that’s right.
PF It’ll be a little easier if you come in every now and then. It’s easier to unpack the crisis, when you’re having a nice seltzer out of the fridge.
RZ I’m gonna predict that we’re not going to have to pitch it to people to come back.
PF I think that’s true. I’m gonna assume the parents want to come in real bad. [Rich laughs] I’ll tell you, the parents are ready.
RZ So when you say come in, Paul, which company are you talking about?
PF I’m talking about Postlight. We were little. Not so little anymore.
RZ Not so little anymore. We’re a growing business. We are a digital strategy partner with great design, engineering, product management, product strategy, based in New York, really everywhere. All kinds of great case studies. You should check us out.
PF Yeah, look at the website. If you haven’t looked in a while. Absolutely check it out. Because we are—go look at what we did for the MTA. Give you a sense of who we are.
RZ Yes. Great idea.
PF Alright. So firstname.lastname@example.org. Still works, never stops working.
RZ Be safe, everyone. We’re looking forward to reconnecting with people. We’re looking forward to having events in this space that we are in right now.
PF Bit by bit. Probably end of the year, got our Excelsior passes out.
RZ Yeah. Just keep flashing the Excelsior pass. Anytime anyone looks at you the wrong way. Just take the pass out.
PF Question. Big question. You coming in tomorrow? [Paul laughs]
RZ I’m tired man. This was crazy.
PF Yeah, this is very stressful.
RZ I’ll see you in like two weeks.
PF That first day just scrubbed your brain. Alright friends.
RZ Have a great week.
PF Bye!CTRL+BCTRL+ICTRL+J5490 words