In Good Company

521134709The Inqune team works in a variety of environments. Alana tends to work from home when she isn’t on site with clients, while I have an office on the 31st floor of Portland’s Big Pink, though I will sometimes revert to spending an afternoon typing in a coffee shop. Janine has a cool basement studio. But most of us, most of the time, work alone.

To communicate, we connect via Skype text and chat. We talk with clients on the phone or via GoToMeeting, or travel to meet them in their spaces.

There are many advantages to working solo: you control the temperature, the soundtrack, the snack menu, the break entertainment. But there are disadvantages, as well.

In my experience, working alone for an extended period tends to exacerbate my bad habits: forgetting to eat, procrastinating, browsing the internet at excessive length, and worst of all: letting tricky problems paralyze me, as I wait for inspiration to strike.

In the past few weeks, I have invited a friend and fellow business consultant, Gavin White of Genius Engine, to join me for work sessions in the Portland office. Having him in the room presents some challenges: when one of us makes a confidential client phone call, the other must step out to the office lobby, for instance.

But the benefits are extensive. We keep each other on task, providing a sort of accountability that is hard to reproduce with someone with whom I am working remotely. He reminds me of basic human needs (isn’t it time for lunch? isn’t it time to go home?) and keeps my working soundtrack diverse.

Most valuable of all, though, is his creative presence in the office. We both love mixing games with business processes to help solve our clients’ challenges. We are each connected to extensive networks of friends, advisors, and professionals. We are widely read– in orthogonal areas. And when I have a problem that I am puzzling over– it can be revelatory to turn to the person next to me and ask, “Hey, how would you solve this?” without intermediary technology. (I like to think I provide a similar service.)

I like working alone– I appreciate the uninterrupted focus of an extended working session when I’m in the zone. But these past two weeks have reminded me of the value of in-person creative collaboration, as well. There’s a lot to be said for working in good company.