Unoffice Hours: what it is and how to book a call

14.35, Thursday 24 Sep 2020

For the past month or so, as an experiment, I’ve been opening my calendar each week for video calls with whoever books a time. It’s been amazing. Wednesday is now my favourite day.

I’m calling it Unoffice Hours. (Everything that works needs a name.)

You can book 30 minutes in my calendar here. No agenda required, no need to mail first.

I set aside a couple hours each Wednesday for Unoffice Hours. The 23 conversations I’ve had since the start of August run the gamut:

  • feedback on early stage startups and design projects
  • informal discussions about ways we might work together (here’s my work site, and I’m open to other patterns)
  • spontaneously reaching out to chat about a blog post
  • seeing old friends and colleagues for the first time in many years – and also people I’ve only ever spoken with using text.

And those are all good, so feel free. I’ll keep this going for a while.

Now office hours is an old idea. Here’s some history from a 2009 piece in the Harvard Business Review:

The concept of “office hours” for business goes back to a universal ritual from our college days. We’d take classes with professors who were busy, distracted from teaching with research in the lab or the library, and otherwise remote and unapproachable. But we knew that for a couple of hours, at least one day a week, we could stop by their office, ask for advice, try out an idea, and get the guidance we needed.

The article tracks the evolution of office hours into tech, with people opening their calendars for networking and mentoring. It’s pretty common now.

Office hours have become in a staple in startup support. Here’s how office hours worked for me when I was running the R/GA Ventures accelerators in London.

So why un-office hours?

Well, I’m not in an office, for one…

This all started because of lockdown and because I was missing the serendipity of grabbing coffee.

I loved those open conversations over coffee in the Before Times. There’s an ostensible reason to connect, so you talk about work, or compare notes about an idea, or whatever. But then the unexpected emerges. (Sometimes you have to hunt for it.) There are things in your head that you only know are there when you say them. And there are encounters with new ideas and new perspectives. 1:1 conversation is a vital part of my process in finding work, but also simply in thinking.

But with us all going remote in a giant forced experiment, I wasn’t getting that input. Could it work over Zoom? It turns out it can. And Calendly is a genius service to allow online booking and have the meeting appear automagically in your Google Calendar.

(One tip if you do this yourself: schedule the calls for 30 minutes, but add a 15 minute buffer after each. Otherwise you’ll have to end calls super abruptly.)

So I’m not in an office.

Secondly, the heritage of office hours is about professors and students. And it’s not about that hierarchy for me: grabbing coffee - my model for this - is an informal meeting of peers. The un- is there to signal that difference. The purpose, instead, is manufactured serendipity.

I know there are a few other folks doing this too. Call it Unoffice Hours, let’s make it a movement!

I’ve added a link to this post to the sidebar on my website. It’s there if you’d like to chat. See you on the zooms.

Follow-up posts:

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it by email or on social media. Here’s the link. Thanks, —Matt.