Podcast: Joy in the Workplace During Crisis with Richard Sheridan

June 30, 2021
  • Brent Stewart
  • Brent Stewart
    Digital Strategy & Content Leader at Barry-Wehmiller
A paragraph in this blog post by Richard Sheridan pretty accurately describes the attitude within many companies 15 months ago:

The weeks that followed discouraged me. I actively wondered if all was lost. The beautiful company, space and culture we so lovingly crafted were instantly and unceremoniously dismantled and spread across our local county, every human apart from the other, connected only by thin electronic tethers. Our beloved High-speed Voice Technology no longer workable. The human energy fostered in the physical space depleted. The in-person camaraderie a fading memory.

Rich's company, Menlo Innovations, like many others at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, set their team members home to keep everyone safe. Like many of us, they thought it would be for a short period of time and everything would go back to normal.

It wasn't. In fact, it's only recently that team members from Menlo are going back to the office.

We at Barry-Wehmiller have been friends with Rich and the team at Menlo for many years now. I was part of a team -- along with our CEO Bob Chapman -- that visited Menlo in 2014. Rich has appeared on our podcast twice. Once, talking about his first book, Joy Inc. and a second time after its follow-up, Chief Joy Officer. 

If you know anything about Menlo, you know their company is built on human interaction, with their customers and with each other. And one built on a foundation of joy. As Rich says, they "created the most contagious work environment ever."

But what happens to that joy in the midst of a crisis? What happens when the meaning of "contagious" in your workplace changes to one that is dangerous?

What happens when you no longer are able to have the in-person interaction that defined and drove your culture?

Rich answers all those questions and more in a conversation with Mary Rudder and me, as he details the change and adaptation Menlo underwent the past 15 months, on this episode of the Truly Human Leadership podcast.

Quick spoiler though: Joy always wins.

Podcast Transcript:

Richard Sheridan:

I'm guessing that anybody who's gone through what we've gone through over 20 years, it all feels like it went by in a moment, right? It doesn't feel like it's been 20 years. Heck, I think it still feels like a startup company to me after all this time. And of course, I'm thankful that we made it to 20 given what happened in the 19th year. And certainly, there was nothing certain about making it to this moment, and I think probably for us, historically, looking at the company, year 19 and leading up to 20 was certainly the most significant year in our history, for the adaptations we had to make... Not just the adaptation to COVID and pandemic and work from home, but just the economic adaptation we had to make was tremendous. And we had built a five-step plan to get to where we are to today, which is thrive again, and we are thriving again, which is great. It feels terrific. But I would say that in this past year I felt more like an entrepreneur than I have probably since we founded Menlo.

Brent Stewart:

Wow. I didn't even think about that in terms of your guys' business. What were some of the immediate challenges that you had at the beginning of the pandemic?


Well, our largest customers all did what most businesses did, they just retreated from spending money because nobody knew what was coming, and a lot of our projects are very intensive long-term projects that people are going to spend a lot of money on, much like building an extension to your home. And when economic hard times hit, you might say to yourself, you know what? We can wait on that. We don't need it right now. Let's just delay. Let's stay with where we are right now. I remember one of our largest automotive clients, one of the largest companies in the world, called me up and said, "Hey, that project we're working on, we're about to finish phase one. We're going to cancel phases two and three," which were the biggest phases in the project, "and you have four billable hours left on phase one. We would like you to cut that back to two billable hours."

Yeah. It's like you have the time to call me to cut two billable hours out of a project? I mean, how many of these phone calls were they making? And I just realized in that moment that this was going to be a very tough year economically, and we had to reassemble the team and say, "Guys, this is going to be tough. We have to make some major adjustments. We have to make them quickly." And quite frankly, we told them, we said, "We're not big enough to survive this on our own. There is going to have to be some government intervention here." I had no idea what that might look like at the time. This was in March 2020, and there was no CARES Act, there were no PPP loans or anything like that even being talked about. But we knew that this was going to be tough and we had to conserve cash ourselves.


For someone who's written the book on joy, it's kind of like, it sounds a lot like in the 2008/2009 downturn for us, having to figure out what to do. How did your guys' principles, how did your culture guide you in making decisions you needed to make?


Well, two things. One is, as I said, we set up this five-step plan very quickly, and we said to the team, "This is how we're going to get back to thriving again." I would say in the first step it was gather us all together and that's a foundational principle of our culture. This wasn't a little sidebar meeting by a few key leaders. We brought the whole team together and we said in this first phase, we have to figure out how we're going to survive. And along the way, we're going to have to figure out how to adapt to this new work from home environment, which was incredibly different for us, right?

I mean, we're a company that probably created the most contagious work environment ever. We used to think of it as joyfully contagious, but now it was dangerously contagious, or could have been. Obviously, we work two to a computer, we work in close proximity, we work in a big open room, so that had to change immediately and we had to figure out how to adapt all of our practices. And we told them the next step would be to get to sustaining. Figure out how we get the business to a level that we can keep it going for who knows how long? Of course, I'm sure we were like, most everybody, we thought this is about eight weeks worth of interruption, right? I'm not sure it's going to be done eight weeks from now, 15 months into this, but clearly we all thought it was going to be a short-term thing and then we'll be back to normal or something like that.

And then the fourth step, the longest step and the most important one, actually sprang out of a conference I attended with Patrick Lencioni. It was a virtual conference that he put on and it was called the Emerge Stronger Conference. And he presented two interesting leadership thoughts in that conference that really struck me. Number one, kind of obvious. He said, "Going through what we're going through, there will be a first fork in the road where companies will either survive or they won't. For those that survive though, they face a much more important leadership junction and that is as a choice of leadership, you are either going to choose to emerge stronger, or you're going to emerge weaker, and those that choose to emerge stronger when all of this ends will race ahead of all of their competitors, others in the marketplace and so on." And that became a very explicit step for us.

And as we started putting together plans, as we started adjusting our own internal communication practices, it all became focused on what could we do in this time to emerge stronger? And I said, "If we do those four things, very likely we will come out on the other side, thriving again," and that is exactly where we are today. Yeah, it was a while. So it's been quite a journey.

Mary Rudder:

What are some of the specific things you did. Let's hear about them.


Yeah. The first one, obviously there was the mechanical stuff of get out of the building, go home, set up your home offices and that sort of thing. And I will tell you that I will humbly admit that I think I lagged behind the rest of the team and the adjustment. It was so unnerving for me to have been a guy who writes books about working together, who speaks at conferences around the world on why close, collaborative work environments are the most powerful thing ever and then suddenly to have it all taken away. I just thought this maybe it. I don't know if we survive. And yet I watched our team just come together as I think all of us who have built strong, intentional cultures find, you can really lean on your people during those times, and I did; I leaned on them.

I can remember a moment where one part of our practice which is the way we deliver our business, is this aspect of Menlo that we call High-Tech Anthropology, and this is about go out into the world, study the people we intend to design and build software for, learn what their goals and habits and workflows are, and make sure that whatever we're designing will delight the people that one day will use it. Well, can't go out of the building. Can't go out into the world. You're not getting on planes. Even if you could go to offices, there'd be no one there to observe anyways. And one of our high-tech anthropologists said, "This will be so exciting to figure out how to do this virtually and remotely." And all I thought to myself at the moment was, "Oh, thank you, Molly. Thank you. I needed to hear that," as opposed to somebody saying “we're doomed,” which is kind of what I was thinking at that point. And they did it.

And then we started... There were some things the team just did automatically. One thing we were really used to in our culture was just being able to find one another, what we lovingly referred to as high-speed voice technology, where I could say, "Hey Brent. Hey Mary," and you're sitting a few feet away and suddenly we're in a meeting without sending an email. And as we all dispersed, the team didn't know how to find each other. And very quickly, just on their own, no committee, no meeting, no policy writing or anything, they just started creating this spreadsheet with links to all of the pairs that were working, who were already sharing a video link with one another. They said, "Well, let's just broadcast that to the whole team." And that became this simple shared drive Google sheet where you could find anybody in the company at any moment, and if you wanted to talk to Brent and Mary, you just find their link and click on it and boom, there you are with them through a Zoom meeting or a Google meetup.

And those fast adaptations became the norm for us as we went forward. The next thing the team noticed was they were so used to seeing my co-founder and I in the office. We sit out in the room with everybody else. There's no corner office and so on, so they could overhear us talking to customers. They could just check in with us, see how we're doing and that sort of thing. So they appreciated seeing us every day for 19 years. And all of a sudden they're not seeing us really at all anymore, except for a daily stand-up meeting. And they said, "We miss you. We want to know what's going on with you." So we established, and we'll probably continue to do this well into the future, probably forever, a Thursday lunch with Rich and James. Every single Thursday -- and it was initially intended just to be casual -- grab your lunch, keep your camera on, don't worry about eating while you're in front of your camera and we'll just talk. We'll just be there and answer any questions.

Over time though, the specific questions people had, often had to do with that survival aspect. "How are we doing financially?" And we'd always been very much an open book finance company, but now we were really drilling down into the details on a weekly basis so teams could see, the whole team could see exactly where we were and what we were accomplishing and where our victories were and where the challenges were and all that sort of thing. And so, I think the team developed an even better financial literacy of everything that was going on in the company.

Then, kind of a magical moment, it was just about a year ago to the day, we had gotten a call from a friend of ours who wondered how we were doing. They were down at Baptist Memorial Health in Tennessee. Skip Steward. And Skip said, "Boy, Rich, this must have been a tremendous adjustment for you. How are you doing?" And I said, "Well, Skip, would you like to see it?" He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Would like to take a virtual tour of the virtual Menlo." And he said, "You can do that?" And I said, "I have no idea." But in words that are famous for Menlo throughout our 20 year history, I said, "Let's run the experiment, see how it works." And so we did the first virtual tour, as I say, about a year ago to the day.

Now, remember, you guys have been to Menlo. You know that we get three to 4,000 people a year come from all over the world just to see our company, and that all ended probably February 2020, because everybody was canceling all non-essential business travel. And suddenly the pipeline of people who would tend to... Some small percentage of those would tend to eventually become customers, had also been cut off from us, which was again, unnerving for me. So we did this tour with Skip and his team at Baptist Memorial Health, and it was... It couldn't have gone better. It exceeded everybody's expectations on both sides of the call. And Skip put out a really nice note saying, "Hey, we had this great virtual tour of Menlo," and I just wrote a simple comment. Said, "Thanks for doing this, Skip. If anyone else is interested, just write us at this email address." And, oh my goodness, since then... And we got a lot more formal about it since then, we have hosted over 2000 people from 62 countries and 40 states who come to our free tours two or three times a week.


So how did you do that? Did you use this Google doc, and then did you just drop in on everyone. How did that work?


A little bit of that, yes. That is actually one component of it. What we did was we, of course, put together a PowerPoint presentation with a few videos, including some time-lapse photography of what I now call traditional Menlo look like, and then what new virtual Menlo. So there was a little bit of back and forth because everybody wanted to know how we've adjusted our visual management system, our working in pairs, our open and collaborative, how does standup work now and all that sort of thing. So we showed all those pieces along the way. In fact, for some of the early tours, we just had the tour guest join our daily standup meeting. That ended up taking a little too much time away from the rest of the tour, so we stopped doing that. And then yes, along the way we said we're going to go visit a couple of Menlonians, so we'd bring up that sheet, click on it, jump in on them, see what they're working on.

And then I think that's actually the most popular part of the tour because now they're getting past the CEO and their author and founder and that sort of thing, and they're talking to the people who are actually working in this environment, seeing what it's like, what the adjustment has been like. What do they like about it? What do they not like about it? What are their expectations for the future? All the questions that they just want to really know. That led us then to begin virtualizing all of our workshops, all of our classes. Again, I was dubious that those could be done and they could be done effectively and people would actually want to come to those, and oh my goodness, they did. I think now I look at it and say, well, of course, all of those things will remain going forward.


They're here to stay.


Why on earth would you stop doing that? Obviously, we'll add the in-person stuff back again but I think when I look at the tours now, most of those 2,000 people who've come would never been able to come to Menlo, who couldn't have afforded the flight, the time away from the office, the booking of the hotel room, all the inconvenience of that. But now they can just from home at whatever time or day, they click on a link, spend 90 minutes with us and then go back to their normal scheduled life. If they're coming from Australia or New Zealand or Hong Kong or Singapore, they just spend 90 minutes with us.


Yeah. How did you adapt the hat?


Exactly. We have the Viking helmet, yes. Thank you. That was actually a fun story. Our daily standup meeting, we gather in a circle and there'll be 50 or 60 of us, and we grab this two horn plastic Viking helmet, and it becomes the talking stick. And the reason we liked the two horns is because we work in pairs. If Mary and I were paired together, I'd have one horn and she'd have the other, and we'd report out on what we're working on, where we need help, any other general announcements, and it would just pass around the circle. Well, now we can't do that. It wouldn't be healthy anyways, touching the same object, and we're all virtual from one another. And so we said, well, let's do stand up with the Zoom meeting. One of the things we delight in is that our stand-up meeting would typically take 13 minutes, so it's fast. It doesn't take a lot of time.


13, not 12. Not 20.


No. Well, and it's just we look at the clock, and it started at 10:00, it's done at 10:13. It's not prescribed or anything. It's just typically for whatever reason, there's almost like a law of nature about the Menlo standup that it takes 13 minutes. Well, we started doing Zoom stand-ups and it was a complete disaster. It starts taking 25, 30, 35, 40 minutes. We're going crazy. We were like, okay, we're not getting that much value out of standup that we should spend 40 minutes on it. And then somebody says, "Well, tell you what. Let's try this. Because the reason it was a disastrous is nobody knew who was first. Nobody knew who was next. Nobody knew who was paired with whom because of the way Zoom jumbles all the pictures around. Nobody knew who was last. Nobody knew if everybody went and all that sort of thing, so it was just this fumbling around to figure out how to line everything up.

And somebody said, well, let's replace the Viking helmet with the chat window. So you sign in... If you two signed in, you would just say, if you're paired together, you'd say, "Next with Brett," or something like that. And I would say, "Next with Erica," and it would just line us all up. So we knew who was first, who was next and who was last and suddenly daily stand-up in Zoom format got back down to 13 minutes. I just attended it this morning. It was 10:14 when we got done. I don't know why I pay attention to that. I'm kind of a numbers nut, but yeah, and there were probably 42 people in standup this morning and got through in that amount of time.


I was really hoping somebody'd developed a filter with the helmet.


Well, we did capture the dartboard alarm clock sound, which is what calls daily standup in the room, and I have it on my computer. When we're starting, I can just run that little video and it's bong, bong, bong, and we all get a laugh out of that. So we've maintained our sort of whimsical irreverence for standard corporate practices and still have a lot of fun and a lot of laughter as we got through these really tough times together.


How did you feel... The adaptation, I'm still kind of stuck on that, because I feel with you guys and knowing what I know about you guys, it just had to be even just a mental obstacle to get over just the way you work together. How do you feel like you preserved your cultural values? Preserved what made Menlo during all this time?


Yeah, I think as I watched the team, what became clear to me instantly was the value of the relationships we had built up to that point. That was the solid foundation because everybody was scrambling to figure how to make this work and will it work, and is it as convenient as we thought it could be or anything like that. And we just leaned on each other, all of us did. And that basic spirit of well let's run the experiment. Let's try stuff. Let's not angst too much about it. Let's just start moving forward. I think the cultural aspect of take action versus take a meeting really helped us along during this time. And quite frankly, I think it ended up working better, faster than any of us would have imagined.

Now, the famous part of Menlo is that we work in pairs. Two people, one computer and the pair switch every five days. Fortunately for us, we had been doing remote pairing with our clients' people continuously for seven years. So the technology piece of figuring out how to do remote pairing was already there. We'd just never done it at the scale of the whole company. We'd never done it that all of Menlo was virtual. And we had one guy in our team, Nick, who had worked for us... I think he's been with us about six years now, but for about, well, for the first four years, he was just part of the team. And then he fell in love with a girl from Moscow and they were about to start a family and she said, "I want to be closer to mom and dad," so they moved to Russia, and the team loved Nick so much... This was long before the pandemic, and they said, "Can Nick still work for Menlo?"

I said, "Well, I don't know. How would that work? I mean, the time zone difference alone is going to be incredible." And they said, "Well, Nick, would you like to come in at five in the afternoon and work till one in the morning?" He says, "Well, let's try it." And Nick was working like that for two years before the pandemic hit. So we had this remote Menlonian in Moscow working this weird schedule. They even had their first child during this time. I'm still not quite sure how all that works in his life. They've had their second one since then.

But what was interesting to watch that development over two years was that I think Nick in many ways was on the edge of being a second class citizen at Menlo, just in the sense that we couldn't include him in everything because he's remote and it just wouldn't work. They brought him to standup. They would bring a little phone or an iPad with Nick on it, and if he couldn't hear they'd grab the Viking helmet and use it as an amplifier and put the speaker, the phone, in there to get his voice out to the rest of the team. But I think it was always a little bit of a compromise for Nick to be included in everything that we had going on.

And then suddenly we're all home. And Nick goes from second class citizen to the most valued resource on the team because it was like, "Nick, how did you make this work? What tools do you use at home?" And all that sort of thing. And so Nick became central to helping the rest of the team figure out how to do this because he'd been doing it himself for two years. And so it was kind of a neat moment, his time in the sun for that.


So do you think their team's ability to sort of quickly adapt, was it the cultural bank you were drawing upon? Or is it do you hire for Menlo fit? What do you attribute it to?


The three of us could simply be observers of Menlo. I mean, after 20 years, the thing I conclude is I know Menlo less every year than I knew it the year before, and I just simply marvel at watching it work.


It must be very liberating.


It is incredibly liberating because I don't have to be that smart anymore. I can just get out of the way and let them do what they're going to do, and obviously encourage them and inspire them and be the chief storyteller and capture the stories as I see them happening and play them back to them to reinforce that what they're doing is the right thing and that sort of thing. One of the things about Menlo that I even wrestle with in my own mind is this idea of hiring for culture fit. And if you asked any Menlonian, Do we do that?" They would probably quickly answer, "Yes we do."

Because the way we interview is so different. We don't ask questions. It's a mass interview. We pair two candidates during the interview. We have them work together for 20 minutes while one of our team members watches and take notes about what they see, and we tell them, "Look, we're looking for good kindergarten skills. Do you play well with others? Do you not grab the pencil out of the other person's hand while you're doing the exercise together? But what I've really learned as I've watched Menlo move on through all of this, is that I don't know how much it is about hiring for culture fit as much as it is we begin teaching our culture from the moment of first contact.

I know you guys know this as well as anybody on the planet, when you start setting clear, rational, reasonable expectations for human beings, and treat them well, guess what? They adapt. They start performing the way you want them to perform because you've given them the chance to do that. I think most hiring practices don't do anything like that. Heck most onboarding for companies is like a hazing ritual, right? I used to say as the hiring manager, when my job was to try and get you productive before I demoralized you, right? And it was like a three week to three month race that I usually lost. And they wouldn't quit on me. They quit in place. The same person, they're coming in, still collecting paycheck, but they left their brain in the car or on the pillow at home. What I see is, not a downward spiral of morale that often people see, we see this upward spiral of morale. When people start seeing, oh my gosh, I can contribute. You value my opinion. I can be a full-fledged participating team member.

We have an intern who joined us this summer, and it's just been remarkable to simply listen to her describe how this is her third internship in her college years. She's a junior now. She says, "Wow, I've never been treated like an adult before. I never was treated like my opinion mattered. I was just given stuff to do, like it was busy work and just stay out of my hair. So like here, you guys asked me what I think you, you want me to contribute." And so when I hear those stories, they're very gratifying. So yes, I think we hire for culture fit, but I think that's just a small percentage of what happens.

We're very intentional about our culture. We be in teaching at the moment of first contact and then it's reinforced by all the behaviors of the team. I think now we've hired 12 people virtually through this interviewing process that we were able to virtualize the interview process, which again was a tremendous experience because it had always been in person before. Now we have roughly 12 Menlonians who only so far virtual Menlo which is just kind of mind blowing to me.


How was that integration? How did that work or what's the result of that?


Like I said, I'm right there with you. I'm watching this with great fascination, even as I have the same questions you do, right? I mean, first of all, could we pull off this mass interview event where people are working together in pairs and we're observing them and guiding them through this couple of hours of an audition. The team delightfully just said, "Yeah, we can do this." And they orchestrated bringing them all into a big Zoom meeting and then Rich and James, my co-founder and I, would introduce everything that they're about to go through. Talk about the history of the company, why we work the way we do, why this unusual interview event in this format is so important to us, and then break them out into Zoom breakout rooms, two candidates at a time adding in one or two Menlonians to just simply observe them working together. 20 minutes in, switch the pairs, different tasks, different person, different Menlonians. Do that three times, send them all home.

Then we stayed on the Zoom call to review what we saw and decide who comes in for a second interview. And our second interview in traditional Menlo was you come in and work for a day. In pandemic, Menlo was you come in and work for a day, it just happens to be virtually. And so you worked in the morning with one Menlonian and you work in the afternoon with another one on real client work. We pay you for the day. And if that day works, we invite you in for a three week paid trial. Again in-person work in traditional Menlo, virtual work in pandemic Menlo. And it's fun to hear the stories.

And for me, the neat moment was... Jenny was the first hire, one of our programmers. And she had joined in March I think it was. Yeah, she joined in March and I think it was still within the period of her three week trial, we were doing one of these virtual tours, and Erica usually hosts with me, and she's the one who sets up which pair is going to come in and join us. And I said, "Oh, who's going to join us?" And she said, "Oh, it's going to be Scott and Jenny." So this'll be fascinating, right? This is somebody who's only worked with us virtually, and she's still in her interview process. So click on the link and there's Scott and Jenny. And it was so funny, because the guests were all asking both of them questions, and Jenny was answering like she'd been working for us for years.

And I have to admit, I think my chin was just hitting the table. It was like... I'm like, "Oh my gosh, this is really working. This is remarkable." And again, I think the reason it works so well for us, traditional or pandemic, traditional or virtual, is simply because you're never alone at Menlo. You're not left to figure things out. I used to stick people in cubicles and they didn't have a computer yet, a phone, a chair. Here, read this. We'll be back in a couple of weeks when you finished reading Rich's book about joyful cultures or something. And again, now it's like you come in and you start working. The keyboard goes under the hands of the candidate. This isn't watch me work. Nope, you're going to do the work. I will teach you through your ears and your fingertips. It will go slower, of course, so there's a patience involved in this, but you're teaching. You're teaching from the moment of first contact.

And, of course, you're encouraging the people. This is what we tell them during the interview process. We expect you to say, "I don't know." We expect you to be curious. We expect you to learn new things. In fact, we're not hiring you because of what your resume says. In fact, the interviewers don't even see resumes. They're hiring you for the human, not for the resume.


Yeah. So clearly you were able to adjust. How did your team members react to that? What did they think about it?


I think there was sort of a bell curve of enthusiasm for the adjustment at first, because I think everybody was just... They were glad to still have a job, right? As all of us were. I'm sure there was some comfort in knowing it would all be done in eight weeks, so this was temporary anyways. But as the weeks went on and you saw that it wasn't going to go away quickly and we didn't know how long it would last, you just saw them fall into this new pattern and it just worked. And, of course, there's been benefits and people realize, oh my commute is much less now. I can go take little walks at lunch a little easier perhaps around my home or I can be home for the repair guy or the delivery or something like that.

I mean, I've even personally noticed this. I started coming back to the office this week finally. My wife works at Menlo as well, and she's been one of the central needs to be in the office workers for most of the pandemic. I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to start coming in." She said, "Well, what about this delivery? What about that?" I go, "Yeah, well, I'll have to stay home for those things." I'm already a hybrid worker because of that.

I think the other thing the team learnt to do, which I think was a really important adaptation, was to start really checking in with each other each morning when they paired. "How are you doing? Are you okay? Is everything going okay for you?" Because I think for most of humanity, the biggest challenge of the pandemic was loneliness and isolation. Just the lack of human contact with others. I've heard members of our team say that they got their first carry out meal a month ago. They were getting all their groceries delivered and that sort of thing. Some of our team members took the stay away from other humans really seriously, and that's got to affect us tremendously. I think the transition back will be even harder.


What do you think that looks like for the future for you guys? Is there going to be some... Are you still working that out? Is it going to be a hybrid? What do you think about that?


Well, here's what I learnt, personally. This is how I've adapted. I was certain Menlo was perfectly formed for 19 years and you shouldn't mess with it, and then it got messed with, and I didn't like it. Then I realized, oh, it worked. And it worked so well that I can't ignore. I can't look away. I can't unsee what I saw work for 15 months. And I saw us get stronger. I saw us get more disciplined about sales approaches and marketing approaches and making sure we're closing business and staying in tight communication with one another. As I look ahead to third version of Menlo, whatever that turns out to be, number one for me, I'm going to be completely open-minded. I have no idea what it's going to look like and I'm okay with that. I was not okay with that at the beginning of the pandemic.

These 12 people we've hired include Sam from San Antonio, Peter from Chicago, Andy from Grand Rapids, Michigan, just a couple of hours away from us, and others, and so wow, we can get an employee footprint that's bigger than Michigan. Of course, now we're going to have to start figuring out all the tax implications of that stuff and having nexuses in other states. I let my co-founder worry far more about that than I do. And then Nathan, one of our longtime team members, he came to us in the middle of the pandemic and says, "My wife and I always wanted to live in Seattle, and so we're going to move to Seattle." "That sounds good." He said, "One question. Can I still work for Menlo?" Two years ago, the answer probably would have been well that's silly, no. I mean, just go find a good job. There's plenty of jobs for programmers out in Seattle.

But this time it was like, "Of course. Let's run the experiment. Let's see how it works," and it's been working for him. Gets up a little early but his day ends earlier so he probably gets to enjoy more of the Seattle sunshine than his neighbors do. That kind of stretch for us, we're now looking and saying, "I think probably for the foreseeable future, we'll limit our hiring footprint to say east of the Mississippi only because time zone differences will be a little easier on everybody, but it's not going to be just the Ann Arbor region.

We've started to... Just this week, we just started the move back to the office. It will be slow. It will be methodical. It will be proactive. And we anticipate that the default location for local people in Ann Arbor will be minimal. It will be the office, rather than work from home. But already we're getting team members asking, "Well, could I have a blended schedule? Could I work three days at Menlo and two days at home?" And I think the answer is, "Well, let's try it. Let's see how it works. We're going to figure that out anyways for our other remote workers, so why couldn't it work for you?"


I mean, they have packages too.


That's right, exactly. They have to meet the sprinkler repair guy, just like I did yesterday morning. Yeah. The breakthrough moment for me in this personally was, I had to wrestle with something early on in this that I wasn't ready for. And it was that I had to become an entrepreneur again. And I thought, no, no, I'm past that stage? Yes, we're still inventing and growing and being coming up with new ideas. No, this was dramatic. This felt like starting a brand new business again. And at about six months in, I realized this is really fun. I enjoy this. I feel young again, because I think within that six months and [inaudible 00:39:01] my co-founder, I uttered the word retirement a couple of times, and I think that spooked him a little bit. But now I'm back to having fun, and I had to learn a whole new way of working.

My calendar emptied during this time. I was on airplanes once a week. I was speaking at conferences around the world and all of that just disappeared. Then the virtual talks began and I've given so many virtual talks around the world, it just feels normal. Now, in fact, I gave an in-person talk a couple of days ago and that felt really weird. It's like, I'm in the other mode like couldn't I have done this on a Zoom call? Just even as a public speaker, learning how to draw energy from a virtual crowd versus a real one. Learning how to speak to the camera as opposed to speaking to an audience of people that you can really look individually in their eyes and that sort of thing. It's an interesting new world, that's for sure.


You've had to change your message for your speaking engagements, but I'm imagining a lot of the topic has been, how did you handle the pandemic?


Yeah. The message of creating an intentionally joyful culture has absolutely remained the same. That hasn't changed a bit. But of course it would be silly to give the same talk and refer to Menlo during that talk and not refer to the adaptations we had to make both for the pandemic and the virtual work as well as for the economic impacts that it had on us, and how we adjusted to that. Those have been very real stories of curiosity that people have about us because they knew us so well from... A lot of people who visit have read the book, and so they have a very explicit picture in their heads of what Menlo was like, and they knew it had to be different and they wanted to hear what the differences were.


Do you think that you were able to maintain joy throughout the last 15 months or so, of this difference?


I will say that I always differentiate joy from happiness, just to be clear. Joy is a much longer arc of work done well together, whereas happiness can be those moments. And there were certainly moments of happiness along the way, even in the hard times. You guys know this because you went through it 2008/2009, there is something that develops among a group of human beings when you face this external force that you had no control over, you couldn't plan for it. Wasn't anybody's fault on your team that this happened but you still had to deal with it. And we did, and we dealt with it really well. And we came out in a version of Menlo that I don't think any of us could have anticipated when we went into it.

Yes, now that we're thriving again, everybody that we went through this over the last 15 months has a little badge, a merit badge of saying I helped. I was part of it. I was there. I watched it happen. I saw what we did. I understood now what it took to get through these tough times, and we did it? I can only imagine that that creates greater confidence for whatever the heck is going to come in the future when we've been through what we've been through. Kind of for me watching, I was further away from Menlo because I wasn't in the room with everybody else, so it was a little harder for me just to keep up on what everything that was going on was. I'd kind of wake up to a new Menlo every morning. There'd be something people are trying, something that we're delivering in a way that we've never done it before.

It was a proud moment for me, where I realized that all of that work we had done that maybe for some, even for me, at times I could say, well, is the theory of joy so eminently practical that it's that important that we should be focusing all this attention on building this intentionally joyful culture? And then I think, in these last 15 months, it was this ginormous aha moment, almost as if those previous 19 years were done for exactly this time. That this is why we did it. This is what we were preparing for. And I don't know what comes next. I know it won't be... Business is never easy and it's never a cakewalk and you're never at some grand Nirvana state where everything is just working exactly the way it's supposed to, but I do know that what we've experienced these last 15 months has deepened the resolve in every one of us that we are ready for what comes next, and I think that was really a delight to watch.


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