Given that I help hire for Blume, and also given my presence in the startup-VC ecosystem, I get a lot of requests from friends, friends of friends, acquaintances and even strangers reaching out for chats, advice, answers to queries etc.
In the pre-COVID days, I had a solution for the ones I couldn’t convert into an email / whatsapp exchange – give them a slot during my travel time, i.e., the time when I was on the road back home from office, or to and fro a physical meeting, or on all of the time slots that come up when you do a trip to a city and back – to/ fro airport, post security check before the flight etc. Typically these calls, where it didn’t matter considerably to you whether you did them or not but they very much mattered to the other, went into those slots. Asymmetric calls?
Heirarchies of time
Time was unequal pre-COVID. We had heirarchies of time. For those of us with kids, like me, at the apex was perhaps the 1-2 hours of time that I got at home when my kids were awake. That was holy time. Even if I didn’t spend all of that time with kids or my wife, I wanted to have the optionality to speak to them any time. Hence other than the odd 5-10 minute call from friends, every other call was left unanswered for a later time or scheduled at a different time, that is, if I could help it.
At the bottom was travel time, or waiting time – this was the time to check social media, call back or if there was enough length to these time slots, preschedule one of those advice or counselling calls. In between these two, came office hours. It is interesting how there is a heirarchy of meetings in office hours too – typically in this order – prescheduled group meetings > unscheduled group meetings + scheduled 1:1s and finally > unscheduled 1:1s amongst colleagues. Few asymmetric calls happened in office hours unless it was during travel time or you were away from your desk. Asymmetric calls were for off-desk times.
So you had Home time, Desk time (office), Off-desk time (typically travel or waiting time somewhere), in that order of importance.
Post-COVID, now that we sit at home, and all time has become ‘desk time at home’, all of these heirarchies have collapsed – almost. There is still some understanding that office group meetings will be scheduled between 10 – 8pm. Other than that there aren’t too many rules now. Now that we arent travelling, either to another city or even to another meeting in the city, we now don’t have any of those slots where we can easily push these asymmetric meetings to.
Scheduling asymmetric meetings
I now find myself refusing or taking lesser asymmetric meetings than before. Because every asymmetric meeting is now competing with other symmetric meetings (where I have as much to gain as the other party) or at home hours. When I schedule an asymmetric meeting at 7pm (typically when i would have scheduled a meeting during pre-COVID, as this was my commute back time), I am cognisant that if it were not for this meeting, I could step out of the room and in the next ten seconds hug my kids. My expectations of asymmetric meetings now go up.
Perhaps the solution is to create a 2-3 slot in the week where you say please call me at this time on my phone, and then bunch up all of these calls there. Or keep say a 10-11pm walking time and give that time to anyone who wants to call. Both are deliberate attempts at creating offdesk times mimicking the commute / travel time, and creating some kind of power asymmetry (you call / i will try and answer etc.). Essentially they are attempts at recreating heirarchies of time.
(Incidentally it is not just asymmetric calls that are scheduled during offdesk times. These are times reserved for podcasts or reading too. My morning commute was reserved for startup podcasts, and now that there is no commute, I struggle to listen to them. I have tried listening while dishwashing; it works to an extent. Some days when you have had long hours, you dont want the additional cognitive load, plus it is impossible to take notes.)