6 Months in the Closet

September 28, 2020

A famous notion in the business world is the “Curse of the new HQ”. The theory is that companies tend to build out a swanky new office just as their success peaks, at which point a fancy space full of potential becomes an expensive millstone.

I saw this happen up close when I was first starting out in technology. I watched a growing company design and build a beautiful new office building, only to lose a client that was too big to lose. Within a year, I was helping them move out to a much more modest space. Although there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for this being a statistically significant phenomenon, I’ve long been cautious about building out any kind of office for Steamclock.

Eventually though, after ten years in business, last year we finally committed to building out an office space that fits our needs. A place we could call our own. It’s nothing monumental, but I think it’s a nice place to work. By February 2020, we’d settled in.

Working from home every Wednesday was already tough for me with a 3 year old bouncing off the walls, so with the impending arrival of our second child and a pressing bedroom shortage, I decided I was done working from home. I sold my home desk, assembled a crib in its place, and poured one out for remote work.

Oops.

Within a month, our entire industry was working from home, as we waved goodbye to ye olde precedented times. Like everybody else on earth, I started searching for small desks online.

On account of our new space limitations, I didn’t have a lot of options for where to put a desk. Initially, it seemed there were no options. But as they say, “Desperate times call for removing the wire shelving from the closet near the baby’s crib and cramming a tiny standing desk in there.” A standing desk, not just for ergonomic reasons, but because there wasn’t room for a chair.

So there I was, six months ago today, wiring up a bedroom closet. Half CEO’s office, half sundress storage. Population: me.

At first, I resented it. It had no ventilation. Standing all day was tiring. The nearby breaker panel interfered with electronics. My elbow would often hit the doorknob. Getting in and out of the “office” was a mild feat of acrobatics.

This was all just slightly more annoying due to the fact we had literally just finished building a wonderful office that I loved to work in. Depending on our local advisories and statistics, I am still able to work at Steamclock from time to time, which was nice for a change but didn’t make the closet any more comfortable.

In time though, I came to terms with it. I made it nicer over time. I set up lighting and art so it wasn’t totally obvious I was working from a closet. It started to actually feel like a productive place where work gets done – a key station in my Spaceship You.

And work did get done. Our one-day-a-week working from home culture adapted to the new world. Since the initial “reorient and refocus” period, we’ve been productive and effective. We lost business in the travel sector, but gained more business in e-commerce. We kept the band together, and even have a new employee starting next week. Our work is far from over, but so far Steamclock’s doing well for a company in a world of turmoil, run from a closet office.

Still, it’s a very small office.

It’s so small that after a couple months I noticed out of the corner of my eye that I could see myself in the doorknob. Often, polished doorknobs get dull from frequent use, but this was the inside doorknob in a closet so it had rarely been touched over the years. Not only could I see my sorry mug in the reflection, I could see the entire 9 square feet I was working in.

I could see the tiny desk, and the various things I’d raised above it so there was enough space for a keyboard. I could see the lights in front of me, and the art behind me; the sundresses beside me, and the luggage above me. A 360° view of where I spend 30-50 hours a week.

Today, six months from the day I wired it up, is my last day in the closet. Like many people around the world, my family is moving to a new place that’s a bit bigger and a bit more suited to spending time at home.

As grateful as I am to be leaving the closet behind, there is a part of me that still feels the need to kind of say farewell. This space wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ve been very lucky to have it.

It was here that I learned how to work remotely, and how to make any space into a productive one. It was here that we turned lemons into lemonade. I almost feel like hiding a little commemorative plaque somewhere, tucked behind the clothing rack.

In this spot in 2020, somebody steered a business through a pandemic. It was dumb.

But it worked out.

© Allen Pike. See also Twitter and Steamclock.