When The Whiteboard Went Away: Lessons For Working Remote-First

I miss the office whiteboard.

Technology companies are notorious for whiteboard brainstorming and planning. They have power. People gather around them. You can walk up and point, adapt and contribute. People walking by see them, poke their heads in and add on. Erasing the work feels almost destructive and writing “DO NOT ERASE” creates powerful anchors for ideas and direction for action.

Throughout my career, many strategic plans started on a whiteboard and the absence of that tool feels symbolic of 2020. After a full year of the pandemic, cities are starting to reopen and companies are establishing what the future of work will look like for them. We’re learning what we miss, what we don’t and what we’re still unsure of. For some, an existing physical presence means reopening and making it possible to return to the office. For others, new patterns of work are emerging that will enable a permanent move to remote and hybrid operations. And some problems, like my elusive whiteboard, still need to be solved.

As a technology company CEO who’s complaining about a whiteboard, I understand that this industry has been very fortunate this year. We had most of the tools and resources in place to make an initial move to remote work. We don’t punch a clock and show up in person at a work site that requires a physical presence every day (like a restaurant or a manufacturing plant). But that doesn’t mean we didn’t experience significant challenges, and I’d like to share those and some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.