I had the opportunity last week to catch up with Christopher Mitchell, co-founder and CEO of Geopipe, from his apartment in New York City. During the rapidly changing realities of business in the era of COVID-19, I thought it would be illuminating to chat with someone who does a significant amount of his work remotely.
Christi Kroll: So, how do you start your day? Christopher Mitchell: First things first, I start by making my coffee. I glance over emails and Slack to see if there’s anything urgent, and briefly open up news and Facebook.
CK: How has your routine changed as you’ve been practicing social distancing? CM: I’ve been spending more time cooking, actually. My go to breakfast is a bagel with cream cheese, but I’ve been taking time to make omelets and even some pumpkin bread!
CK: That sounds delicious. I know I’ve been struggling with staying focused and being productive—how do you handle that at home? CM: I constantly aspire to work hard and continuously. In practice, I spread my work out through my waking hours, and take breaks when I feel stuck or a bit unfocused. Play 20 minutes of Minecraft, watch a show, make a snack. I like to block out my time with a Google calendar—even if it’s just changing between blocks of time coding, answering emails, and taking scheduled breaks, to maintain structure.
As far as working with the team, we already had a lot of ongoing constant communication through text/video chatting and video meetings, so nothing has changed there. My cofounder Thomas and I have had an ongoing stream-of-consciousness Hangout chat going for many more years than we have been cofounders, so nothing has changed there. More than ever, we’ve prioritized meeting with all employees via Hangouts—it’s been so important to keep connection and to see human faces.
CK: Definitely. That community and internal culture piece makes such a difference. What would you say has been the biggest change in the way that you work? CM: Well, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time on technical tasks. As we step back a little bit and look at the sales pipeline, how we’ll be attracting customers as we consider finances, it’s good to get technical details underway. I recently got out of a period of heavy travel, so it’s been nice to re-center and catch up on things that have fallen by the wayside. Check email, get paperwork done, get finances in order, interviewing and pushing hard on hiring (via video chat).
I’ve always enjoyed quiet, dedicated time to sit and work. One of the things that I love about the City is the ability to walk around and get a change of pace—to pick up on the energy and find new places to discover. For now, I’m making do with looking out at that world through the window in my room—the pear tree outside is just beginning to blossom, and I’ve watched fewer cars and pedestrians go past every day. I’m working to make sure that my mother is getting groceries and well taken care of. Everything in the city is quiet.
CK: As a native New Yorker, you lived as a young teenager in the direct aftermath of 9/11. What’s the energy like in New York City right now? Does it feel the same? CM: There’s a sense of holding our breath—I don’t know what it is. After 9/11, we were focused on solidarity, rebuilding our confidence, people even smiled at strangers on the street. There’s not quite that sense of solidarity. There’s a low-level panic of not being quite sure what’s coming, and how bad it will be.
CK: It’s certainly a time where most of us are dealing with a new level of anxiety. What are you doing to stay positive? CM: Well, the goal is to take some of the time that I’ve been given to balance some of my work and my personal interests. I’ve been looking at acoustic guitar tutorials on YouTube - the long-term goal is that I love symphonic metal music and electric guitar music, and would love to learn the electric guitar some day.
CK: That’s so cool! I hope we all come out of this with new talents and hobbies. How do you wind down for the next day? CM: Late nights are the most productive for me, so it’s not unusual for me to stay up until 1 or 2AM (or later), especially when I get into a good coding trance. What dictates the time to slow down depends on the meetings that I have in the morning. I do try to stop doing work 30 minutes before bed and read a book. I’m currently working through the many parts of the Shannara/Word and Void fantasy series by Terry Brooks, recommended to me by my co-founder Thomas. I usually read until I drop my phone on my face.
CK: What a way to go! CM: Then, it’s time to start all over again.