The Office Hour

One of the things I struggle with as my career progresses, is how to deal with the numerous requests for help.

They come from students wanting to interview me for their bacherlor or master theses. Others want advice on how to start a social business, fund a project, introduce New Work in their teams, or make a career shift into the social sector. I can’t do justice to them all, but not only do I find it rude to simply ignore them, I genuinely want to be of help.

Of course, there are exceptions to my good will. Because E-Mail has made it so easy for everyone to contact everyone, there are people who try to outsource their own work to others. Strangers ask me to supply whole bibliographies for their university theses or send me long texts or presentation decks about their companies/organisations/ideas to comment on. This I find just inconsiderate and reply: Please be mindful of my time! (Think twice before contacting a non-profit is a related rant about this topic) But most of these requests I simply ignore. Similarly I delete mails by crazies who write to me about Satan, God or hell.

But most people have perfectly reasonable concerns and I would invite everyone of them over for a tea. Now, time being our scarcest resource, I had to think of novel ways to deal with the help requests. And I found a good one.

Meeting on Zoom 
About a year ago, I started a „virtual office hour“. Once a month I invite people to join me on Zoom, my prefered video communications service. It’s stable, can host hundreds of participants (not that I need that many!) and allows me to split attendees into small breakout groups.

Meeting on Zoom. I never took a screenshot from the office hour. This is a virtual family gathering with my husband, Lilian, Vico and Siena.

Every month between two to eight people join the 60 minutes long session. In the beginning we decide how we’ll split up the time and whether people want to be present during the consultations of other attendees or join later. I encourage the former, as often there are wonderful unforseen coincidences. For example, once a young female founder wanted some advice regarding her product. My own expertise in the field was limited, but another participant in the call, a journalist, had just the right kind of feedback for her. Later, they continued their conversation independently.

I have come to greatly appreciate my office hour. On the one hand it is a useful productivity tool, efficiently pooling people. On the other it has enriched me personally: I get to meet some amazing people and can explore a huge range of topics, from new online fundraising trends to the meaning of love. From the feedback I get, many participants also find it helpful (Please drop me a line, if you have attended one and share your view).

The only caveat is that office hours tend to produce extra tasks: after hanging up, people ask me to introduce them to others mentioned in the call, provide more information on a subject etc.. Thus I have set some minutes aside for this follow up. If it takes longer, I let it go.