Every afternoon we take a company walk. There’s no set time, no pattern for its occurrence – someone just initiates it when they feel they’ve had enough of looking at a screen for an afternoon. It usually begins with a stretch of the legs or arms, a surreptitious glance across the table, a half nod. Then someone takes off their headphones, pushes their head above the parapet of congenial work-silence, and asks the single question:
And that’s it – headphones are out, and concentrated stillness (though often hiding a scurrilous amount of gossiping going on over Slack) is replaced by a communal unfurling. We wander out, chatting about whatever, and stroll through Clerkenwell, usually without any particular destination in mind. We had a phase of going to look at one of the many nearby churches, including numerous repeat visits to St. Ethelreda’s Chapel – distinguished by a particularly exciting crypt. Though since the onset of spring we’ve tended to direct our walks to maximise exposure to sunlight – although that’s less of a problem when you’ve spent the morning working on the White Bear Yard roof terrace.
So how did this tradition come about? In the best standards of all tradition, repetition has utterly obscured origin – but it serves as a constant reminder that there are more important things than being tied to a keyboard all day. An acknowledgement that if the sun is shining then a stroll and an ice-cream will only improve everyone’s mood and concentration, rather than break it. There is always a lot of talk about ‘company culture’ in the start-up world, though this often tends towards the promotion of individualism above all else (Google’s 20% time, not tracking holidays, working from home). While we also love this relaxed laissez-faire approach – working from home is always fine and we all get to work around mid-morning – we view the walk as symbolic of the collaborative environment we want OpenSignal to be.
The ‘company culture’ (an admittedly horrible phrase that unapologetically wears the taint of middle-management doublethink) we want is one where everyone is involved and intellectually interested in every aspect of the innovative work we do (mainly in the fields of crowdsourcing, sensor networks and big data), from both a technical and theoretical perspective. The walk, a moving coterie of people having the physical and intellectual freedom to unwind, think and discuss, exactly sums up how we want OpenSignal to be.
Recently, especially, walking has been held up as a panacea to the ills of modernity, a rare opportunity to stimulate both our bodies and minds in one move – like some kind of historically-inspired ambulatory yoga. The best thing about a walk, in many ways, is the pedestrian exposure to the element of change – every walk is different, in part because the environment in which it is embedded shifts in ways that range from the dramatic to the almost-imperceptible. That is the joy of the walk, the routes are familiar enough to emphasise even subtle change and every time we talk about something different, reminding us that it is the human geography that matters more than the physical.
Walks keep us healthy, curious and calm – and above all have an interesting factual and literary history. Many of Jane Austen’s most important moments of crisis/narrative development occur during walks (Anne Falling from the Cobb in Persuasion, Harriet being rescued by Frank Churchill in Emma) – showcasing the walk as a conduit for change and excitement. On the other side of the coin we have Immanuel Kant, famous for his daily contemplative walk around Konigsberg – interrupted only once, by his inability to put down Rousseau’s Emile. Occasionally we also get too distracted by what we’re working on to go for a walk – but that is rare, because, almost no matter what you’re doing, it’ll prove to be less important than pausing, stretching your legs in the sun and arguing about what defines a sensor network. After all, if it was good enough for Kant, it’s probably good enough to be a universal maxim.
If you like sound of our attitude to walking (and since you’ve persevered to the end of this blog post) you might well be a great fit at OpenSignal – come and join us!