When I first moved to the Bay area I was fresh out of grad school. I was frequently heading out to dinner or to happy hour after work with colleagues. I was young and single, so why not of course. As time passed, marriage, kids, etc. the ability to go out for a quick drink or dinner was competing with various priorities. Dinner and drinks with co-workers was always a great time. It wasn’t just about hanging out, it built rapport and trust which I found made me a more effective teammate and product manager. It was about 8 years ago that I started to implement a variation of heading out for dinner and drinks.
I started inviting people over for dinner.
I still do this regularly. Roughly once a week we end up hosting someone for dinner. Sometimes it is a single person, sometimes it is a group of people. Sometimes it is co-workers, sometimes former colleagues, often friends that don’t work in tech. Growing up in the south it was common to have people over, I’d said we did that just as much as going out to dinner with folks. You’d get an invite to go to someone elses place and you’d show up with a bottle of wine or flowers in hand. Initially when I asked people in the Bay area over for dinner I’d get weird looks. Over? Like to your house?
The reaction from folks at the end of the night was very often… that was really fun. Thanks for the invite, I can’t remember the last time I just sat down at someones place, had a good meal, and conversation.
Once I found early success with this I started implementing it pretty methodically. When remote workers were in town I’d make sure to place them at thet top of the list to come if the scheduling worked. Same when friends visit from out of town. I’d also try to regularly rotate through my teams and those that report to me. At one point when I had 22 engineers that I was leading product for I had to do a bit of juggling and stagger things a bit, groups of 4 folks or so at a time and each would be over about once every 6 months. I made life a bit easier on myself by grouping vegans together, and vegetarians, and meat eaters. When you’re cooking in the Bay area you probably don’t have a 500 sq. foot kitchen, so cooking 2-3 different meals adds complexity. Thus simplifying.
All of this was for selfish reasons. I could excuse myself for 15 minutes to give the kids a bath, to read them a story, to tuck them in. At the same time I was able to continue building a rapport with co-workers that allowed us both to work together better.