Finance

A top Silicon Valley VC thinks a massive shift to remote work could kill the commute —and launch the beginning of a boom in productivity

  • Mayfield managing director Navin Chaddha told Business Insider that the months of sheltering in place in California’s Bay Area have been some of the most productive of his professional career.
  • He credits the change to ditching his lengthy morning commute and time spent shuttling between Mayfield’s office and various meetings in San Francisco.
  • He said he has started taking socially distant hikes and walks with founders and firm partners in Silicon Valley’s South Bay as a safe way to build and maintain relationships.
  • The extra time has helped Chaddha focus on “out of the box” goals, and he said he has done more writing and webinar broadcasts in the last few months than any other time in his career.
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The commute in and around California’s Bay Area is particularly nightmarish. The handful of highways are gridlocked with Teslas and corporate shuttles beginning around 6 a.m. and, with the exception of a short reprieve around noon, stay that way until long after the sun goes down. 

But when the counties that make up the Bay Area issued shelter-in-place orders in early March, the highways became eerily quiet. Commuters were staying home and clocking in from the home office, and the massive corporate campuses in Silicon Valley became ghost towns.

And the longer workplaces remain closed in favor of remote options, the harder it will be for the masses to resign themselves to hours-long daily commutes.

That’s what Mayfield managing director Navin Chaddha thinks, at least. As a prominent venture capitalist living in Silicon Valley, Chaddha has the ability to manage his own schedule and access to reliable transportation even while working remotely. But after months of working from home, without a daily commute or time spent traveling between meetings, he realized that there were more productive ways to spend his time.

“I’m feeling more productive and I’m able to think more out of the box,” Chaddha told Business Insider. “There’s no more driving to the office or to board meetings, and suddenly you get back half your day that you can use to read and think.”

Study after study has shown the negative effects of long commutes on workers’ mental and physical health, but now many professionals with shorter drives are starting to see how much even a short commute could drain them. For Chaddha, that time is now spent with his family, with whom he is sheltering, and in front of the grill. It’s the balance he needs to avoid Zoom fatigue, a relatively new phenomenon used to describe the mental effects of back-to-back video conference meetings.

“Business-building is a marathon, not a sprint,” Chaddha said.

The marathon has continued, Chaddha explained, even as other firms scaled back funding activity in hopes they could wait out any underlying uncertainty. Since his firm’s physical office closed on March 6, Mayfield raised its latest fund, saw multiple exits from portfolio companies, and continued to source new deals from a large network of investors and entrepreneurs. He has started writing more often, he said, and has been channeling some of his creative energy into webinar broadcasts for Silicon Valley insiders. He told Business Insider that he has likely done more writing and broadcasting than any other time in his career over the last several months.

“What I’m getting that I wasn’t getting before was the time to think and read,” Chaddha said. “The driving and interruptions in a physical setting that happen, you get back four or five hours a day, and the efficiency goes up.”

Chaddha has had to get creative to keep the firm running smoothly, at times hosting socially distant executive meetings in large outdoor spaces with limited internet access or taking founders on hikes around the nearby parks in the South Bay Area, like the West Valley College campus or the Los Gatos Trail, when he feels the conversation topics are especially sensitive.

“You can do a lot of the stuff you would do, I would say it’s almost better than face-to-face because everyone is relaxed,” Chaddha said. “You can learn so much more about a person when you are walking or hiking in an hour than in three hours over dinner.”

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