What are the topics of discussion that you would expect to come across in a weather community? Storms, climate change, and forecast accuracy are part of the conversation.
As a community strategist at Weather Underground, Michelle Schlachta also encountered stories of people that experienced traumatic weather-related events and sought the community out for education and healing. Those are connections and healing that you can’t build through Google results or a weather forecast app. Patrick and Michelle discuss how Weather Underground provided a platform for weather experts through its blogging community and how new members with questions and less expertise about weather were welcomed into the community.
In addition to sharing her experiences at Weather Underground, Splunk, and YouTube –– Michelle discusses something that a lot of us can probably relate to right now –– the isolation of working from home during the pandemic. There are no quick solutions for that but she does offer a reminder that “we’re all going through it together.” If you’d like to share how you’re coping with the isolation of the pandemic, please leave us a comment or write to us.
Michelle and Patrick discuss:
- How veteran members help enforce community guidelines and conversation norms
- Communicating change to our communities
- Sensitivity around dramatic weather events that can lead to the loss of life
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop shop for online community.
The Weather Underground community offers an opportunity to heal through education (8:45): “If you’ve had a traumatic weather-based event happen in your life, maybe learning as much as you possibly can about weather or that particular storm that you witnessed and experienced, it might make you feel like you have more of a sense of control over it and over healing from that traumatic event.” –Michelle Schlachta
Community results over Google results (16:21): “New users [joined Weather Underground] because they wanted to learn from experts. They wanted to learn information they couldn’t really learn by Googling and searching on the internet. They wanted to have and observe conversation about weather so that they can learn, too, and who better are you going to learn from but an expert? We had all the top weather expert conversationalists on our site.” –Michelle Schlachta
Dealing with climate science denial (17:33): “[When it came to climate change denial at Weather Underground], some of the developers and meteorologists came together to figure out how do we set the stage for other people? Therefore, we could point to that information on the company stance so that when people were trolling or we weren’t sure if they were trolling, we could be like, ‘Look, this is what we think climate change is and climate denial. You know what side we’re on. Depending on which side you’re on, you’re either welcome or not.'” –Michelle Schlachta
Communicating change to communities (21:54): “Part of my job was helping the community understand that the people [at YouTube], behind building these products they were using, really did care about [them], they did care what they wanted, and they did want to give them what they wanted while still fulfilling business needs. That’s a pretty delicate, difficult balance.” –Michelle Schlachta
About Michelle Schlachta
- Sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community
- Michelle Schlachta on LinkedIn
- Weather Underground
- The YouTube Partner Program
- How Content ID works on YouTube
- An Update On Our View Counts
- Why You Need to Find a Work Crew
- The Splunk blog
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thanks for listening. This is my first episode of Community Signal as a married man. Kara and I got married on January 20th. Just us, no family, no friends, no party. It was great, though not without a series of obstacles that we had to navigate around. High winds, no electricity, and suspect internet all contributed to an eventful day that ended well. I know Kara because of this podcast, at least in part, but I think that’s a story for another day.
On this episode, we’re talking with Michelle Schlachta about weather communities, what she was working on at YouTube 14 years ago, and how she has dealt with loneliness and isolation during the pandemic.
Our Patreon supporters are a group of loyal listeners who financially support the show because they find value in it. Thank you to Maggie McGray, Marjorie Anderson, and Jules Standen, as well as everyone else who backs this show. If you’d like to be a part of the group, please go to communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Michelle Schlachta is the community content manager for Splunk, and has previously worked in community at IBM, Weather Underground, The Weather Company, and Google, YouTube, and CNET.
Michelle, welcome to the show.
[00:01:20] Michelle Schlachta: Hi, Patrick. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:26] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s good to have you. I am excited to talk about weather and building community around weather. I want to cast aside general community issues, like disrespectful comments and self-promotion and those sorts of things that a lot of communities deal with. I want to focus on weather. What are the unique issues that weather communities face?
[00:01:49] Michelle Schlachta: I would say the first one that comes to mind is if you’re a weather enthusiast, you might be somewhat obsessed with weather but in a really fun way. I mean that in the utmost positive light if you’re going to use the word obsessed. Weather’s super interesting, it affects all of us every day all the time. It’s something you don’t have control over. You also don’t have control over the predictions because they’re not always correct, right?
It’s something that’s always going to be interesting. There’s always going to be new info. There’s always going to be something new happening either in your neck of the woods or somewhere else in the world that you care about. There’s just so much rich information there. If you’re a weather enthusiast, it’s easy to get obsessed about it because you’re never going to run out of [chuckles] interesting things to think about, discuss online, et cetera.
[00:02:43] Patrick O’Keefe: It sounds a little like a sports team, the way you’re talking about it; you can’t really control it. The ball is going to bounce a certain way. They have to throw it in the air or swing the bat or whatever, but there’s a lot of minutiae. There’s a lot of stats. There’s a lot of information. There’s a lot of calculations. Baseball has sabermetrics; calculations of how this baseball player will project and what their future value could be worth, then people obsess over those things. It sounds like weather can be like that for some people.
[00:03:09] Michelle Schlachta: Yes. If the players are different storms that are happening in the same ocean at the same time, people could argue about which one is going to make landfall first or something like that. Yes, you’re right. It does sound sort of sports. It becomes competitive, I think, when you start debating about it.
[00:03:27] Patrick O’Keefe: What does a debate look like in that context then? Go back to sports. [chuckles] Who’s the best quarterback? What’s the debate, I guess, or an example of a debate?
[00:03:35] Michelle Schlachta: I think debate can come with; A, how well-versed I’m I in weather? How much do I understand the science behind it? How many storms have I studied and tracked? Maybe how many storms have I physically lived through? All the stuff you could know about it and package that up until you’re armed with that information when you’re going to have a debate with someone else. That person might not have as much experience with it or as much understanding of the science, but based on all those things that’s how you make predictions.
You could either see it like the smarter person wins and then their storm did what they predicted it was going to do or you can look at it like roulette, which it really actually technically is very unpredictable. Saying one storm is going to do one thing and not another thing on a certain timeline can have nothing to do with how much experience you have because it’s weather; it’s totally unpredictable.
In fact, a couple of the really amazing, super-smart, well-versed meteorologists that I worked with at Weather Underground had said to me, they’re like, “You understand that predicting weather is a gimmick, right? It’s a business.” I’m like, “Yes, but it’s also important for our safety.” They’re like, yes, of course, that’s all true,” like skipping over that. The business of predicting weather, it’s only- what did he say? Like 10% correct most of the time. I’m like, “Wow, that’s a pretty low confidence rating if I was going to give it one.”
That comment always stuck out to me. It made more sense to me as far as like, why are you even going to bother to predict weather? One reason could be, besides the safety and all those obvious reasons; the more we learn about it, the more we track it, the more we get smart about it, hopefully that percentage will increase. We’d all like to see the predictability of weather increase exponentially. The best way to do that is to learn as much as you can about the science and the history of it, and update and improve the science. That’s actually one thing I found very interesting about the positive reasoning behind predicting weather in the first place and making a business out of it.
Another thing I wanted to mention is; one thing I didn’t know until I started community managing for weather-centric community and this is probably because I grew up in the Bay Area. We don’t have real seasons here. It arguably almost looks the same outside all the time. It’s just the temperature either increases or decreases, or there are clouds or not. Sometimes there’s rain, but we don’t have a lot of different types of weather. It’s just mild here most of the time.
Other places, most other places in the world have actual seasons and they can be quite severe. Since that’s not something that touches my everyday life, and I’ve never lived through a hurricane, or a tornado, or a cyclone, or even very much snow, I didn’t realize that people who have lived through those experiences, and in some cases, many times over, it has an impressionable stamp that it leaves on you that doesn’t go away.
One case that can be very traumatic. If you lived through a hurricane- two, three hurricanes because you lived somewhere in the world where they happen every season where you live- if you and your family had to go into a bunker or something, or maybe your house blew away, or maybe your neighbor’s house did and yours didn’t; there’s so many awful, life-changing and life-ending things that happen because of nature.
At first, I was like, “Gosh, if I lived through something like that, I think I would never want to learn another new thing about weather. I’d want to avoid it,” but for a lot of people, it’s the opposite. They want to learn as much as they can about it because it makes them feel better moving forward. Like I said before, weather is the ultimate thing you don’t have control over other than life or death. You have absolutely no control over what’s going to happen. You just can protect yourself as best as you can.
[00:07:37] Patrick O’Keefe: I think it’s interesting because I was going to get a picture of the members that would join a community like this based upon what you’re saying. I wonder about is that who joins a community about the weather, people who want to predict, people who love talking about this type of cloud, but you’re shedding light on another group of people. Which is that, correct me if I’m wrong– Fear might not be the right way to categorize it. Maybe it’s coping, too.
Just people who have been impacted by a weather event; what helps them to feel better about either that event or what could happen in the future and help to limit some of that future fear is education. Is learning about those weather systems and where they can occur, what they can do, how to get early warning signs, et cetera. To get that education, they might seek out a community like Weather Underground. Is that accurate? Is that part of the member base?
[00:08:31] Michelle Schlachta: Yes, absolutely. It was. What I sensed when analyzing certain behavior patterns was that I think, weather being something you don’t have control over and if on top of that you’ve had a traumatic weather-based event or more than one happen in your life, maybe learning as much as you possibly can about weather in general or that particular storm that you witnessed and experienced, it might make you feel like you have more of a sense of control over it and over healing from that traumatic event.
[00:09:05] Patrick O’Keefe: We’re talking about– I introduced this sports metaphor, so I take full responsibility for that. I think there’s a case where what we’re talking about could sound like fantasy sports. Fantasy sports, you draft a team- a baseball team, just to extend this metaphor even further- you draft a team based upon the performance of that team, you’re- or those players, your team is either good or bad, wins or loses.
If you want to predict storms, then the way that you could do that in a way that isn’t harmful to the public, in a way where people are listening to you is through a private conversation, where it’s clear what the guardrails are, where it’s clear that you’re not a meteorologist. This is not weather information. This is not safety information. You’re just talking about weather because you like it. I can see an aspect of that, that’s like that makes a ton of sense to me.
Then the other side of that, of course as you’ve touched on, is the real-life impact of storms. The line that exists there of these are hobbyists who love this thing; storm chasing, just talking about storms, talking about weather events, studying them, watching footage of them, et cetera, and then the result of those events can be the loss of human life.
Is there ever a need or was there ever a need to either have policy or have a structure or check people sometimes even, to be like you’re talking about this thing a little too giddily, you’re talking about this thing a little to happily. It needs to be put in this context. You can study it, you can geek out over it, but it needs to be within this context. Would people lose that sense of the human loss there, or did that not happen, or how did you prevent it if any of those things are true?
[00:10:32] Michelle Schlachta: In that sense, I have to say at least on our two main communities, we’re a photo upload community and a blogging community. Blogging community was where most of the debating would happen. A little bit of debate in the comments section of the photos, but mostly on the blogging platform. That community was really pretty self-regulated because a lot of those users had been around since the blogs for Weather Underground started in- it was like 2008.
They had a lot of ownership over those blogs, partially because they created so much of the core content, but they continue to do so for years and they’re super, highly active. Some of these people are like– Most people have very busy lives, or they’d be busy on both the blogging and the photo platform and also like five other weather websites. They’re just interested in talking about it with their peers.
If a new person comes along and they’re not really going with the flow of the conversation, or they’re not really behaving- like whatever is the accepted flow of the convo happening, they wouldn’t really be able to get away with it for too long. There are people there who’d be like, “You just got here. We’re already having this conversation. You need to wait your turn, or weigh in when it’s relevant.” Or, “If you’re going to be here, great, welcome. We welcome you 100%, but you need to have a good attitude, contribute something. If you’re not going to, that’s fine. Then don’t bother speaking up. Just read what we’re talking about.”
[00:12:04] Patrick O’Keefe: It was a serious community established- weather community- the norms has been set by the elders, so to speak. The pontificating on that maybe you get a little too giddy about it was something that just by their very nature, it wasn’t encouraged because the norms had already been in place.
[00:12:18] Michelle Schlachta: Yes, absolutely. Of course, beyond that we have our own policies. If nobody was not responding to the social commentary on misbehaving, then it’s time to escalate it. Of course, we had volunteer moderators along with me moderating every day and people flagging things. I’d review the queue, or somebody who I had a well-established relationship within the community would just give me a heads up like, “This person is misbehaving,” I’m going to handle it. There a number of ways of dealing with that kind of thing.
[00:12:48] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s time for a break. Let’s talk about our generous sponsor, Vanilla.
Vanilla provides a one-stop-shop solution that gives community leaders all the tools they need to create a thriving community. Engagement tools like ideation and gamification promote vibrant discussion and powerful moderation tools allow admins to stay on top of conversations and keep things on track. All of these features are available out of the box, and come with best-in-class technical and community support from Vanilla’s Success Team. Vanilla is trusted by King, Acer, Qualtrics, and many more leading brands. Visit vanillaforums.com.
Weather and climate; it’s science. [chuckles] It’s a thing that has answers. The predictions may be tough, but what happened and why it happens, these are things that there’s consensus on in general. There are all sorts of things in society right now that are threatened by misinformation. COVID being probably the best example right now at the moment. Conspiracy theories always exist, but COVID right now being relevant to us, what we’re dealing with right now. Things like Plandemic come out, people undermine vaccinations, and all these other things.
I want to tackle that within weather but in two ways. One is sort of gatekeeping of new users. Then the other is just general misinformation and climate denial. I want to start with the first one. You’ve given a good impression of this community. It’s a lot of people who are serious about this, who have studied it, who respect science, respect those methods, respect the training that goes into being a meteorologist, et cetera.
If you had to, I guess, how did you limit gatekeeping in the sense of like, I’m a new person, I don’t understand things, I’m maybe asking dumb questions? Maybe they’re well-meaning, but not having just the voice be dominated by these elders and these people who have used the platform forever so that there wasn’t a window for a new person, especially in a blog community, to gain a following.
[00:14:41] Michelle Schlachta: Because I think it was, in general, a very welcoming community and really valued new people getting in on it and getting in on the conversation. If a new user came into things the way that you’re describing, in a very nice way where they’re like, “I don’t know if I’m asking right questions here,” they’re being apologetic, nobody is going to be mean to them. Of course, they’re going to be like, “We’ll show you the ropes. We’ll teach you what’s up.” Or, “What’s your question?” Play nice and it’s all good.
I never really saw that being a problem. I mean, a troll is a troll. If somebody is trying to troll, they’re going to do it pretty quickly and then they’ll just get self-regulated out. Does that answer your question?
[00:15:19] Patrick O’Keefe: It sounds like you don’t have a problem with gatekeeping, which is a luxury. [chuckles] That’s great. That’s a good thing. I’ll reframe it. Sometimes, in our communities where there’s authority lended to people, which is most communities, really– You think about veteran members, people who’ve built up a presence in their community, their voice carries weight, they’re influential members.
There’s always those people. Sometimes, their authority or their share of the voice could be threatened by a new person coming in. Especially when you’re talking about something that I think lends itself to an authoritative take, the science and meteorology and weather; where if we’re talking about these things, we’re studying them, we want to sound articulate. We want to sound like we know what we’re talking about.
That can be tough sometimes for new people to get a foothold in, but if you didn’t have any problem with that, then that’s great. [laughs]
[00:16:01] Michelle Schlachta: The common thread is of interest. It’s like, I’m here, who cares if I’m new or who’s been around for eight years or two months or whatever and I just walked in here today, we’re all here for the same reason, which is to learn more about weather. That most ultimately respected thing, everything else trickles down from there.
Generally, new users were there because they wanted to learn from experts. They wanted to learn information they couldn’t really learn by just like Googling and searching on the internet. They wanted to have and observe conversation about weather so that they can learn too; and who better are you going to learn from but an expert? We had like all the top weather expert, conversationalists at least, on our site.
[00:16:46] Patrick O’Keefe: Tackle that from the other side now. Did you have to approach, either from a policy perspective or community perspective, climate denial and misinformation during your time, was that a concern? Was it something that you had to at least create policy for, or was it an issue at all?
[00:17:02] Michelle Schlachta: Yes, it was a pretty huge issue. Now, I’m trying to remember what did we even do about it? I think it grew to be a big enough problem where our solution was like, what we need to do is come up with a company stance on how we feel about climate change. What do we think that it is? How do we feel about it? How do we feel about people talking about it? How should they talk about it or not?
Some of the developers and meteorologists came together to figure out how do we answer all these questions, and how do we set the stage for other people? Therefore, we could point to that information on the company stance so that when people were trolling or weren’t sure if they were trolling, we could be like, “Look, this is what we think climate change is and climate denial. You know what side we’re on. Depending on which side you’re on, you’re either welcome or not, or this comment or reaction as welcome or not.”
We ended up being very clear about that and there was an overload, practically, of documentation on our side, as far as how do we feel about this issue.
[00:18:11] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to talk briefly about YouTube because I know that’s even a longer time ago. That time at YouTube when you were there was like the third through fifth years of the company. When you work in a community and something that changes in so many ways– I’ve handed projects off, I’ve handed communities off, I’ve stopped working on projects and I’ve looked back on them and I’m like, “What do I remember from that time?” What was I working on then on this project that…Everyone knows what YouTube is. I mean, it wasn’t as popular then, certainly not the level of cultural consciousness it has now, which is like, I watch YouTube more than TV in 2021 more than a generic TV station or TV network. In those years when you were there, what were the challenges that you remember? What sticks with you as something that pops into your mind from time to time?
[00:18:57] Michelle Schlachta: First of all, I think it’s crazy to me now that even though I was there from 2007 to 2009, that’s considered a veteran of working at that company. [chuckles]
[00:19:08] Patrick O’Keefe: A lot of people have probably come and gone in that point, just knowing how big companies work. There’s been six-figure people [chuckles] or maybe not that many, but so many people. In that sense, you were in the first X percent.
[00:19:18] Michelle Schlachta: Well, I think at that time, a lot of the original people who were very, very early, all the early employees were still there for the most part. They were still running things on many levels and making a lot of top-level decisions, and a lot of the community had been around that long as well. As I got there, I watched Google, basically, Google-ify, they’re like, “Yes, you guys do whatever you want. Do you’re thing. We own you for a reason. You’re amazing. You’re already great,” but then it was also like, “We own you for a reason. We’re going to make you use our platforms. We’re going to make you use our technology.”
A lot of the original- or maybe not original but pretty new YouTube stuff that made YouTube become desirable for everyone, it was about to change. Part of that was pressure to monetize. Part of it was just crazy exponential growth. It just took off. It was so popular, and you had to update the tools, you had to update the technology to match that.
While I was there, the YouTube Partner Program was born. Before that, all the top community players were people who had, for the most part, gotten their followings from organic activity. They had a pretty large sense of ownership over what’s going to happen to this product, what’s going to happen to even specific pages on the site, like the video page and the homepage, the category pages. All that stuff was slowly changing many times. It was just starting to evolve in this way where the growth was just explosive.
There were a lot of growing pains for some of the users that had been around for a very long time that basically made YouTube what it was, and they made it as popular as it was. They did it in very grassroots type of way. I think, of course, you have a sense of ownership over helping to create that type of environment.
I think that was a challenge. We wanted to listen to them as much as possible, and protect them and protect what they wanted and what they had helped us build, but we also had to deal with reality, like lots of stuff is going to change and change again, and this is a business. A lot of users were really pissed off at first, but then a lot of them started to realize, “Hey, these changes are actually pretty great. This better technology is pretty great. These newer employees-” a lot of them who at the time came from Google- “these people are pretty great.”
Part of my job was helping the community to understand that the people behind building these products they were using really did care about the users, they did care what they wanted, and they did want to give them what they wanted while still fulfilling business needs. I think that’s a pretty delicate, difficult balance.
[00:22:11] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. Your timeline of joining matches right up with when they were testing Content ID. I’m sure that was a phrase that maybe gives you nightmares or something. [chuckles] I don’t know. I can only imagine how the community responded at the time because I was using YouTube back then, too.
Content ID is probably one of the greatest examples of what you’re talking about of just– I don’t know how to say it. Legitimizing isn’t quite the right word, but professionalizing- whatever- the platform of YouTube to open it up to monetization, Content ID was really a part of that. I think that’s a great kind of example of what you’re describing.
[00:22:44] Michelle Schlachta: Yes. Then also, why is my content being taken down? I’ve been making the same type of content for the last year. Things just got confusing, I think, with legal policies.
[00:22:55] Patrick O’Keefe: When you Google you, and I’m sure you know this, when you Google you and YouTube, there’s only one thing that is still around and it’s a blog post about view counts. I was just curious. When you have an announcement like that to make and you’re going to post it on the YouTube blog, why is it you that gets to write that post. How does it get decided like who’s the person who gets to break this news and why was it you?
[00:23:16] Michelle Schlachta: [laughs] Wow. Okay, now I have to think back to that time. I don’t remember that blog post. [chuckles]
[00:23:22] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s okay if you don’t have an answer to that because like I said, it’s a long time ago. I was like, “This is the thing that your name is stamped on from the YouTube time.” It’s just a funny relic, I’m sure, from that time.
[00:23:33] Michelle Schlachta: I learned a lot about how to fold in lots of different angles and concerns into a blog post from writing blog posts like that.
[00:23:41] Patrick O’Keefe: Now, you’re doing the same thing today to some extent.
[00:23:43] Michelle Schlachta: [laughs] Well, sure. My name is on there and I did write every word, but that thing got the shit edited out of it, as did a lot of blog posts that were of that nature had to be. My boss was the manager of the YouTube Blog, so she didn’t write every single thing. Sometimes, we were doing like two to five blog posts per day. It would be insane if one person was going to write it all. We had a lot of internal contributors, but 95% of the time they were employees. There could be many different stakeholders.
In this case, let’s say it was my team, which was the editorial team, obviously the legal team, PR team, product team; all the stakeholders involved in that blog posts, it was almost every vertical of YouTube had some kind of stake in that. It’d be like, “Okay, there’s this really important issue. We need to push this blog post out within the next 12 hours. How are we going to do it? Who do we need to talk to?”
We grab one person from each party, each stakeholder, go into the director of PR’s office and just huddle like, “All right, we have to say this. We cannot say that. Can we say this?” And we would just hash it all out. Then I take a first pass like, “Okay, I heard all your concerns. I also want to fold in the users’ concerns.” I’m the people person, I’m the community manager, so I need to do that. I’d try to get buy-in for being as transparent as we possibly could, just so people can understand what’s happening and feel they’re a part of this process and being cared for not just yelled at or spoken at.
I’d take a first pass and then pass it by all the stakeholders, let everybody weigh in again. Eventually, after maybe 27 edits, you end up with something that everybody can agree on. That agreement happens in a timely-enough fashion to match up with the concerns of when legal is about to push out some other announcement on a different platform about this very topic, or right when the product team is going to actually physically push those changes live.
Lots of coordination, lots of nuances, a lot of folding in different people’s concerns. At the end of the day, you want the tone to be like, “Hey, users, this is for you.” Taking all that into consideration, polishing and with that vibe was definitely a big part of the job of writing blog posts for the YouTube blog.
[00:26:14] Patrick O’Keefe: Corporate bureaucracy. [chuckles]
[00:26:15] Michelle Schlachta: Yes. I prefer the more fun blog posts when we’re talking about really popular cat videos and Rickrolling. [chuckles]
[00:26:23] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to talk a little bit about remote work. Before we came on, you were talking about how you’re working on your home office. In looking around the web, I found that you had written a piece on Medium in January of 2020 about finding a work crew as a remote worker. You talked about being lonely and feeling a sense of isolation as a remote worker; something that a lot of us feel in the working community.
You would use a service called WorkClub, which group people together that were working remote or solo so that they could form a little temporary community of sorts. Work together, have some off-time together, just like an office. Then less than two months after that piece went up, the world changed thanks to COVID-19.
I was curious to ask in that light, how did that impact you in this sense of being isolated, as you discussed in the article, and what have you done about it?
[00:27:13] Michelle Schlachta: Well, at that point– I got the job at Splunk, I think, a week or so before the initial super-panic shelter-in-place happened. I was so happy to get that job at that time, for many reasons besides what we’re talking about now, but in this context, I had been freelancing for a year and a half, maybe, checking that out, decided I wasn’t really super into it, but I definitely learned a lot.
I was very happy that I had gone and I joined for a little bit. By the end of it, I was like, “I really don’t like freelancing anymore because I really like working from an office. I like having my work homies. I like having the water cooler convos. I like going to lunch. I like laying on the weird, fancy couch or whatever bullshit stuff there is in an office [chuckles] that’s supposed to make you want to hang and work longer…whatever.
I really wanted to go back to an office. I was like, “I miss the 9:00 to 5:00. I miss the commute. I miss all the different parts of your day that comprise how you fold your regular waking life into your work life,” so I was very sad. I was so happy to get this new job, but I was like [crosstalk]–
[00:28:30] Patrick O’Keefe: I assume Splunk has an office in San Francisco or did?
[00:28:33] Michelle Schlachta: It has an office in San Francisco. I had a couple of video interviews and then I had an in-person interview. The day after that in-person interview, the offices got shut down. None of us knew we’re not going to be able to go back for a year or maybe forever- we still don’t know- but I was very sad to not go in an office. I didn’t want that sadness to shroud my work performance, I guess. [chuckles]
[00:29:02] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, the neatest bunch of sad posts on the company blog.
[00:29:07] Michelle Schlachta: I mean, there’s collective sadness, of course, between everyone, but I was like, “It’s not going to help you right now to be bummed that you’re not getting your 9:00 to 5:00 dream back.” Being at home more, in one way, has been good because it’s shown me what stuff I don’t like about being at home and feeling really empowered to take the time to change it. That’s been a positive effect. Also, just knowing that everybody else is going through this too, not just me.
I think before when I was freelancing, the isolation felt very me-centric. Like I’m alone, I’m the one at home, this– Whatever. Now, it’s like all my friends are going through it, too, and we’re all going through it together. We can more easily help each other come up with solutions for it and talk about it and vent about it. It feels less alone than that previous type of isolation that I experienced with working from home.
At this point, it’s been almost a year. I’m pretty used to it. I’m just trying to enjoy the good things about it and the positive life habits it’s given me. It’s nice to just stop what I’m doing and go for a walk, come back, work for another hour and go on another little walk. You wouldn’t really do that if you were in an office necessarily.
[00:30:20] Patrick O’Keefe: No, you wouldn’t. At this stage, if the office opens up, everyone is vaccinated, everything is- COVID is good, office opens up tomorrow; are you one of the first people in line?
[00:30:27] Michelle Schlachta: I’ll be, yes.
[00:30:29] Patrick O’Keefe: [chuckles] Okay. This mirage of like, “Yes, I’m loving this lifestyle. The vibes are great,” it’s, “No, if the office opens, I’m there.”
[00:30:36] Michelle Schlachta: I’m joking with my team constantly, I’m like, “You guys know I’m going to be the one who’s going to be running back in there right away. I don’t care if I’m in there by myself. You guys are letting me go in.” We were actually talking about some goal planning with the team last couple of weeks.
We were talking about the process of goal planning and how we want to approach it as a team, and one of my managers asked, “Well, how do you guys feel about it? Do you want to have smaller breakout meetings about this with just your smaller team, or do we do this all in a very collaborative way and do all this goal sharing?” I was just like, “Look, you guys, I just want the magic back. I want the magic of the water cooler, of the in-person interactions and all these stuff you couldn’t predict.”
Because some of those random side-convos that you have with people; new websites, new companies, new products are born from those interactions. That’s not lost on me. That’s definitely something I’m never going to get used to about the pandemic work-from-home lifestyle. It’s definitely something that I value. Relationship building online? Sure, I care a lot about that and I want to cultivate more positive ways of doing that and facilitate that, but nothing is ever going to replicate the real in-person experience.
I do miss that. It still pains me each day. [chuckles]
[00:31:53] Patrick O’Keefe: Well, I hope that we can get back to it sooner than later because I’d love to get up to San Francisco again and maybe we’ll be able to connect in-person.
[00:32:02] Michelle Schlachta: Yes, come to the office, get free snacks. I heard they were good.
[00:32:06] Patrick O’Keefe: Michelle, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for spending some time with us.
[00:32:09] Michelle Schlachta: Thank you so much, Patrick. I really appreciate it.
[00:32:12] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Michelle Schlachta, community content manager for Splunk. We’ll link to her piece about the underlying stress of the pandemic, metaphorical fruits in the show notes, as well as Splunk’s community blog and Michelle’s LinkedIn, which you can find at linkedin.com/in/schlachta– that’s S-C-H-L-A-C-H-T-A.
For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad, and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Thank you for listening.
If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.