Foundational Work is a Long Term Investment

Like compound interest and other long-term strategies, making time for foundational work pays huge dividends over time. Make time in your work for it and you’ll be surprised at the difference you see.

My work at SpiderOak revolves around customers. My team handles customer support, account management, onboarding, and some technical aspects of our websites. Working with customers means a constant influx of work. There will always be questions, some big and some small, and they will always come at times when you don’t expect them.

This makes doing foundational work hard to schedule. If a server goes down or there’s a technical issue that affects customers, it means that we’ll be working full time to communicate and assist while the problem is solved. Those are busy times, but important times too.

Once in a while, everything seems to go right. No hard drives fail, the system runs as it should, problems that crop up are small and get solved quickly. When we’re lucky enough to have times like this we turn our focus to foundational work. This is the work of documentation, evaluation, professional development, and planning. In a perfect world we’d be able to consistently schedule all of these things, but at least we know that slow times mean we’ll have time for it.

Here’s an example of why this kind of work is so important. One member of our team decided to take on a project to create an interactive troubleshooting form. Customers with problems answered a series of questions and were given suggestions of how to fix their problem based on the answers. Some people that use the form still end up contacting our team, but more than 50% end up finding an answer and don’t contact us. In the three years we’ve used this interactive form, more than 3,000 customers found self help answers through it. This saved our team hundreds of hours and saved those customers a lot of time too. It’s a pretty good return on a few weeks of part time work.

When your work hits a calm patch, enjoy the break but also consider what foundational work you can do. Work on a project you’ve been putting off. Take a professional development course. Read a book. Do some of the work that’s been put off for “someday” so that you’ll be able to start to reap the rewards now.


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