I was in Boston visiting my startup’s home office last week. I flew United over from San Francisco, checked into an Airbnb, and took the MBTA Red Line into our office.
Every morning, I’d need to check in with the security guard / door man of the office building to get a temporary ID card for the day that I could use to get in and out of the building when I stepped out for coffee or lunch.
Every morning I’d make 30 seconds of small talk with the dude, crack a few jokes, and generally just try and make the few moments that he was printing my badge out slightly less monotonous for both of us.
After a few days of being there, I was coming back from lunch with a bunch of people and I didn’t have my badge cause I left it on my desk. I said something to the security guard about it, he laughed, made fun of me, and just let me through the security gates.
As I hopped on the elevator, one of the engineers I was with said “Wait, you know him? You’ve been here for 3 days.”
I didn’t really know what to say, and fortunately someone else spoke up and said, “Oh, sorry. That’s just one of the things Austin does.”
I didn’t know what the big deal was. I just make a point of making friends with security guards and the people who take care of the offices I work in.
A big part of me is thinking selfishly. I hate having to sit through the security protocol of printing that badge out every morning just to get into my office and start working. It seems unnecessary to me.
But I also think about how I’d feel sitting in his chair, seeing and endless train of office workers pass through the security, barely acknowledging you, printing out one temporary paper badge after another. I’d be bored and miserable, and I hate thinking someone else who is effectively performing a necessary service for me might feel that way as well.
So I make conversation. I’ll crack a stupid joke. I ask where the guy is from, and when he asks me, I make jokes about being a small town Texas boy who has made it to the big city. Anything to break the monotony of his day as he is taking care of all of us who pass through those doors. Without that dude at the security desk, our day doesn’t work quite as seamlessly.
It’s just something I’ve made a point of doing. Security guards can make your life easier when they know you and like you. I know the master code of the elevator in my building so when I forget my access key I can bypass security simply because I was friendly with the security guard.
I’ve done this for a long time, but it crystalized for me very strongly this afternoon.
There’s this guy from Yemen that cleans our office floors every day. The dude is super friendly and nice and I make a point of chatting with him every day because I want to be grateful to the people who take care of keeping my place of work clean and nice to work in. They’re a massive and under appreciated part of where we spend 8-12 hours of each of our days.
Anyways, he’s apparently applying for a work visa and US citizenship, along with his wife. A few weeks ago he needed some help from me to fix date formats and a few spelling errors on his application forms. He pulled me aside and handed me a USB drive to see if I could upload his PDF onto my laptop, make some changes, and then give him a hard copy.
I spend maybe 5 minutes updating a PDF for him and then printing it out. So easy, but it made such a huge difference to him. I don’t know if he has access or a computer or printer, but I do remember what it’s like applying for temporary visas in Chile and Turkey, not having the language, and hoping I checked all the right boxes. If I can help him do that, that’s probably one of the easiest parts of my day, but it makes such a big difference in his life.
And there’s no way he would have asked me for that help, such a small thing but so huge to his life, had I not made a point of talking to him when I see him on the floor.
That was a few weeks ago.
Today, he walked by me on his way to clean the bathrooms, and waved at me with a huge smile on his face. He told me that he had confirmation that his request had been received. Showed me the receipt from whatever US Dept. handles immigration. Who knows what happens, next, but at least the paperwork got filled out right.
That moment was one probably the biggest moments of my week. What is the point of life if not doing a small thing like that for the people around you?
That’s why I believe in making friends with the doorman and the janitor. You never know how it’s going to make a difference.
Hope this helps.
Austin W. Gunter