We’ve returned to the office. And it feels great!

On Tuesday, March 10th I flew to Las Vegas for work. I went to CONEXPO, the word’s greatest gathering in the construction industry. The coronavirus was just beginning to make the world weird. But its intensity seemed to be growing by the hour. That evening when I met up with my clients and coworkers for dinner I told them that I expected that we would return to a very different world when we went home that Friday. But I couldn’t have predicted the full Bruce-to-Caitlyn transformation we were about to experience.

Hand, Elbow, Wave.

Over the next few days, I saw trade show attendees go from shaking hands to touching elbows, to no contact at all. By Thursday I did the unthinkable. I canceled our spring break trip to Florida which was just days away. Then my children’s schools said they would be teaching kids remotely for the next 2 months. We were becoming the Bizzaro Albrechts.

Lockdown, Go Ahead And Give It To Me.

My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, canceled all film and photo shoots scheduled for March and April. We postoponed client workshops. We decided to start working from home on Monday, March 16th. Other businesses were declaring that they would be working remotely for a defined time period. I felt the future was unknowable. So I simply told our team and our clients that we would be working from home until further notice.

One Month… Two Months…

Over 2 months passed before any further notice. But as Memorial Day weekend approached I felt it was time to re-evaluate. We have offices in both Milwaukee and Columbus. Wisconsin’s Safer At Home order expired on May 26th. Although in a surprising turn of events, a Wisconsin court order actually nullified the Safer At Home order more than a week early. Which was weird. But this has all been weird. Like that Yankovic boy.

The Announcement

On Friday, May 22nd, I called an afternoon agency-wide Zoom meeting. I told our team that starting on Monday I would be returning to the office and that both offices would be open for anyone wanting to return. However, the return to the office was not mandatory. I asked the team to consider their own timeline for a return.

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On May 26th we played the themesong to Welcome Back Kotter all day long. 

Tuesday, Woo-hoosday!

On the morning of Tuesday, May 26th I drove to the office for a regular day of work for the first time in 74 days. A coworker’s car was in the parking lot when I arrived. It was a great sight. What was even better was entering the office and seeing a coworker again without the aid of a teleconferencing platform. It was the closest I hope I ever get to knowing what it feels like to see your people again after being released from prison.

Back To The Future

We have now been back in the office for 2 full weeks. I am thrilled. I have also learned a thing or 2. Or maybe 7. Here are those 7 things:

7 Things I’ve Learned Since Returning To The Office

  1. I love my commute. My morning drive gives me time to collect my thoughts and transition to work mode. I like cranking hype music on my morning drive. My drive is my pre-game routine. My evening commute also offers a chance to unwind, crank some more music, drive 9 mph over the speed limit, and properly remove myself from work mode before I get home to my wife and 3 kids. It’s kind of like The Intcredible Hulk transitioning back to David Banner, and casually ditching his shredded clothes like nothing ever happened.
  2. I like office-mode. My home office is quiet and separated from the rest of my home. But it doesn’t allow me to separate my work life and home life distinctly. So I felt as if I was in work mode almost constantly for over 2 months. Which I was. But if you don’t want to fry your brain you’ve got to keep em separated.
  3. My office is like a creative studio. My office at The Weaponry offers a great place to think. It’s a place to be in a space of creativity. It’s a great space for in-person collaboration. I love that. It’s my thinkwell. Everyone should have a thinkwell, don’t you think?
  4. My office looks better on Zoom. The wall behind my desk is a solid red. It pops on video conferences, both as the cleanest and most distinct look. Plus the big windows in my office bring in plenty of light, which helps add to my Zoomtastic lighting package. I dig that.
  5. I like spending time with my co-workers.  It is much easier to meet and discover solutions face to face. It feels different. A workplace is a community, with a culture and an energy. It is most powerful in person. I am thankful to all of my coworkers who have come back to the office. It’s great to see you again.
  6. I feel safe. I am confident that my co-workers and I have been safe and careful in our approach to COVID-19 avoidance. We are not hugging. Or sharing our secret handshakes. Or practicing CPR techniques. We are being respectful of our distancing. I hope these are not my famous last words. I want my last words to be, “It was fun while it lasted.’
  7. We need leaders to get back to normal. Yes we need to be safe. But we also need to get back to normalcy.  I wanted to be get back to the office as soon as I could.  I hope that others who can return safely do. It’s a form of positive peer pressure. Or maybe we’re just canaries in the coal mine. But last Friday when I saw the jobless claims number drop by 2.5 million people I knew we were on our way back. And I am proud to be on the leading edge of the return.

Key Takeaway

Be safe. Be smart. But let’s get back to work and back to normal as rapidly as we can. We are better when we collaborate, work and grow together. It’s how we build culture and relationships. We are social creatures. And there is a lot for us to talk about. I hope to see you in the office real soon.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Making connections: 3 things I do to make total strangers laugh.

I wish the world was funnier. Funny is one of the most precious commodities. If they traded funny on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange I am certain it would make people forget all about wheat, hogs and butter. I know of nothing that draws two strangers together faster than funny. Except maybe blackholes.

I am a naturally happy person. But sometimes I wish I knew more funny people who entertained me and made me laugh. I’m willing to bet that your life would be even more enjoyable if you knew more people that made you laugh more often too.

The workplace is the perfect place to get a good laugh. It provides a never-ending mix of new, odd and surprising situations. In fact, I want my ad agency, The Weaponry, to be the world’s funniest place to work. Meetings should be funny. Lunchtime should be funny.  The holiday party should be funny. I want to make this a place where we can laugh at ourselves, at the things we don’t know, at our mistakes and at the predicaments we find ourselves in. Finding the humor in our shared experiences helps us bond. And it helps us through the challenges and setbacks that naturally come with hard work.

I’m considering a policy that says that if you can make me laugh you get hired. The rest we can train.  Heck, maybe we can train the funny too. I’ve tested a lot of funny things over the course of my career. Not all of it hit the mark. But I have never been deterred.  I keep what works and tweak what doesn’t.

To that end, here are a few things that I like to do or say that are proven to make even total strangers laugh.

The Unpleasantry: It is common (and polite) in our culture to end an interaction by saying, “Have a good day.’ or “Have a great weekend!’ or ‘Have a good night!’ The expected reply is to simply repeat what the other person says. Or to say ‘Thank you.’ Or ‘You too.’ I prefer to say, “Don’t tell me what to do!’ That always get’s a laugh.

The Fritz Astaire: You know that moment when two people are about to run into each other, then both try to step out of the way, but they actually step in the same direction, so they end up taking awkward steps and getting nowhere?  I love it when that happens! It gives me a chance to say, ‘Thanks for the dance.’  That always gets a laugh.  Or I get punched in the eye by my new dance partner’s significant other.

The Family Connection: You ever notice how people introduce themselves by inserting, ‘My name is (NAME) by the way.’?  This is one of my favorite things.  I love to respond to this introduction by asking, ‘Are you related to any other Bytheways?’ It usually takes a moment. But laughter eventually follows.  Of course, I don’t distingusih between people laughing at me and people laughing with me.

I encourage you to find your own ways to make the world a funnier place. And if you find yourself with some really good material, please try it out on me. If you have skills that apply to advertising, all the better. The Weaponry is always looking for talented and funny people to akwardly run into in the hallway. Have a great day, Bytheway!