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.

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Now is the perfect time to pay people in confidence.

A few months ago COVID-19 and The Global Lockdown may have sounded like a cool band name. But today they represent the two dominating forces on the planet. Right now they are locked in an epic standoff, like the FBI and The Branch Davidians. Physical and economic health is under attack. And we need Chip and Joanna Gaines to show up and save Waco with some shiplap.

Every day the news reports the latest health and economic casualties. But there is another human concern that is much harder to quantify.

Confidence, self assurance and motivation are waning. But you can make a difference. Even if money is in short supply.

Right now one of the most valuable things you can do is pay compliments. They can be the most valuable thing you ever give another person. Because they offer confidence, strength and resolve.

black and white laptop
Be this sign for others.

Compliments are the antidote against quitting, and, as a result, failure. Knowing that someone else believes in us is often all we need to believe a little more in ourselves.

I have had people pay me outrageous sums in compliments. Those compliments have expanded my self perception. And those comments helped propel me in ways that those who shared them could not have imagined.

Compliments always seem to land at the right time. When your trajectory is wrong, they help change the angle. When your trajectory is right on target a compliment helps you accelerate.

Too often we avoid or disclaim a compliment because we are afraid it will give the recipient a big head, or feed their ego. But like flour needs yeast to rise, amazing talent often needs positive feedback to rise to the demands necessary to turn great talent into skill, and ultimately results.

If you are wondering what you can do right now to make a difference, send an earnest compliment or 2. Or 200. Or 2000. Deliver it any way you like. You’re likely to make someone’s day. Like a sweet treat in the middle of a no carb diet.

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

Suddenly you appreciate the most basic things.

The best food I ever tasted in my life was a Wendy’s triple cheeseburger at an Oasis overpass in Chicago. I had gone 24 hours without eating anything due to travel craziness. And in my time of need, nothing Wolfgang Puck, David Chang or Jesus’s personal chef could have whipped up would have tasted better to me than Dave Thomas’s triple wonder did that day.

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone.

Deprivation changes everything. It changes priorities at work and at home. It makes the least valued most valued. But the truth is, the value is always there. We simply miss it. We factor in the basics as constants in our science, math and social equations.

Instead of the basics, we get to focus on the less important things. Sports, movies, concerts, Happy Hour, Kardashians. These are all luxuries. Abraham Maslow knew it. When he created his Hierarchy Of Needs he put all of our most basic needs at the bottom. Not because they are least important. But because they are most important. Without those basic needs met, nothing else matters. No prestige or feelings of belonging or accomplishment matter at all if you are hungry, tired, worried about lung inflammation, or wondering what you will wipe your bum with next. 

Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs

The 2 Week Lesson

Over the past 2 weeks everything has changed. We have flipped the Maslow’s hierarchy triangle upside down. Just like Suge Knight did to Vanilla Ice. What was last on our list is now first. We are now thankful for the safety of a simple shelter. We appreciate the security of isolation. We feel the value of the money we saved for a rainy day. Now we just hope we don’t get orders to round up 2 of every animal. Especially after seeing Tiger King on Netflix. #amIright

The Rise Of The Toilet Paper

Finally, we see the real value in toilet paper. Today, a carton of milk, a loaf of bread and a stick of butter are not food. They are peace of mind. Fresh fruits and vegetable are valued treats again. Like they were during most of human history.

For the first time in my lifetime, or at least since the movie Convoy, we as a nation are recognizing the critical importance of the truckers, transporters and delivery drivers.

The grocery store stockers and cashiers are our modern day militia. Without them we would all be scurvy pirates by now.

We suddenly see the value in the women and men who make our toothpaste, hand soap, disinfectant and medical masks. In fact, I am thanking them through my mask right now.

Timeout For A Reality Check

Today, we are reminded that we can carry on just fine without the athletic superstar we cared so much about 2 weeks ago. But without the farmer, nothing else matters. The janitors and cleaners who enter the building as you are leaving are no longer an afterthought. They are critical to the safety of us all.

When Forrest Gump, Mr. Rogers and Woody test positive for COVID-19 it is unfortunate. But the nurse who tests positive and cannot work is a threat to the safety net we are all counting on to catch us if we fall.

The Reset

This is an opportunity to reset. To realize how fortunate we are to spend so much time thinking well beyond our most important needs. It’s a time to recognize that unless you are Mr. Wipple, a roll of toilet paper is more important than most of the things you focused on 2 weeks ago.

Key Takeaway

If you let it, the scarcity and the scariness of these times can have a profoundly positive impact on the way you see and value the people and things around you. So let it. And emerge from this with a greater ability to appreciate what you have, what you need, and what you don’t. It will help you enjoy all areas of your life more. Just like Maslow said. 

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