—Craig Redmond’s return to the office began with some trepidation, but encounters with old colleagues and something called “casual conversation” helped ease his fears—
Last week, I stumbled into an emotionally crippling, bear trap of a real existential crisis. My heart thundered. My pores unsealed. My mind began to rapid fire like a rabbit shitting raisins.
“I don’t know how to operate an elevator!” I screamed silently to myself. It was my first day at the office. My first day in anything called an office since January. And the first time since well before the pandemic began that I had been in an office with vehicular capsules that propel people vertically to their place of employment.
And as I flailed about searching for buttons to push, I wondered if this this contraption could destine me to unemployment, instead. It was only the beginning of day, promising an all-you-can-eat buffet of new beginnings. There was the fumbling awkwardness of getting acquainted with my newly presented security fob. Then the ‘back to school’ intimidation of choosing from one of the hundreds of hypoallergenic, state-of-the-art workstations or defaulting, as I did, to working in the agency café.
Because, having molded myself to a work from home couch for two years, the prospect of once again committing to something called a desk seemed downright Orwellian. And then there came the technological befuddlements: The realization that I hadn’t pre-arranged wi-fi privileges; the hermetically sealed Fort Knox firewalls forbidding me to toggle my agency issue laptop with my phone; and the hyperventilating anxiety of missing a super-important client debrief, exacerbated by each tick of my calendar countdown, only to be saved at the last second by my freshly adopted and unsettlingly calm creative team.
I must have aged 10 years in that first half hour at my new agency home. Yet my worst fear of all still lay ahead. For months I had fretted over the greatest unknown—what was it going to be like to actually experience real human interaction again? How would I greet people, navigating the new rock/paper/scissors protocol of handshakes/fist pumps/air high-fives?
How would I negotiate casual conversations, a fine art that I never mastered even before the days of Covid cloister-hood? What if I had to line up at a urinal next to somebody I knew, with my chronically shy kidneys?
But then something entirely unexpected happened. After doing laps around the office oval, searching for a familiar face with whom I could face my human interaction fears, there suddenly appeared the chief creative officer who I had never met in person.
A smile beamed across his face, and he jumped out of his state-of-the-art, hypoallergenic office chair and leaned right into me with a bro-hug. (I’m not very good at bro-hugs. I can never guess which way to lean.) But it spared me the handshake conundrum, and God it felt good and heartfelt.
Moments after that, I met my ECD, who I had worked with years ago but also hadn’t seen face to face since being hired. This time, I got the full-bore bear hug that nearly squeezed the life out of me, but damn, it felt great too. Then another friendly face approached that I recognized as the guy I partnered with on an awards show case study a month earlier. After another less poorly executed bro-hug, we engaged in something wonderful called casual conversation.
I left that day, feeling mentally and physically drained. It’s amazing how our body clocks and psychological constitutions have changed these past few years and, who knows, may never change back. But I also left with an incredible sense of belonging, and an equally incredible sense of longing to meet with those other colleagues I have only known on the other end of a Zoom boom.
This latest spot from Hewlett-Packard taps into all the raw emotions each of us is feeling about the return to the workplace. And coming from the brand that once would have been represented by the “Spokes-Foil” they are lampooning in this parody of old company man traditions, it is indeed a refreshing salute to the new ways of working.
I may only be a research sample of one and only experienced just the one day back in the office, I believe that unlike HP’s “Work Happy” stake in the ground proclamation, there is no black-and-white, this way or the highway, one-size-fits-all solution. And while the days of the office nine-to-fiver might be over, the prospect of continuing to work in complete isolation seems utterly inhuman.
Howard Schultz described his Starbucks as “the third place” after the first place of home and the second place of work. Each, he believed, played a vital and separate role in a person’s life. And I for one, look forward to visiting all three of those places more and more often, separately. See some of you there soon.
HP “Work Happy”