Paul Wilde, Managing Partner at Crispin Porter Bogusky London explains how his formative first few weeks at a new agency have been, under lockdown, rather different.
A while back, I started conversations with Crispin Porter Bogusky’s London office, regarding a new role at the agency that they were looking to fill. As a long-time from-afar CPB fan, one of the main pulls to work for the agency was the particular agency culture, and the people, the so-called ‘The Mutts, Misfits and Culture Jammers’, as they put it. (Note to self: I wonder if that’s where the PM’s special advisor Dominic Cummings borrowed his turn of phrase from, in his Jan 2020 shout out for new hires….)
As it happens, I got the job. The only problem? My start date, as it turned out, was just after lockdown had taken effect. This has meant my formative first few weeks at the iconic agency have been, well, rather ‘different’.
First off, when there is no physical office to go to on Day One, you don’t get that immediate injection of culture. There’s no neon signage making you feel immediately part of something bigger, no lovely front of house person to welcome you, no friendly IT bloke to ‘get you up and running’. That’s day one, but it goes on: no-one to casually chat to by the Nespresso machine to get the office goss, no one you can listen to updating their neighbour on the antics at the latest office party. Corridor chats, coffee breaks, or an impromptu pint; the stables of office life, are all absent.
Certainly, there are many benefits too to the lockdown. First day nerves aren’t quite the same, as you’re in familiar surroundings at home. You haven’t just spent an hour on public transport, panicking whether you’ll make it on time. In short, you have the time and relative tranquillity to be able to focus fully on your ‘To Do’ list.
And it’s this ‘focus’ that powers you through week one; you’re nailing it, albeit virtually. Chemistry presentation scoped out? Tick. Client’s social media playbook in-work? Tick. 25 Zooms later and it’s Friday, and you close your laptop and head to the pub with the crew; oh wait, no not that bit.
“Week two arrives and in my case, the quiet smugness I’d felt about having achieved so much in week one was replaced with a sense of loss.”
But then, week two arrives and in my case, the quiet smugness I’d felt about having achieved so much in week one was replaced with a sense of loss. I started to wonder, would I ever experience that office vibe again, or had I now ‘by accident’ become a sort of consultant, sitting at the edge of all the action, kind of directing it but basically looking on?
By the time week three arrived, a yearning had overtaken me, a hankering for old-skool office life. The routine it imposes, the high jinks and capers with colleagues, the finiteness of ‘the working day’ it gifts to you at the end of the day, and the psychologically helpful delineation between my Work Self and my Home Self.
But then I got all stiff upper lip about things and reminded myself that of course office life would return one day in the not too distant future. There would be plenty of times to catch up around the water cooler again; that will always be a thing. There will be office parties, where shenanigans will happen; it’s just human nature. And there will be meetings that go on and on and eventually end up finishing in the pub over a pint or two. I’m in Britain, after all.
“Curiously, three plus months in, I still won’t know where the toilet is, nor how the coffee machine works.”
What has been eye-opening for me during the lockdown process is that the leadership at CPB are not only super smart, but they’re also deeply progressive, humble and lovely people. It’s impressive that those characteristics have come through, despite not actually having sat next to any of them. Another thing: in lockdown, with the sudden freedom of WFH, it’s entirely possible that a new joiner could have felt a little rudderless, disconnected. Yet my experience is in fact anything but that, and I think that’s to do with the innate sense of agency culture, and the management team’s natural low walls leadership style.
Looking forward, when it does eventually return, office life will clearly have been somewhat reshaped by the pandemic, forever. A wider acceptance of remote working will mean companies can hire the very best for a role, regardless of their location. Flexible working will no longer be reserved for parents of little ones as businesses accept that give and take works both ways. And, thank heavens, I suspect an increasing number of meetings will become emails, and more emails will become instant messages.
As for me, when I eventually walk through the doors of No. 32 York Way, I will no doubt find myself feeling like the new kid on the block all over again. I will have pitched alongside my colleagues, albeit virtually, several times, I will have played many rounds of ‘CPB Pointless’ with the team over Friday night Zoom drinks and found out what gets their foot tapping through ‘Corona Island Discs’.
But curiously, three plus months in, I still won’t know where the toilet is, nor how the coffee machine works.
Top Tips for Starting a New Job During Lockdown
- As the newbie, you’re going to feel like you need to respond to every email, immediately. You don’t have to. Thoughtful responses often beat speedy responses.
- Don’t worry what others are thinking: your new team get that you’re adjusting, in fact they’re all figuring out how to work in new-fangled ways themselves.
- You’ll have a lot of questions. Since there’s no water cooler to hang around, note them down, group them, and then ask them of the right person in one go, perhaps at the end of each day.
- (Appropriate) humour is perhaps more important than ever when there’s a digital screen sitting between you and the rest of the ‘office’. It’s important to remind people that you are an actual real human being.
This article was originally posted in Creativebrief.