When I recently took a week's vacation, I set Outlook with my standard out-of-office (OOO) message.
But in my apartment, surrounded by cat hair tumbleweeds, working in a frayed t-shirt and baggy cargo shorts (my pandemic uniform), I understood I had not been OOO.
Perhaps I was AFWE: away from work emails? But that was still inaccurate. I always monitored my work email.
This puzzle was just one symptom of adapting to work during Covid-19. My insomnia kicked in during March. I now sit bolt upright at all hours of the night, checking texts and emails with zombie-like devotion, before playing whale songs, a macroeconomic podcast or baroque music to induce sleep. At least I’m not eating peanut butter out of the jar. (Yet.)
This anxiety puzzle has many jagged pieces. What’s Up With Democracy? (WUWD), Do I Look Fat On This Couch? (DILFOTC). But it all ladders back to GOOOA, good old Generalized Out Of Office Anxiety.
A few weeks into WFH, I noticed the information flow in my day had drastically reduced. Despite always being on screens, most of my knowledge came from face-to-face encounters — elevator chats, coffee catch-ups, occasional strategic eavesdropping.
I was feeling HID: Human Intel Deprivation. Video conferencing only approximates face-to-face interaction. That electric current of humanity is missing. Ideas emerge like alchemy from chance interactions. After all, Jason Bourne did his best work out in the field — not on a computer.
WFH has us operating in a dead zone. How were we doing versus other agencies? Are the hot shops hotter or colder? Which clients are in the office, and which are WFH? Would we reduce our office footprint?
You need be to a Boomer like me to remember watching "Koyaanisqatsi," a brilliantly trippy 1982 documentary about humanity living out of balance with nature, projected in 35MM at The Ziegfeld. But the pandemic makes this obscure film relevant again, as climate change and its various causes have made pandemics like Covid-19 increasingly common.
B.C. (Before Covid), I commuted to McCann’s midtown office five days a week. I took great pleasure in the yin/yang of sleepy suburban living and high-octane days in the office, punctuated by afterwork forays for artisanal pizza and soup dumplings, off-Broadway shows, exploring the nether reaches of Brooklyn, connecting with friends at dive bars or smelling old books at The Strand.
But after recouping 90 minutes of day and saving on train tickets, dry cleaning and $16 salads, it became clear that I don’t need to schlep into the office five days a week — a ritual that now seems kludgy.
Of course, WFH forever is not natural, either. I hope a more fluid, hybrid approach will emerge AV (After Vaccine), where we work in the office on staggered schedules. Because WFH makes me feel like a member of a hunter-gatherer tribe who lost his people during a storm.
My OOO email should really read: “I am currently OOB – Out of Balance.”
Bruce Stockler is global director of brand community and corporate social media at McCann Worldgroup