I have thoughts.
Lots of them. So many, in fact, that I spend a great deal of energy trying to pick out the important ones from the giant, undulating swarm that fills my brain.
That’s probably why it’s 8:14 PM, a day after the deadline for this piece and I’m still writing it. It’s a tactic I like to call “procrastination adrenaline.”
Like millions of Americans and millions more around the world, I have ADHD. Some dismiss diagnoses like mine as part of some broad pharmaceutical-industrial-complex conspiracy. But the truth is relatively mundane: as we learn more than ever about the human brain, we are beginning to appreciate the beautiful neurodiversity amongst us, and trying to build pathways for children and adults to succeed because of their unique minds — not in spite of them.
It wasn’t by accident that I dropped out of college to start an agency. It was by necessity. My brain didn’t work in the collegiate structure and I was privileged enough to have a family to fall back on if I failed. So I took the leap into entrepreneurial existence.
By building my own workplace and defining my own schedule, I could harness the flywheel of ideas churning through my mind. Advertising is like solving a hundred concurrent puzzles, all in different stages of completion. For a person prone to aimless mental wandering or intense focus (and little in-between), it’s a dream job.
Over the course of nine years I found my rhythm: loading tasks on my plate like a tourist at a Las Vegas buffet, shifting gears quickly between meetings and topics, all while bounding around our Bushwick office like a character in an Aaron Sorkin show. I embraced policies like unlimited vacation and didn’t enforce set start time, in an effort to create an environment that afforded my team the same flexibility to find their personal work rhythm.
In March 2020, that all changed. My rhythm was replaced by a chair, a computer, a desk and endless video chats. Very quickly, mornings started blending into nights without hardly ever leaving my desk. I forgot to eat lunch. I lost track of time. This was the kind of discipline my teachers had always chastised me for lacking. “Sit still,” they’d say. Now I was. And I was miserable.
I wish I realized how many others felt the same.
If I could rewind to last March, I’d change how I handled our abrupt shift to remote life. I would have encouraged everyone to find a cadence that made sense for them, limited video chats so people weren’t glued to their chairs, and facilitated far more open discourse about what each of us was struggling with.
As we prepare to return to work, I won’t repeat my mistakes. It’s a once-in-a-generation chance to remake our workplaces. And like I said at the start of this piece...I have thoughts.
Kill the 5 day work week
The notion of five days in and two days out is outdated, and after the last year, almost certainly dead. I want my team in the office to energize them and to give them space away from their personal lives (it's a distance I personally cherish). When they want to work from home, to recharge — they’ll be able to. Always.
Build more sanctuary
We’re completing a new office with intentionally hidden spaces, including secluded lounges hidden above our conference rooms. Sometimes being out in an open floor plan can invigorate. Other times, it can be exhausting. We’ve grown accustomed to new levels of quiet and solitude in the last year and I hope to mirror them in our office going forward.
Talk about our brains
Collective silence is one of the biggest enemies of a sound mind. I failed to invite conversations about the struggles many of us were facing during our time in quarantine. Now, I’ll be using Slack and weekly all-hands meetings to facilitate honest dialogue about how returning to work feels, how we can come back better, and how we can best support one another during the transition.
We’ve had unlimited vacation and WFH policies for quite some time, but people have used them sparingly. It’s time to encourage employees to be remote, to see the expanse of this country and the world. Adventure and time away is only going to make them better at their jobs. And happier.
The transition from the office, to home, back to the office will hopefully leave us with a work experience that melds the best of both worlds. Because it turns out, to my surprise, sitting still isn’t so bad.
So long as you don’t have to.
Chris Sojka is cofounder and chief creative officer at Madwell