Sunday, March 29, 2020

Six Tips To Make Working From Home Successful

Thirty six years ago I started what became a very successful business in my kitchen.  I thought that at this time of social distancing and working from home, I would share some of the tricks I learned.

Just to put this in context, in 1994 when the late, great Jay Chiat moved his office to Maiden Lane in Manhattan, no one had a permanent desk, instead, the agency had workstations. Jay established the first advertising virtual office thinking that people could and would work remotely from home or at each other’s homes, coming in only for meetings.  It didn’t work.  Almost everyone wanted to go to the office and actually went every day. ( The result was there was not enough space for all of all the Chiat\Day employees.  Almost immediately he knew that he had to find more space.)

Today, most of the New York, Chicago and Los Angeles (and lots of other cities) marketing and advertising people are forced to work at home, which, based on the Chiat experience, is undesirable. Unfortunately, it is mandated because of the health crisis.

But you can make working at home tolerable, efficient and successful.  It just requires a few simple things.

1.    Make a workplace for yourself
It is important to have a place from which to work.  It should be your own private area.  Not on your bed.  Not necessarily in your living room or kitchen, where your family will disturb you.  When I started working in my kitchen, my wife knew to leave me alone – from 9am to 5pm, she mostly stayed away from me.

2      Discipline yourself not to watch television or otherwise be distracted
It is important to replicate, as much as possible, a real work environment and to avoid distractions.  At the office, you can walk in to a colleague’s office or space, just to take a break.  When working at home, it is permissible to call someone you work with to exchange ideas or just to give yourself a break. But it is important to be disciplined.

3.    As much as possible keep your routine
You should get up at your regular waking time.  You should shower and get dressed for work.  Do not laze around in your PJs.  When I started working from home, I would shower and shave, get dressed in work clothes and go to the corner newspaper stand and buy a paper.  I would also get coffee to bring home. All this to replicate what I did at work. It may sound silly, but the break it gave me between getting dressed and going to work allowed me to make a transition and get my mind set to work. I stayed in the kitchen all day, pausing only to get lunch. Given the stay-in-place rules which have taken over today, some of this may not be possible, but the point is to set your mind up to actually work.

4.    When speaking to others, use Skype or Facetime as much as possible
Seeing others is important.  It makes business and work conversations more serious.  When talking on the phone, it is too easy to let your mind wander or to actually do other things while talking.  Using video will allow you to focus. 

5.    Keep informed about your business
Read your trade press.  It is important to know what is going on and to keep a big picture about what you do.  Spending some time online while home will inform you about all the important happenings.  I suspect, given the current situation, companies may be less inclined to send out staff emails or otherwise communicate, but much can be found online.  The trade press is vigorously working online.

6.    Obey the rules
Working in place means just that.  Don’t go to meetings at someone’s home.  Don’t have people in to your home to brainstorm.  The thing to remember is to stay healthy. The phone is a very good way to do that.

If you follow this advice you will work efficiently.  It will also avoid getting lonely.  

And to all my readers, stay safe and be well.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Things I Never Knew Until I Was Confined To A Wheelchair

This isn't really an advertising story, but I thought I would publish this story for my friends and colleagues.

New York City is probably the world’s most accessible city.  And yet, even Manhattan has huge issues for people in wheelchairs and people who are limited by their use.

It has now been four and a half years since I was hit by a taxi.  Initially I had no use of either my hands or legs.  My hands and toes came back within a few weeks.  But ever since I have gone through extensive physical therapy (PT) to get back the use of my legs.  And although I can use a walker and get around my apartment and terrace.  But for going out, I have an electric wheelchair (actually, I have two; one is only 60 pounds which I use for travelling).

The first thing I noticed is how bad our sidewalks are.  Slabs are misaligned, crooked and cracked.  This makes pushing a manual chair difficult.  And because electric wheelchairs have no shock absorbers (why not?), rides can be slow and bumpy.  The sidewalk cuts, which are supposed to be on every street corner are often not there or are difficult to use – too steep to easily get up or down (some are so vertical that I worry about my chair tipping over).  Where the sidewalk cuts meet the street, the paving is often cracked, pot-holed and collects water which makes them undesirable.

In heavily congested areas, cars pull up into the “box” so tightly as to make it impossible for wheelchairs to cross the street.  Wheelchair confined people are not as tall as pedestrians, so every time I cross the street I have to worry about being hit by a car making a turn and not paying attention or even running a light.  Out-of-towners do not know that New York City prevents right turns on red, except as designated.  It scares the shit out of me.

Socializing is difficult.  I tried once to go to a protest, but there were just too many people for either me or them to be safe.  The first time I went to a party with friends, I realized that it was very difficult for me, even with people I know.  They are high and I am low, meaning they talk over me, literally. I know some people are awkward around disabled people, but in comparing notes with other wheelchair users, we have all had the same experience, many people, even our friends, tend to talk to each other, leaving us “low lifes” (literally) out of the conversation. In New York City, most apartments are small and crowded, making it dangerous for me to visit them in a wheelchair.  Suburbanites often have stairs leading to their homes.

It is surprising how many retailers and restaurants are not accessible.  Where there are two doors, one is often locked closed and the other is too narrow to easily get the chair through.  Many establishments have a step or two to get into.  People in manual chairs can often get in because someone helps and can pull the chair up (or down).  Motorized chairs are usually too heavy so they are not easily pulled or pushed.  Many, many restaurants do not have ramps.  Even some that do have a ramp, have employees who make it clear that they are unhappy having to go out of their way to put down a ramp.  On the other hand, because I am in a wheelchair, many restauranteurs know me and make me feel very welcome.

When there is a heavy building door and no one to help, using the joy stick which controls the chair and holding the door open while I maneuver to get in is a real chore. On a positive note, there is almost always someone willing to hold a door for me.  In fact, people go out of their way to help.
Pedestrians a huge problem, especially those who have ear buds or ear phones or who are busy texting or otherwise using their phones.  First, they are not paying attention to the world around them.  They don’t hear me when I say excuse me when they block the way. I often have to scream for them to move which gets me lots of dirty looks..  People who are walking together often stop at the corner by the top of the sidewalk cut to talk, blocking passage, leaving me half in the street, People with toddlers and small children often don’t pay attention to their kids and they tend to dart out in front of me.  People leaving buildings are so immersed in their phones that the walk right into me (it has happened many times). As a result of all this, I worry about hitting people, even while rolling slowly – my chair weighs about 300 pounds.

While my wheelchair has a horn, it is absurdly inaudible.  I tried using a bell and a horn, but pedestrians pay no attention to the sound, I think largely because they are unaccustomed to hearing them in the city.

All the busses are accessible, thank goodness.  Most bus drivers are considerate and very helpful.  However, a few, when they see me, pass by without stopping.

The subways are a different story.  One never knows if the stop they want has an elevator.  And even if the stop does have a lift, you never know if it is working.  That totally precludes using the subways.  And where there are elevators in both directions, the trains often stop six or eight inches from the platform, making wheelchair access almost impossible.  Crowds also preclude the use of chairs.

The city does have Access-A-Ride, which is $2.50 for two people; it is a wonderful service, but it is very flawed. The problem is that they are totally unreliable, often either too early or too late.  AAR has to be called a day ahead, which precludes spur-of-the-moment use.  And, on top of that, a round trip has to be booked ahead of time and the second trip must be at least an hour after the arrival time.  This leaves doctors and shopping out.

Fortunately, I can afford to take an accessible taxi.  They can be hailed or called.  Unfortunately, too many of the drivers have no idea as to how to use their built in ramps (no kidding) or they do not have the two front and two back chair restraints.  Often they only want to attach either front or back, leaving the chair rider bumping around and tilting.

There is a bright light to all these issues.  I am happy to be alive and go through all these hassles.  Life is great.  And the wheelchair offers a dimension of freedom which is good for my mental health and well-being.

P.S.  Thanks Bill Crandall for encouraging me to write this.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Adventures In Advertising: The Worst Workaholic I Ever Worked For

My second job after college was at an agency then known as DeGarmo.  It was a creative boutique with wonderful accounts – Rolex, Pitney-Bowes, Life Magazine, ABC Owned Stations and affiliated stations, including WABC-TV New York.  I worked on several of these businesses.  On one of the accounts I worked on, I reported to a man who was demonic in his need for both control and in being a workaholic.   We will call him Don for this post.

He was so much of a workaholic that every year he worked right through the agency’s Christmas party – those days held at the office. He just stayed in his office, doing something, but no one knew what.  He was basically anti-social.

DeGarmo was one of the first agencies to adopt summer Fridays.  When the staff memo came (long before emails) everyone was elated except Don.  A day or two later he asked me to have lunch with him.  He did not go out for lunch without an ulterior motive.  I assumed the lunch had to do with summer Fridays.  I was right.

At the lunch he asked if I would be taking Fridays off.  I was about 23 at the time.  My response was that I would be doing so, provided my work was done or that it could be finished the following Monday.  He pressed me. He asked what would happen if a client needed me urgently.  I told him that I would always let my clients know how to reach me and that if there was anything they anticipated, to let me know so that I could take care of it.

My response was not good enough for him.  He kept pressing.  “Well, suppose the client had a last minute emergency.  You would not be there to handle it.”  I asked him if he planned to take these days off.  He responded by lecturing me that the agency was irresponsible.  I said to him, “If everyone was gone and the client had an emergency that required other people to resolve the issue, it would have to wait until Monday.”

He was furious with me.  And I knew he was the Grinch who stole the summer.

After my lunch I went to the head of account management and told him about the conversation.  He just shook his head and told me not to worry about it and to enjoy my long weekends.

So, every week on Thursday, I told my clients that I would be off the next day.  They all had my home number and there was never a problem other than that they were jealous.  During the summer there was never an urgen phone call from any of my clients.

One Friday night, when I had taken the day off, I was having dinner out.  At 5:00pm I popped into the office just to see if Don was there. I was not disappointed.  There he was all by himself, sitting at his desk reading Ad Age, waiting for the phone to ring. There were one or two other people in the office, but there was no reason for Don to be there.  To this day, I can still see him sitting there waiting for a call that would not come.
No kidding.

At the end of the summer, I asked off the account. No way could I work for him even though I always felt sorry for him.  The worst part is that to this day I realize that he spent his summer Fridays just sitting in his office just waiting.
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