Today’s Office: Ogilvy’s Marcos Kotlhar on working from a greenhouse with a view of Manhattan

Marcos Kotlhar, chief creative officer at Ogilvy, had to get crafty when he was forced to rethink how he worked from home. Here he tells us about his improvised office set-up in the greenhouse he built on his Brooklyn roof terrace, and how he’s in no hurry to return to the way things were pre-coronavirus.

As the pandemic continues to unfold, the living room of my home in Brooklyn is slowly turning into a daycare center, with my very mobile toddler taking over every square foot. Which means my work set-up has become impossible. So, as a resilient NY dweller, I’ve had to get crafty, and for the past two weeks I’ve been test-driving a tiny greenhouse I built on my terrace, with a powerful heater to keep me alive.

After days of troubleshooting climate control, my pop-up office space has so far been a great experience. It’s basically a tiny shell with just enough space for a decent size desk and a good chair, but the psychological separation is quite effective. I totally forget that I’m home and this has been the most focused I’ve been since I started working remotely.

The set-up is very improvised. A sheet of plywood with clamp-on legs make a desk. The laptop stand is also improvised as I can never find one for my height, so I put one together with a few scrap pieces of wood. I added a nice Soviet-era Czech desk lamp to help make it all feel very considered and help elevate the makeshiftness of it all with some good design.

The view is actually pretty spectacular. I see downtown Manhattan in all its skyscraper glory. Sunsets are magic and a healthy reminder the day is ending.

There are challenges. I mean, it is a greenhouse, designed for plants and not humans. But it’s working better than expected and now that I’ve learned how to properly adjust my heater, things are a bit more stable. I also had to move it so that I’m more in the shade, as the sun makes the temperatures fluctuate a lot and you don’t want to deal with sun block. I haven’t had a good thunderstorm yet, but now that I think about it I might need an evacuation plan for when that happens!

I’m not in a rush to go back 100% to the way things where pre-Covid. I don’t think anyone is. But I do miss the people and would love to be able to go back to having normal human interactions. It’s a real blessing, though, to be able to take a break and play with my baby boy and grab a cup of coffee with my wife.

Most of my job is spent going from meeting to meeting. Previously, these would mostly have been done over the phone, so shifting to Zoom was no big deal. What soon became a big deal, though, was not being able to interact with our teams the way my partner and I normally do.

We have a very tight team and not being able to check in on people to chat work or just catch-up on life started to take a toll on the culture we built. Interactions quickly became transactional and limited to your slot on Zoom. We tried Zoom happy hours, but they suck. A terrible replacement for the real thing. So we started to cold call people and check in on them unscripted. Sometimes to talk work and sometimes to just vent or chat. It’s not perfect, but has helped keep some of the spontaneity we had when we all worked together.

While human interactions via Zoom suck, at the same time it feels like this mode of working really does separate the people who really get things done and the people who fake it. We are resilient and we can adapt to anything. And while there’s an agility and effortlessness to problem solving when you can all just get into a room and talk things out, you can recreate that remotely. It’s harder, and the way you get there is way clunkier, but you can still get things done and the outcome is the same.

The most challenging thing is staying inspired. Or not necessarily inspired, but motivated. That’s why I think it’s really important to work with people you love and clients that push you. That’s always been a big source of motivation for me. The last thing you want to do is let your peers down or miss out on a great brief. But I really do miss seeing an art show, going to a gallery or a concert. The idea of sitting in a cinema seems totally alien to me now.

I’m on baby duty in the AM, so mornings have been chaotic. But, minus the commute, everything is pretty much the same. And I really don’t miss the subway.

When this all started, I would run every day to keep my sanity, and we’d try to cook amazing meals and treat ourselves to good wine (lots and lots of wine) to help keep the spirits up. Now that almost a year has passed, it has all gone down the drain as the running stopped and Seamless became is my favorite app! I have recently come back to exercising, but not the cooking. I think I developed a trauma for washing dishes.

I’m a disaster at separating work and life and always have been. It’d be easy to blame it on Covid-19 and that fact things are harder now, but the truth is that even without the pandemic I’ve constantly let one spill into the other. I have to say though, the greenhouse has been helpful on that front. Having somewhere to go that is 100% my space to focus on work while still being in the house seems like a great solve. In theory at least. Let’s see what happens when that storm comes!