Theater of the Absurd: A Design Agency Owner’s Ruminations on the Post-Pandemic Workplace

June 25, 2024 at 3:23 PM

As this year’s NeigerDesign Annual Strategic Planning Day approaches and I think about what I want to write about, I realize I still struggle with post-COVID workplace aftershocks. Not that we had too much trauma. We were very fortunate that we were able to sustain both our workload and our culture during this time. However, as the world went utterly remote with the mandatory “work from home” mandate that hit most businesses at the beginning of March 2020 and then to a hybrid mode over the next few years, I have had fluctuating thoughts about the cumulative effect on workplaces, specifically creative firms. Who would have imagined connecting The Theater of The Absurd with the workplace? Yet, it makes perfect sense.

The Theatre of the Absurd is a post–World War II name for plays of absurdist fiction written by several primarily European playwrights in the late 1950s. The plays focus mainly on ideas of existentialism and express what happens when human existence lacks meaning or purpose and communication breaks down. Typically, standard conventions of plot, characterization, and thematic structure are ignored or distorted to convey the irrational or fictive nature of reality and the essential isolation of humanity in a meaningless world.

The Theater of the Absurd and the post-pandemic workplace may seem unrelated at first glance, but upon closer examination, they share a few commonalities:

Disruption and Absurdity: The Theater of the Absurd is known for portraying human existence's chaotic and nonsensical nature. Similarly, the post-pandemic workplace has experienced significant disruptions, with established norms and routines being upended. The sudden shift to remote work, changes in communication methods, and uncertainty about the future have created an atmosphere of absurdity in the workplace.

Existential Crisis: The Theater of the Absurd often explores themes of existentialism and the meaninglessness of human life. In the post-pandemic workplace, individuals and organizations have had to confront existential questions about the purpose and value of their work. The crisis brought about by the pandemic has led many to question traditional notions of work and reevaluate their priorities and goals.

Loss of Control: The Theater of the Absurd frequently depicts characters trapped in absurd and uncontrollable situations. Similarly, the pandemic has stripped individuals and organizations of a sense of control. Lockdowns, health concerns, economic uncertainty, and changing regulations have created feelings of helplessness and lack of power in the workplace.

Communication Breakdown: In the Theater of the Absurd, characters often struggle with communication breakdowns, using fragmented, repetitive, or nonsensical language. The post-pandemic workplace has witnessed similar challenges in communication due to remote work setups, reliance on digital platforms, and the absence of face-to-face interaction. Misinterpretation, misunderstandings, and a sense of disconnection have become more prevalent.

Absence of Meaningful Structures: The Theater of the Absurd rejects traditional narrative structures and logical progression. Similarly, the post-pandemic workplace has seen a departure from conventional office setups and hierarchies. Remote work, flexible schedules, and the blurring of work-life boundaries have challenged traditional structures, leading to a more fluid and less predictable work environment.

While these connections exist, it's important to note that the Theater of the Absurd is primarily a philosophical and artistic movement. At the same time, the post-pandemic workplace is a real-world context. The comparisons highlight certain shared aspects of disruption, existential crisis, loss of control, communication breakdown, and the absence of traditional structures. Still, they should not be taken as a direct equivalence between the two. Nonetheless, the shared themes of disruption, uncertainty, questioning of norms, and adaptation offer intriguing parallels between these two realms. And this connection poses a big question: Is the creative firm workplace better or worse since the pandemic?

My research aligned with my feelings about each of these categories, and one can examine each of these 13 categories, pointing out ways they have improved or worsened since the Pandemic.

    1. Collaboration
      • Better: Encouraged more virtual collaboration and knowledge sharing, breaking down geographical barriers.
      • Worse: Face-to-face brainstorming sessions were missed, impacting spontaneous creativity.
    2. Productivity
      • Better: Streamlined processes and reduced commuting time resulted in improved overall productivity.
      • Worse: Difficulty maintaining focus and self-discipline with remote work led to productivity challenges.
    3. Interaction
      • Better: Utilized digital communication tools to connect and engage with team members effortlessly.
      • Worse: Lack of in-person interactions reduced team camaraderie and social bonding.
    4. Fun 
      • Better: Implemented virtual team-building activities and online social events, keeping the fun alive.
      • Worse: Fewer opportunities for in-person gatherings and celebrations affected the overall fun at work.
    5. Inspiration
      • Better: Exposure to diverse perspectives and online resources fueled inspiration and creativity.
      • Worse: The absence of physical spaces for creative exchange limited inspiration and out-of-the-box thinking.
    6. Innovation
      • Better: Adapted to remote work challenges, promoting innovative solutions and adaptive thinking.
      • Worse: Reduced spontaneous idea generation and face-to-face brainstorming hindered innovation.
    7. Results
      • Better: Achieved higher efficiency and quality in project delivery through remote collaboration.
      • Worse: Possible impact on overall business results due to market uncertainties and disrupted workflows.
    8. Flexibility
      • Better: Offered various flexible work arrangements, promoting a better work-life balance for employees.
      • Worse: Difficulty managing work schedules and maintaining team cohesion with diverse remote work setups.
    9. Well-being
      • Better: Prioritized employee well-being with wellness programs, resulting in improved mental and physical health.
      • Worse: Remote work challenges and increased isolation negatively affected employees' well-being.
    10. Creative space
      • Better: Redesigned physical workspace inspired creativity and provided an environment for collaboration.
      • Worse: Limited access to shared creative spaces impacted spontaneous creative exchanges.
    11. Effective communication
      • Better: Established efficient digital communication channels, facilitating easy information sharing.
      • Worse: Miscommunication or information gaps increased due to reliance on digital platforms.
    12. Client engagement
      • Better: Utilized digital tools to strengthen client relationships and foster engagement.
      • Worse: Face-to-face interactions were missed, potentially affecting some client relationships.

The feelings and perspectives on each creative workplace (design firms) and its current situation may vary among workplace owners, managers, and staff, as different individuals may have different experiences and preferences. The only true way to measure this would be a large-scale quantitative survey. Even then, the specific elements of a creative agency workplace experience may vary based on the agency's culture, industry, and target audience. Tailoring these elements to your agency's unique needs and values is essential.


The Theater of the Absurd often depicted chaotic, nonsensical, and absurd situations, reflecting the existential angst and uncertainty of the time. The post-pandemic workplace can create chaos and uncertainty due to its unpredictable nature and evolving circumstances. The shift to remote work, changing health protocols, and economic uncertainties have disrupted the stability and routine that many employees were accustomed to. Similarly, the post-pandemic workplace has prompted organizations and individuals to reimagine their reality and question the meaning of work. Many people have reassessed their priorities, work-life balance, and the overall significance of their professional endeavors. The post-pandemic workplace has required individuals and organizations to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances. Remote work setups, virtual collaboration tools, and flexible work arrangements have necessitated improvisation and creative problem-solving.

The post-pandemic workplace has forced organizations to reevaluate and disrupt traditional work models, such as remote work becoming more prevalent and the reconsideration of office spaces. But that conclusion continues to shift. An article from The Economist June 28th: The working-from-home illusion fades It is not more productive than being in an office, after all, states: “ A gradual reverse migration is underway, from Zoom to the conference room. Wall Street firms have been among the most forceful in summoning workers to their offices, but in recent months, even many tech titans Apple, Google, Meta, and more—have demanded staff show up to the office at least three days a week. Didn’t a spate of studies during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate that remote work was often more productive than toiling in the office? Unfortunately for the believers, new research mostly contradicts this, showing that offices remain essential for all their flaws.”



Written by

Carol Neiger


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