#WFH Diaries: Chris Smith of The Richards Group

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the globe, we're checking in with people in the creative industry to see how they're doing. Here's an update from Chris Smith at The Richards Group.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

I'm a writer and brand creative group head at The Richards Group in Dallas, a native of upstate New York, reader, foodie, trivia and crossword puzzle addict, unrepentant metalhead, semi-amateur improv comedian, father of three, and husband of one.

Where are you living right now, and who's with you?

In our '70s-vintage tract house/high school/cafeteria/gym/band instrument practice facility/apocalypse bunker in northeast Dallas with my wife Heather, our 16-year-old daughter Clara, and twin sons Finnegan and Callum, who turned 15 this week. Plus an antisocial cat, a guinea pig, and a pair of migratory mallards that frequent our backyard at this time every year. But we're keeping our distance from the ducks since they just traveled internationally. Rules are rules.

What's your work situation like at the moment?

In a word, surreal. Our agency prides itself on our face-to-face, meet-in-person culture, so working from home is a real shift. I've turned our dining room table into my cubicle, complete with spilled coffee. Our group is as busy as ever, but it's a different kind of busy. Three of our clients—two grocery brands and a delivery service—are neck-deep in all this craziness, so my days are spent reacting and reworking things as the situation keeps shifting, and producing without doing production. It's like making lemonade when life handed us limes, but ones we'd squeezed already. We're simultaneously in crisis mode and plan-ahead-like-normal mode. Pitching some new business, too. It's fun in a weird way. But definitely crazy. I have managed to find some time to clean out my inbox a little. Got it to just under 23,000. Baby steps.

Describe your socializing strategy.

Every morning over coffee, I make a list of five people to check in with that day: friends, family, co-workers, old friends from high school or college. Turns out my iPhone can also be used as a phone. Our agency group does weekly Zooms that are half about work and half chit-chat catch-ups with familiar faces and making sure everybody is doing OK. Haven't done any big virtual happy hours yet. Years of drinking by myself have really prepared me for this.

How are you dealing with childcare?

Our kids are teenagers, so they're already quite skilled at avoiding us. They're staying busy with virtual school, virtual instrument lessons, and real-life procrastinating. We take breaks where I watch them play Animal Crossing, which seems to consist mostly of reading text bubbles and digging up seashells. It's remarkably calming.

What are you reading?

Because I wasn't freaked out enough about disease vectors, I'm reading a history of humanity's duel with the mosquito. (It's for a nonfiction book club Heather and I host. Great timing, eh?) For fun, I'm Audible-ing a novel called Ten Dead Comedians, a spoof on Agatha Christie whodunnits where a wealthy comedian invites a bunch of hack comics to an island and offs them one by one. Hits close to home.

What are you watching?

I'm fully digging The Plot Against America on HBO, based on a book I loved. Catching up on Chef's Table and Schitt's Creek, which sound weird when you say them in that order. I've run out of DVR Jeopardy! episodes, which is concerning. On a lark, I started recording random film noir on TCM, because the purple dialogue is my favorite. I have yet to succumb to Tiger King or Cats, even though I do like actual cats.

What are you listening to?

When writing: A fantastic bebop jazz streaming playlist I found. When not writing: Heavy metal devil music. Having no commute has messed up my podcast time, so walks or grocery runs are good excuses to catch up on a few favorites, like Ken Jennings's The Omnibus Project, Friendly Fire, Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History and a couple cooking ones. Taking a break from the political pods. They just make me want to drink more.

How are you staying fit?

"Staying"? That's funny. Turns out being stuck in my house doesn't make me want to exercise any more than I didn't want to before. I pace a lot during conference calls, which counts. But I am maintaining my schedule of riding a stationary bike a few days a week, alternating with days of feeling guilty about not riding my stationary bike. Honestly, I do it mostly because it forces me to take a shower.

Have you taken up a hobby?

No new ones, really, but some others have just intensified. I don't know how some people are making quilts or constructing huge Rube Goldberg contraptions to schmear a bagel. Although I am cooking like crazy. We put a jigsaw puzzle on the living room coffee table that everybody "snacks" on when they walk by. Also, actual snacking. I re-strung the guitar I can't play. I successfully shaved my own head. I have a pretty good whiskey collection. Well, used to. The big letdown: I was really hoping there'd be more board games. But it looks like we'll have plenty of chances. Axis & Allies, I'm looking at you.

Any tips for getting necessities?

If you live in Texas, go to H-E-B or Central Market. Or have Favor deliver things. I'm not just saying that because they're all my clients. Really. They're in a class by themselves in managing all this. And wherever you shop, be kind to the people who work there. Maybe even thank them. It's not their fault you couldn't find wipes. While it's tempting to hunker down and keep cooking, we're trying to make regular orders from local mom-and-pop restaurants. And instead of just stocking up, we're trying to use less, too. I did make my own disinfectant spray with some eco-friendly surface cleaner and isopropyl. Or I may have accidentally made nitroglycerine. Fingers crossed.

An awkward moment since all this started.

We were watching a quarantine wedding via Twitch when we noticed one of the attendees didn't realize the webcam was running. So my whole family got to watch a guy unbuckle and unzip his pants, then re-tuck his shirt and re-arrange everything else, while I made Japanese noodles. It was a truly beautiful moment.

Best work email you got since all this started.

"Subject: Meeting canceled." Gets better every time.

An aha! moment since all this started.

I have an entirely new understanding of how often I touch my own face, and how hard it is not to. Also, Extra Toasty Cheez-Its are a friggin' revelation.

What's your theory on how this is going to play out?

Epidemiologically? No clue. Creatively? Gird thyself for a whole lot of animation, dynamic type, smartphone UGC, and tasteful archival footage and soothing copy. Because in times like these, we're all in this together. Now more than ever.

Stay safe, sane and well, everyone. We'll get through this.

See the full #WFH Diaries series here.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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