Collaborative Teams: Working from Home without Losing Momentum

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Working from home might sound great to some, but for our Talroo marketing team, it seemed unfathomable. We handle the brand, product marketing, messaging, and voice for Talroo – collaboration is essential. If we’re building a web page, the words, design, technical optimization, and product knowledge must all come together for the project to be successful. That’s why our “marketing bay” at the office has an open floor plan, no partitions, a conference table for projects, bean bag chairs, and food in ample supply. It’s not uncommon for me to literally “roll on over” on my office chair to look at a designer’s work, brainstorm concepts, and consult about content, so we can tweak in real time. And furthermore, we all really like one another! It’s fun to share successes, compare notes on the industry, talk about vacation plans, kids, pets, what we ate for lunch, what cool books and articles we’ve read recently. It makes work fun and makes our team stronger.

So while some job types and some workplaces may easily translate to a work from home model, ours was a different story. On Monday, March 16th however, we were about to find out that we didn’t have a choice. The COVID-19 crisis hit hard, and we were going to have to work from home until further notice. Armed with our laptops and VPN instructions, we went home for an indeterminate amount of time.

Ten days later, we’ve settled into the new normal, like so many workers in the world right now. We’ve learned how to improvise, how to use the collaboration tools we have, and how to recreate the feedback and the flow of our office dynamic as much as we possibly can. Here, some members of the Talroo team share what they like, what they don’t, and what surprised them the most.

Samantha Smith, Senior Product Marketing Manager
a.k.a., The Communicator
What surprised you?

So, the first day was weird. I wasn’t that comfortable with video chatting, and I felt like I was responding to IMs and emails all day long, when in the past it had been a quick and productive face-to-face conversation. But after a few days of getting into the swing of things, the collaboration tools we were using provided a lot of value. Unlike some of the clunky conference tools of the past (we’ve all had THAT conference call – static, people on mute, dropped lines) our MS Teams conferencing was about as easy as it gets. If I have a call at 2:00, I will plan to get there at 1:59, knowing that there’s not going to be any technical difficulties. Zoom has been great for larger calls, since it lets us see video of everyone in the call. We’ve all shared what our work from home space looks like, and seen each other's pets as they walk by. I thought we’d bypass meetings a lot and work mostly from email, but that hasn’t been the case. The video chat has been surprisingly easy and rewarding to use.

Biggest pro:

Focus. A collaborative environment inevitably leaves room for interruptions. If I need to write an article or get into some PowerPoint troubleshooting, I know I can work until I’m finished, which is nice.

Biggest con:

I miss my teammates! I’m an extrovert, so claims the Myers-Briggs personality test, and while I have always enjoyed solitude at the end of a long day, it’s a different ball game when the solitude IS the long day.

Pro tip:

Get a comfortable chair. When I decorated my home office, I did so as an in-person employee who worked from home maybe a few hours at a time at the most. If you’ve ever ridden a bike or a horse for the first time in a long while, you know the way you feel the next morning? If you’ve sat in this chair for a full day, you also know that feeling. Ergonomics matters.

Mint Colored Desk ChairBeautiful, yet evil

Ashley Rogers, Senior Marketing Specialist
a.k.a., The Reader
What surprised you?

For the first week, I missed my coworkers and getting to see people face-to-face more than expected. After that first week though, our team found a comfortable new normal and the communication returned, just via video chats, voice calls, and our internal messaging platform.

Biggest pro:

The commute has been awesome. My normal commute to the office was usually around 40 minutes. Now, I can just roll out of bed and get to work, or even just grab my laptop and start working from bed. I also have found that it's much easier to sit down and stay focused for longer periods of time since there aren't as many people with the opportunity to distract me.

Biggest con:

I had a Rent the Runway Unlimited membership which gave me access to thousands of designer clothing pieces, but now that I'm working from home, it seems silly to wear a cute designer dress or jumpsuit. I chose to cancel that membership for now and instead I opt for more comfortable clothing.

Pro tip:

Set a schedule with a start time, an end time, and any breaks you need during the day. Try your hardest to keep work within that window too. It won't happen every day, but as long as most days you're not working at all hours you'll be in a good place. Also, lean into the perks of working from home. In the office, it was common for it to take 15 minutes to make a lap around the office getting coffee, water, stopping at the bathroom, chatting with someone, and returning to your desk. At home, use this break time to keep up with household chores – that way, when your day is over, you can actually relax!

Goldendoodle DogCora the Doodle reminds Ashley about work/life balance

Travis Brown, SEO Strategist
a.k.a., The Introvert
What surprised you?

You might say I’m a subject matter expert in introversion. As my team has transitioned to working from home, the funny thing is I miss talking with teammates in person. The thing that’s surprised me the most is how well we’ve made the transition. In the office one day... in my living room in PJ’s the next day. Still communicating, still getting work done. We can talk about various tech solutions, and those can make a huge difference. Though, the thing I’ve found makes all the difference is having a strong rapport with your coworkers. When they can “pick up what you’re throwing down” regardless of the medium, you’ll know your team can make the transition smoothly.

Biggest pro:

The biggest benefit for me has been more time in my day. Considering most people tend to spend 1-2 hours per day commuting, that’s extra time you can spend on more important things. Maybe that means getting more sleep. For the workaholics, that could mean extra time to complete work projects. For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, it could be working on your own personal projects. Either way, if you’re new to working from home, you might consider maintaining your existing schedule. Try finding ways to take advantage of your newfound extra time.

Biggest con:

The biggest downside to working from home for me has been a major Chipotle deficiency! In all seriousness, anytime you put tech in between what would have been in-person communication, you’re going to run into the occasional issue. Whether it be dealing with connectivity problems, doing unnecessary “work about work,” or having difficulty conveying a point you’re trying to make. Watch out for tech issues getting in the way and don’t be afraid to take a step away and put pen to paper from time to time.

Pro tip:

If it’s going to be smooth sailing for you working from home, you should set boundaries for yourself and your significant other or roommates. One boundary might be designated rooms or areas for work. Another might be creating a plan for dealing with virtual meetings without interruption. Whatever the case may be, make a SHORT list of hurdles to address and deal with them up front. If you make an exhaustive list, it’s inevitably going to be a list of things that never get done.

Conference Call Bingo

We’ve all been here

Keith Munro, VP of Brand & Marketing
a.k.a., The Leader
What surprised you?

I love our Talroo Marketing team, from leaning into the detail, to standing back and watching the magic, to the banter and laughter that is a constant. It’s a group of wildly different personalities and experiences but it seems to work. Moving to WFH isn’t new to me and some of my coworkers, but the suddenness of the move didn’t allow for much prep on how we would operate as a group. What I was most concerned about was losing out on the special sauce: the productiveness, ideation, speed, spontaneity, and also the camaraderie that came with our physical space and working relationships. People react differently… not only to their new work environments, intrusions on productivity, and “forcing” face-to-face contact (via tech), but also the macro environment of dealing with partners or families that are anxious (or don’t really want you in the house all day!), disruption of life’s basics, and of course the stress and worry of COVID-19. 

So in addition to working diligently to ensure projects on track, my goals have been to ensure the empathy that is part of the group’s DNA maintained expression, and that we still found time for the face-to-face chatter via technology. And to be understanding of different reactions and angst related to CV. Talking that out has been helpful. 

What has surprised me is both the productivity and banter has continued with vigor. The team is killing it, and we are busier than ever, even flexing new muscles. I think we’ll be a stronger team when we return. 

Biggest Positive:

Everyone has been leaning in, actively engaged and #MicrosoftTeams and Zoom #MeetHappy are very capable tools to keep us connected.

Biggest Con:

CV obviously... it’s beyond serious. Re. Work, it’s easy to work 12+ hours a day. I also miss our legendary #Talroo lunches and eating with everyone in the company. @Valstexmexbbq see you soon!

Pro Tip:

Conduct regular face-to-face “Team Mingles.” The two rules are cameras on, and no work chat.

Coworkers DinnerMemories ... of the way we were...

Quynh Dang, Graphic Designer
a.k.a., The Social Butterfly
What surprised you?

With summer around the corner, I have been eating healthy and exercising, and my snack intake has decreased quite a bit since I’ve started working from home. The Talroo office is always stocked full of delicious treats, but that blessing can turn into a curse if you’re not careful. Less tempting snacks have been very beneficial, but our boss likes to tell us about his McDonalds lunches, so I’m still tempted...

Biggest pro:

Beside not having to commute, the biggest pro would be having fewer distractions. In the office, there are lots of people at any given time, whereas at home there are pets, my significant other, and food. While coworker relationships are important, off-topic conversations can be distracting. The feeling of improving productivity by working from home has been exceptionally motivating.

Biggest con:

I didn’t realize how much I would miss having small talk. I find myself in need of a recharge period every few hours, whether it’s moving to get a snack or stopping by someone’s desk for a quick chat. Some of the lingering social aspect is refueled by sending a quick message or a voice call, but it doesn’t beat face-to-face conversations. That being said, a quick and planned 10-minute video call break throughout the week with your coworkers for non-work-related topics has been tremendously satisfying and more time efficient. 

Pro tip:

Some people prefer to get on a quick call and others prefer getting emails. Learn your teammates’ preferences and be open to adapting.

CupcakesSugary goodness: A common occurrence at Talroo HQ

Tori Townsend, Graphic Designer
a.k.a., The Dancer
What surprised you?

All the means of communication we have available to us in the modern world of technology (emails, messaging, video meetings) is actually causing our communication to break down. With the ability to overcommunicate so easily, reaching out simply with a click of a button, real discussions and requests can get bogged down in offhand, unnecessary comments. It’s also a lot easier to ignore or put off a conversation if you’re behind a screen.

Biggest pro:

The relaxed dress code. I’m a huge fan of working in athleisure. Then I can go right to the virtual dance parties with friends that have been keeping me sane.

Biggest con:

It’s easy to fall into the “just one more quick thing” mindset and keep working outside of official office hours.

Pro tip:

If possible, try to save your questions for the end of the day and set up a call with your manager or coworker to get their undivided attention and streamline the communication. You’ll also avoid being labeled as an annoyance, and people will pay more attention when you do reach out with a question or comment.

Woman DancingTori's world right now

Todd Reid, Marketing Manager
a.k.a., The Storyteller
What surprised you?

I've worked remotely before, so the idea of waking up each day and only needing 10 sleepy shuffle-steps to enter my work domain wasn't new. I can completely relate to the unique soul-searching questions WFH manifests like "Can I put off a shower until later...this week?", "Do I really need to wear pants during this video conference?" or "Have I eaten a bowl of dry Lucky Charms and Doritos for lunch two or three days in-a-row?" I've even worked remotely during the summer months when my wife (a teacher) and kids were around the house. So the experience of working-at-home with my family floating around wasn't a shock to the system.

Doing all of this in a virus outbreak, stay-at-home mode is... different.

The vibe isn't the same. My family isn't walking to the neighborhood pool. No sleepovers. No baseball games or practices. No week-long camp experiences. I'm not required to pay attention to the clock to make sure I'm headed out the door to pick up or drop off a kid, or attend an event, or do the things that work-from-home employees vaunt about...the freedom, the flexibility, the work-life balance. It's not the same.

Don't get me wrong, it's a massive blessing to work for a company that has equipped my team to work remotely with the resources needed to collaborate and push through this. So, I am not complaining about working from home under these circumstances. Not even a little bit. An ocean of people are watching their small businesses die a slow death, many are being laid-off, and others are sitting behind closed doors in a state of fear and uncertainty about the future. I liken this experience to sitting at a heavily attended outdoor gathering during an unexpected rainstorm and being one of the few who was given a rain poncho. As I sit there and watch people getting drenched, I feel lucky. But it's a sigh of relief that's accompanied with a sense of guilt knowing that what many others are experiencing could easily be me. And it's more than wishing they had a rain poncho too. It's wishing it wasn't raining on them at all.

I think that's what makes each day different than it would've been just a few weeks or months ago. It's sitting in front of a computer screen, working and knowing how all of this is impacting the people around me. But, it's also added more purpose and urgency to our work, knowing that our solutions can actually help people during this time.

I was fortunate to roll into this with a team of highly talented people. This challenge has added some Red Bull to our efforts and forced us to be intentional about maintaining our rhythm. To dive full-on into cheesy mode by borrowing and reshaping a line from the Jerry Maguire movie, we complete each other. They were all very important pieces of our life at work before. But now that we're forced into this "life-at-work-from-home" situation, they haven't mattered more.

Am I surprised that my team is the bomb dot com? No, not really. But I was woefully unprepared for how badly my chair at home sucks. It was a hand-me-down from my in-laws. I just had no idea they purchased it from a torture chamber.

Biggest pro:

Avoiding the commute is a plus. Austin traffic can feel oppressive. While I hate these circumstances, I don't miss the commute.

Biggest con:

The days feel longer. There's something about working at the office that makes the time fly by. Maybe it's because, at work, I'm not sitting in the chair-o-doom.

Three Guys DancingTodd’s kids go to great lengths to break his concentration

David Collins, Director of Demand Generation 
a.k.a., The Zen Master
What surprised you?

Boundaries? Early in my career, I was fortunate to work from home for 8 years. During that time, I had developed discipline around a schedule and routine that worked for me, my young family, and my employer. It was easy then, and recently I joked it would be easy now. Yet after several years of working from the office, I’m being thrust into strangely unfamiliar territory. I jumped in full steam ahead and now my routine isn’t my own…yet. The boundary muscles have atrophied, and I struggle to leave the home office as the urge to make an impact now is front and center. So, what has surprised me the most is I am struggling with discipline, the discipline to disconnect. I’ve got some work to do! 

Biggest pro:

The only traffic to negotiate in the morning now are the family felines, Houda and Tito. Austin traffic is notorious, and working from home has given me 1.5 hours more time in my workday. 

Biggest con:

My drive to and fro work was actually my Zen-time, and I miss it! This time is an essential part of my routine to practice the rituals of expressing gratitude for family, friends, and teammates, affirmations for manifesting what I want, and get clarity for the day ahead. The drive home is equally important, time to reflect on the days outcomes, decompress, and time to process disconnecting. Now the commute home is so much more efficient! 

Pro tips:
  • Know the value of mental well-being and clarity; proactively create boundaries with work life and home life. 
  • Recognize you are human and how important it is to have a sense of calm and clarity. 
  • Practice self-care by regularly taking time to clear your mind, either through mindful meditation or outdoor walks. Make notes to remind yourself, set up your work times, and stick to it. 

Be well, be productive, and take care of yourself and one another. 

Cat typing on keyboard.Tito helps David bang out some emails

Obviously, members of our marketing team have a lot to say. And we’ve been navigating these new ways to say it. While circumstances are far less than ideal, we’re making it work. Everyone’s individual personality is finding its way to peek through the uncertainty and the challenges of our world right now. We’re having fun and keeping productivity high. If you’re working from home, and that wasn’t the plan, remember that there’s a way forward for collaborative teams to keep their collective magic going.

Topics: Team Talroo

Updated June 25, 2020