Lifeflow, the working culture we employ at Aprimo, puts the people that make up our company first. We use remote work tools to ease the traditional desk-bound restrictions of most knowledge work, focusing instead on quality work rather than keeping chairs filled.
Team Aprimo has been flexible for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put Lifeflow through a sudden, vigorous, and dramatic test. With the entire team working from home and dealing with a host of new personal and professional challenges every day, is Lifeflow actually working?
We spoke with two of Team Aprimo’s brightest—David Schweer, our Product Marketing Director; and Sunny Okamoto, our Creative Director—about their own experiences with working from home, their anxieties (or lack of them), and whether they’re feeling the flexibility that Lifeflow nominally provides.
Aprimo Mobilizer: How has working life changed since the entire team has been working from home?
David Schweer: Well, prior to shelter in place, I was working from home full time. The remainder of the marketing team is predominately in Chicago where all I really had to do was talk to a person in the Chicago office and there was kind of broad consensus about status of projects and priorities. Now that the “Chicago nucleus” is dispersed we’ve all had to reevaluate how we communicate. I’m learning the skill of over communication. Generally, you feel like you’re talking way too much, but you’re barely keeping people afloat.
Sunny Okamoto: It was very fortunate for our team—and for myself—that we already had the infrastructure set up to work from home. When I left the office on March 12 I really thought that I was going to be back at work on Monday. [Ed Breault, Aprimo’s CMO] had sent out a departmental message saying, “Be safe and do what’s right for you, plan on working from home if you need to,” so I took my computer home. A week later the state announced the “shelter in place” order, and so here we are five weeks in. So from that one moment, we decided we were going to work from home, not knowing how long it was going to be. That quickly we were able to shift everything with very little disruption in terms of productivity.
AM: Thinking of working from home, what’s working for you? What isn’t working?
David: What I’d say is working is the ability to be individually productive. What’s not working for me is team collaboration or ideation. If you have a blank slate, how do you kick ideas back and forth with the basic communication tools you have that don’t capture the same feel of collaboration? Passing documents back and forth isn’t as kinetic as a true, in-person ideation session would be. Before stay-at-home orders, we’d have meetings where most people are together in a room, you’re able to pick up on subtle cues, facial reactions, body language. Even with cameras, you’re still left wondering. You can’t feel that sense that maybe the atmosphere is heavy in the room, or that you could cut the tension with a knife, that kind of thing.
Sunny: When I think about life and work integration, a big part of my day was commuting. Three hours a day I was putting into commuting, so freeing up that time to cook dinner and garden has really helped in terms of supporting family life and having a little bit more of a balance. I guess what’s not working is that it’s harder for me to distinguish on and off. I think it’s just my own self-discipline about working from home. Also, going into the office was a conscious choice for me because I like being in the office physically. There’s lots of connection and conversation and creativity that happens when you’re physically there. Now that’s all scheduled but you can’t always schedule creativity.
AM: Lots of families all over the country, all over the world, have had to adapt to having their kids at home all day. How are you handling that transition to having the kids at home all the time and, perhaps, having more time with them?
David: The one thing that keeps me from getting overwhelmed by the changes is that literally every other parent is going through it. It’s a really interesting psychological aspect to this. My colleagues not only here in Indianapolis or in Chicago, but also in London, in Paris, they’re all going through the same situation of having to balance work and kids and everybody in the home all at once. It’s crazy! So you’re insulated from being the odd one out which lessens the stress for me.
Sunny: I’m fortunate because, unlike David, I don’t have little kids. My kids are older, so my family life isn’t causing me additional stress. I cook for them, but I don’t have to cook every meal for them, and I don’t have to watch them when they’re not taking naps. I don’t have that as a stress point or distraction that stops me from doing my work. So the ability to focus when I need to hasn’t changed much.
AM: Are you using new tools or solutions now that the whole team is distributed?
David: Yes. I find myself using an iPad with an Apple Pencil to storyboard stuff out, trying to get more whiteboarding in meetings, to put something down so I can get my head around it. It helps fill the ideation gap I described earlier.
Sunny: No, the only new apps that I’ve downloaded are Netflix, Zoom, and my walking app. Workwise, everything we had in place already works fine for me.
AM: Low-grade anxiety is pretty much constant these days. Do you find your biggest stressors right now work-related or home-related?
David: I’d say my biggest stressors are work-related. Of course, there’s stress of the sudden change of being at home with the whole family all the time. I came down from that stress super fast, but it was there, I’m human. Generally, business-wise, because you don’t know what the end point of this pandemic is, it’s hard to make long-term, or even medium-term, decisions. Yes, we sell to businesses, but those businesses ultimately sell to consumers themselves, and since we don’t know when people will be able to safely leave their homes and buy stuff, there’s a lot of stress there.
Sunny: My home life isn’t stressful right now. My family is healthy, my kids are able to do their classwork and check in with their teachers online. Even though my daughter will miss prom and graduation she is in good spirits. At the moment I feel very fortunate to be able to work when so many people are dealing with unemployment as well as the pandemic. However, the anxiety of not knowing what will happen in the near future is always present.
Lifeflow Keeps Flowing
Regardless of your industry, everything has changed. A focus on flexibility, on getting great work done and not on nine-to-five schedules, has really helped Team Aprimo react and adapt.
Do your experiences match David and Sunny’s? Let us know on social by tagging Aprimo in your post (@Aprimo) or by sending us a DM.