Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 304 – How to Transition Work from the Office to Home

In this episode, we’ll be providing tips on how to make the switch from working at an office to working from home easier. Stay tuned for the following weeks to hear the individual episodes of our referenced guests. 

Referenced Guests:

Rian van der Merwe, Wildbit’s Head of Product

Cait Wilson, Research Manager at YouGov

Henrik Mattsson, CEO of Lookback

Steve Mast, President & Chief Innovation Officer at Delvinia

Find Jamin Online:

Find Chueyee Online:

Find Us Online: 


This Episode’s Sponsor: 

This episode is brought to you by SurveyMonkey. Almost everyone has taken its surveys, but did you know that SurveyMonkey offers complete solutions for market researchers? In addition to flexible surveys, their global Audience panel, and research services, SurveyMonkey just launched a fast and easy way to collect market feedback, with 7 new Expert Solutions for concept and creative testing. With built-in, customizable methodology, AI-Powered Insights, and industry benchmarking, you can get feedback on your ideas from your target market–in a presentation-ready format, by the way–in as little as an hour. 

For more information on SurveyMonkey Market Research Solutions, visit surveymonkey.com/market-research. Mention the Happy Market Research Podcast to the SurveyMonkey sales team before June 30th, for a discount off of your first project.

[00:00:03] Jamin: Thanks for tuning in! You’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast, I’m Jamin Brazil, the show’s host. I’m joined by our Executive Producer, Chueyee Yang. Chueyee, how are you? 

[00:00:12] Chueyee: I’m doing pretty okay considering what’s been going on in the world. I actually worked outside for a little bit in my backyard and it was honestly the best decision I’ve made all week it was so refreshing. In this episode, we’ll be providing tips on how to make the switch from working at an office to working from home easier. Stay tuned for the following weeks to hear the individual episodes of our referenced guests. A quick warning, there are curse words that are un-beeped on this episode. You can find a beeped version of this episode on our website. 

[00:00:52] Jamin: Support for Happy Market Research comes from SurveyMonkey. Almost everyone has taken its surveys, but did you know that SurveyMonkey offers complete solutions for market researchers? In addition to flexible surveys, their global Audience panel, and research services, SurveyMonkey just launched a fast and easy way to collect market feedback, with 7 new Expert Solutions for concept and creative testing. With built-in, customizable methodology, AI-Powered Insights, and industry benchmarking, you can get feedback on your ideas from your target market–in a presentation-ready format, by the way–in as little as an hour. For more information on SurveyMonkey Market Research Solutions, visit surveymonkey.com/market-research, that’s surveymonkey dot com slash market dash research. Mention the Happy Market Research Podcast to the SurveyMonkey sales team before June 30th, for a discount off of your first project.

For all of us, it’s not a theoretical thing. It’s here, a true pandemic. And we all are having to deal with this fact. At this time, companies are, for the first time, requiring employees to work from home. Not coffee shops, not co-working spaces, but from home. But that isn’t as simple as unplugging your laptop at work and setting it up on your kitchen counter. In fact, before the COVID19 crisis, only 16% of companies had a fully remote workforce. One of my favorite quotes from my time in Y-Comminator is, “A company can only be good a three things. If you choose to have a remote culture, then that’ll be one of your three things.” We are all trying to do the right thing here but most of us just don’t know what that is- like Cait, who works at YouGov, a multinational market research company with six offices in the US alone and they have offices in over 10 other countries. There were twelve of us on a Zoom enabled Virtual Lunch talking about how things were different when Cait pops in and says, 

[00:03:15] Cait: So me and my husband, we live in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area so one of our immediate problems was figuring out where to have our conference calls. You both have a lot of different phone calls and video conferences are constantly negotiating with each other who would get the living room to do are called ultimately came up with this solution to sign out the rooms of our apartment when we had a call so just like you would at any office so if you need the living room for a call you would go over and you would sign it out it’s pretty I’ve been working pretty well for us and we’ve been making it work in our one bedroom.  

[00:03:56] Chueyee: Among other things, this is a time that we are all tested. And, we either rise to the occasion, or we don’t, or we can’t. Companies that are being hit hard by COVID-19 are cutting jobs and spend across the board. In recent conversations, it is apparent that large ticket items, like trackers, will continue to be under pressure. But, the group in consumer insights that got hit the hardest are facilities. There are more than 1,600 facilities globally. Over the past 10 years, these facilities have been under increasing pressure to adjust their traditional focus group and in person interviews with digitally enabled remote sessions. 

[00:04:40] Jamin: In fact, ESOMAR’s 2019 report showed the majority of spend in Qualitative Research was still being done in person. Now, in person has been forced into a wholesale transition to digital. What will the long term impacts be? Before COVID-19, it used to be the case that if you joined a video chat, like Zoom, you’d have about half of the participants not share their camera. Today, everyone enables their camera. This will create an overall comfort and connection with video that simply didn’t exist even two weeks ago. The trend here is that the highlight reel will become a normal part of any consumer insight report. While that might not seem odd to you User Experience Researchers, for us Market Researchers, this is a major paradigm shift. Over the coming months, my hope is that you’ll keep your relationships alive with your trusted facilities as they quickly adapting to this new world. 

[00:05:33] Chueyee: Some companies with physical offices found the transition to be relatively smooth. Steve Mast, from Delvinia said,

[00:05:44] Steve Mast: So people were concerned, you could feel it in the office. So we quickly  over the weekend as the exec team started implementing and saying, “Okay, let’s put into play our work from home strategy and policies.” Went really smooth. Obviously there’s always a couple little hiccups here or there. Part of it is because most of our technology and most of the things that we implement are all in sort of cloud. They’re all digital based, so we’re pretty much we’re a virtual company anyway, we just happen to all be in one office. I will say the one thing that was super, super helpful in all this and if there’s any piece of advice that I can give to organizations out of this, especially any organizations that’s managing data and security is we went through the ISO 27001 certification about a year and a half ago, we started the process. It’s painful, especially if we consider ourselves a very agile, innovative company. But there’s a lot of challenging things you got to change, but it forces you to really get your business continuity plans in place. So the minute something happens and we were thinking more like data breaches and what if we have wars and you’re thinking about those traditional sort of things and pandemics weren’t necessarily one of the things. But all the same things come into play. A lot of it relies on what’s your IT infrastructure, how do they react, how do your employees maintain a level of security while they’re at home? What’s your VPN setup like? How fast can you implement it? Where is your data stored, etc., etc. So that was a tremendous help. We were almost able just to kind of– It was like a playbook. We just opened it up and everybody just followed the playbook.

[00:07:46] Jamin: I was recently interviewed by Merril DuBrow of MARC Research on his Podcast titled On the Mark. He asked me, “What will be the difference between the CEOs and companies that thrive during and after this crisis?” My response was exactly inline with how Delvinia handled things. The ones that thrive will be the ones that have built the reputation and systems before this hit. The ones that die will be the ones that didn’t have the customer relationships and internal clout to carry them through this period. It is a hard fact that Darwin identified, “It isn’t the strongest or most intelligent that survive. But the most adaptable.” Laura Bright, founder of Bright Consulting, recently told a group of us that one of her clients had a part manufacturing business. Now, noone wants parts so they make hand sanitizer and are running at full utilization. Although it is hard at a company level, it is just as hard at an individual level. Rian van der Merwe, Head of Product at Wildbit shared that although there are downsides, there are upsides as well.

[00:08:56] Rian: Right. Yes, “trade-off” is the right word because I think in that trade-off you don’t need facilities management, you save other things. We’re a company of 30 people now. I’ve haven’t been there for 12 years, but I’ve been remote for 12 years and we have someone on staff whose title is Team Happiness and Operations and that’s what you’re talking about, right? But we don’t need a facilities manager or someone that figures out how to expand office space. And I think you’re right in that there’s a lot more companies talking about that. Base Camp obviously talks about it a lot, but then there’s Buffer and there’s Zapier, all these companies that are remote only, that are doing this more and more. And we’re seeing that, like you said, a lot of people prefer that. I don’t know how I would ever go back to not working remotely. It’s not for everyone, but I think that the way that it’s structured and the way that it allows me and the way I work to have uninterrupted hours of deep work and communicate asynchronously to my team has been invaluable for the way that I work. 

[00:10:04] Jamin: It’ll be interesting to see how companies think about remote employees once this pandemic is behind us. Henrik Mattsson, CEO of Lookback, a video based UX platform, has been running a fully remote culture for years. He identified four key issues people face when not working in an office. Full disclosure, Lookback was Happy Market Research’s sponsor for the first quarter of this year. 

[00:10:31] Henrik: Sure. So I think there’s probably four main things. I know there’s supposed to be three things always, but I think there’s four at least. Number one is that social gets filtered out very easily in remote work. And what I mean by that is that if you go into an office, you’re always going to have those in-between spaces where you just catch up with your colleagues or talk about the game or something like that. In remote, you would just jump from browser to browser, from meeting to meeting, and it’s very easy to filter out social. So that can be quite challenging for people. Number two is that you can’t bump into things, unexpected things as easily. And if you co-work together in an office, you will bump into the unexpected. Now, that’s not necessarily going to happen by itself if you go remote. So you need to make space for that. 

[00:11:26] Chueyee: Okay, we need to pause here. This has been my biggest problem since we have gone remote. Every morning, Jamin would ask me, “What’s the word on the street?” For us, that meant, “What is going on in your world…and my world is K-pop. As soon as we turn remote, there just wasn’t a spot for that interaction unless someone was really late for a Zoom meeting.

[00:11:52] Jamin: Yeah. I missed that too. Thankfully, we had this conversation pretty quick with Henrik and were able to put the appropriate measure in place. But, there is a dark side to this….

[00:12:07] Henrik: Third, the measures that you put in place to make space for that can create overwhelming situations. So you will end up bumping into everything. So you got to find that balance. Either your organization hasn’t set this up very well and you won’t bump into anything unexpected, or they sail the other way around and you’re going to bump into everything and just start muting everything because it’s too much to handle. And the fourth one that I would bring up is that it can be hard to collaborate without the whiteboard. If you’re used to that, you need to find other tools. Luckily there are a lot of other tools to deal with it, but you have to find them and you have to set them up, so on.

[00:12:49] Jamin: From here, we could go a lot of different ways. But, I want to continue the interview with Henrik regarding solutions. It is helpful to understand what the employee owns and the employer owns for a successful transition from in office to home office.

[00:13:08] Henrik: So I think if we take them and turn them, the social part getting filtered out, I think that has to be addressed on multiple levels. Because especially if you’re going to do this in the long-term, this will really drain you and it will be hard to onboard as a new employee with people that you’ve never met. Then you don’t really know them. So number one is every employee has to do their part. Make space for the social in your meetings. Perhaps hang out a little bit after a meeting instead of jumping straight into the other one. Plan some one-on-ones with your colleagues. And also the leadership of the company has to make sure that there’s proper investment into these things so that you have – I’ve seen some people now do a five-to-seven or whatever you call it in the US, but one of those after-work things where you just go for drinks together. You can do that over webcam too, right? And see each other, have retreats, meet up every now and then. At Lookback we do this three times per year. That’s been tremendously valuable. So that’s on the social part. On the bumping into things either too much or too little, I think there are two things you need to do there. I always say transparency by default. So a lot of companies now were a bit worried about what information to share with whom. I think in a remote organization, you need to be transparent by default, because people can’t bump into you but they can bump into information. So just put everything out there. Obviously there might be some HR issues or something like that that you can’t share widely, but really push yourself there and try to be as transparent as possible. At the same time, you need to be disciplined and use the right channel or tool for the right thing. So if you have for example Slack as your main communication tool as we do, understand that that’s just like the office space. That’s just people calling for each other through doors or across the room or something like that. It’s not where things live forever. And if you just start shouting everywhere, it’s going to be quite hard to do this, so stay disciplined on that. And then finally on the last one with the collaboration piece, that’s a tool issue, I would say. You can use tools to make sure that you have a whiteboard, a virtual whiteboard, or all those design tools or code reviews or whatever it is. Make sure that you have that set up properly. Don’t under-invest in tools.

[00:15:34] Jamin: In regards to tools, Like many of you, my team’s biggest challenge has been around collaboration. We used to do this on glass, tables, post it notes, whiteboards…basically anything physical. 

[00:15:51] Henrik: So if we start the other way around now with the whiteboarding, I’d say that for me it’s the tool called Whimsical has been a game-changer actually. I’m very impressed with this tool. It’s very simple to use. You can make flowcharts. You can make mind maps. And I use it for myself just to – a lot of my work is just breaking problems into their component parts. So you can make all of these flowcharts and issue trees and what have you. And it’s also collaborative, so you can just share this and you can work together in it. And so that’s very powerful for making sure that you get your team aligned on, “What are we actually talking about? Are we over here in the issue tree or are we over here?” So yes, Whimsical, very good. Then in terms of the day-to-day communication and keeping that discipline, we use three tools. So we use Slack for just everyday chatter where you just communicate with people, and we have a lot of different channels. Most of them are open and transparent, and you can join if you want to but you don’t have to. And so we have a code channel where the developers discuss code. We have a customer success channel where support can reach out to different aspects of the organization to deal with issues, and so on and so forth. And then we have for more wiki-like things, things like notes from meetings and also agendas. Agendas, obviously always an important thing, but perhaps even more important than remote. We keep all of that in a tool called Notion, a really good tool. It’s hard to explain in voice, but once you start using it, you’ll see it’s just a living document. Anyone can just change anything. It can keep all your things that need to be accessible async in there. Slack won’t be good for that and it’s not built for that either. Things will just disappear into yesterday and so on and so forth. But with Notion, you can keep all your things there. And then finally we use a tool called Clubhouse that we use for project work. So when we implement code projects or something like that, we track that on stories that have different states. And I’d say you go a pretty long way on that as a company. I guess Airtable also deserves a mention here, which is where we collect data in tables to discuss. For example, our long list, which is all our feature requests and product ideas and stuff like that. Basically what all of these have in common is that they are purpose-built for a very specific purpose, and they’re very good at that thing. And they are good for collaboration and notifications and async work. So you’d get a long way on those, I’d say.

[00:18:29] Chueyee: While Slack was the most commonly mentioned tool across all the discussions we’ve had regarding internal communications, Rian had a totally different take on how it should be used…

[00:18:43] Rian: I’m not going to say Slack. We’re actually very, very anti-Slack. We have very strict rules around Slack. A lot of remote companies would say when you’re working, you’re in Slack. We don’t have that rule. We don’t make any decisions in Slack. You’re not required to come back after you were away and read through a thread and understand what just happened. We try to use Slack for troubleshooting and real-time issues on the site or making some announcements, but no real-time work actually happens there. Our work happens in Dropbox Paper, which is like a Google Docs competitor, but it just feels less permanent. And then we use Basecamp for a more permanent communication. And then this is going to sound weird, but we like email. We like email better than Slack. Before we send someone a direct message in Slack, we would say, “Well, do I need to interrupt them right now or can this be an email that they get back to?” In fact, one of the people that work with us, Derek, built a Slack app called PigeonBot that you can download that let you email someone from within Slack. So instead of sending them a DM, you would type “/email” and it would send them an email instead of interrupting them at that particular time. 

[00:19:51] Jamin: Something that people are not talking much about right now is their actual physical space. I’m talking about where they do their work. 

[00:20:02] Rian: And the important thing, I think, is that you have a space. Whenever we hire someone, we ask them where are you going to work? They were like “Coffee shops or a couch.” They’re like, “No, you need to have a space. We’re going to give you the furniture. You can’t just work wherever.” Like this is my office and I can close the door and I can work here. The sign on the door that says, “Dad is on a call” isn’t always as effective as I want it to be, but, for the most part, it works OK. And so you have that. And the other thing I will say is I think why a lot of people are scared of this is that they try to recreate an office experience in a remote environment. So there’s a lot of synchronous work and that’s where it would infringe with family time, especially if you’re across time zones. Whereas for us, we have very few meetings during the week and we optimize for asynchronous communication. So we post something in paper, in Dropbox paper, and we say, “Let me know what you’re thinking within the next two days.” And then when someone else is, needs a break from coding and they want to do something else for an hour, they come out of that and this is a good break for them to then give feedback on that thing. And once you look at it that way: You’re not recreating an office environment; you’re actually optimizing for what remote work is good for. Like, let’s say you record a podcast, you don’t need to edit it with someone in person. They can work on it when they are ready. You can give feedback that way. So I would encourage it, I would say. 

[00:21:37] Jamin: It seems like it comes down to style and culture. You need to understand that tools will not solve any problem. You need to be clear on why you are choosing a tool, what is the expected outcome, how, why and when people will use it. And, treat it like an experiment. Be willing to pivot if the tool isn’t working or having a negative impact. 

[00:22:01] Chueyee: At the center of all this transformation, sit communication. Steve made two observations about how Delvinia is adapting their comms strategy to increase transparency across the organization. 

[00:22:19] Steve: I’d say less about a key tool, I’d say for us it’s been kind of more two things around how are we managing, or what key things are we doing to manage the organization and sort of the people in general. The two things or one is increased monitoring and regular communication. That’s a massive thing. We are obviously doing our virtual halls and we have a daily executive stand up which is interesting, because the exec would meet once a month, go over the numbers, do our thing like typical sort of organizations do. We’re doing it daily. I got to tell you there’s nothing like a crisis that really, really makes sure that you know what your key performance indicators are, and how to manage those things. Because what metrics matter, because that’s all you can focus on right now. So in our daily stand ups, we focus on those four or five key metrics, which is really the health of the organization, and then we’re discussing other things. And then Adam, our CEO, he sends out a company wide email, and he does it in a very light, fun way. So he sends that out to everybody, and gets great feedback about all the things we’re going on. We’re very transparent about everything from the number of reads coming in, the number of proposals being written, the health of the business. I don’t even know if we were that transparent before. Once a quarter we would do town hall meetings to let everybody know we do Monday morning meetings where everybody gets together. But this has just created tremendous amount of communication. And it’s very two way. There’s lots of feedback from the staff. So increase monitoring and regular communication. That’s one. The second one is how do you virtualize your culture? So this is something I think where you’re kind of tapping into you’re talking about when you’re working from home and all of a sudden now, culture is something that people sort of bumping into each other and hanging out and talking in the lunchroom and I believe sort of culture just kind of bubbles underneath, and I know a lot of people believe it’s sort of from the top down and it is. The tone is set for sure. But a lot of it is just how people work together. And we have a very, how do you say it? We have a very lighthearted. I think we’ve got a fun culture, maybe not everybody would agree with that. I think we do. We definitely have very creative things. We’re doing this rock paper scissors thing right now.

[00:24:58] Jamin: Wherever you find yourself today. Our true hope for you is safety, health, and financial security. I know many of my friends have had to make hard decisions regarding company headcount. Still more of my friends find themselves impacted by these same decisions. We are a small community of people that have been though a lot and have a passion … even a moral imperative … to discover the voice of the consumer and translate that in such a way that companies can hear it and act. This is an emotional time for us all. Take the time to connect with your friends and be sure to virtually bump into someone everyday. 

[00:25:37] Chueyee: I totally agree with you about that. Make sure you step outside even if it’s your backyard to get a little bit of sunlight because that little bit of sunlight helps you especially if you’ve been working at home all week. In the next episode, we’re releasing the long-form interview with Henrik Mattsson, CEO of Lookback.

[00:22:55] Henrik: The key is to avoid – I guess the expression is “second-class citizens.” So that’s what happens with people where you have some people who are perhaps meeting in real life, in an office day-to-day. And then you have some people that are outside of that. And that creates these second-class citizens that won’t engage and that won’t have the same information and opportunity to collaborate. And that’s not a good situation for anyone. It’s not good for the company because you’re just wasting these resources, and it’s not good for these employees because they’re not going to have fun and they’re not going to have success

[00:26:32] Chueyee: Happy Market Research is hosted and produced by me, Chueyee Yang and Jamin Brazil. 

[00:26:37] Jamin: Special thanks to our referenced guests, Rian van der Merwe, Wildbit’s Head of Product; Cait Wilson, Research Manager at YouGov; Henrik Mattsson, CEO of Lookback; and Steve Mast, President & Chief Innovation Officer at Delvinia.

To subscribe to the podcast, go to iTunes or check out the Happy Market Research website at happyMR.com. You can follow us on Twitter at @happyMRxP. Thank you for listening and see you next week.