When You Can't Command the Big Picture, Control What You Can.

    By Carling Spelhaug, PRSA Colorado Membership Committee, Marketing Communications Manager at AMP Robotics

    February 17 was the first day of my new role as marketing communications manager at startup AMP Robotics, an AI and robotics leader for the recycling industry. It was a bit of an unconventional beginning: I’d asked to move my start date up by a week due to some changes in my personal life, which afforded me the opportunity to spend my first three days on the job attending an industry conference and trade show in Nashville. It was an immersive, educational stint. I got to bond with our geographically dispersed sales team, gauge how customers and the general public understand our technology by listening in on conversations at our booth, and meet a few reporters. I didn’t know it at the time, but my flight home on February 19 was the last trip by plane I’d take for the foreseeable future.

    Over the next three weeks, I carved out a new routine of commuting from my downtown Denver apartment to our office in Louisville. I initially viewed the daily drive as a downside to the role compared with my breezy seven-minute walk to my former office at 18th and California, where I also enjoyed the flexibility to work from home whenever. But even in this short span of time, I found myself appreciating the half hour in the car to begin and end the day; it was time to get mentally organized on the way in, catch up on a podcast on my way home, and generally create some structure and separation between work and home life.

    AMP raised its Series A funding in November, and I was one of a growing number of new faces at the company. Between trips to the communal kitchen for a caffeine fix at the popular coffee machine and my temporary desk in our former visitor entrance with a front-row seat to folks entering and exiting the building, there was no shortage of impromptu conversations with my new colleagues that helped me get to know the team and the culture. But by mid-March, like most other companies, we’d been instructed to work from home.

    Joining AMP a few months ago was nearly a year in the making. Last March, I read about the company in Fortune’s “Eye on AI” newsletter, and upon discovering it was based in the Denver area, decided I had nothing to lose by trying my hand at some LinkedIn networking. I found the name of the head of marketing on a press release and sent him a message, expressing my interest in learning more about the company and whether there were plans to expand the communications team. With my background in media pitching, I’m no stranger to cold outreach going unreturned. It did, unsurprisingly, for a while. But in October, I got a reply, asking if I could share my resume and make time to meet. A few weeks later, I visited the office, which led to a round of formal interviews in January and a job offer by the end of the month. It’s the most direct example in my career of creating an opportunity, of what can happen when you’re interested and proactive.

    As we settled into remote work, my team of five developed a tech-forward cadence, between Slack and Google Hangouts, of staying connected and keeping projects on track. Two were already remote, so the transition likely accelerated a way of working together we’d ultimately
    adopt anyway. We celebrated a landmark ​New York Times article​ to wrap up the fourth week at home. Reaching out to a former CNBC contact led to ​an interview with our CEO on Cheddar TV that aired the following week. With conferences and large gatherings canceled for the foreseeable future, we pivoted to deliver in-person speaking opportunities and presentations as virtual engagements. In an effort to maintain some semblance of balance, we instituted Friday “wind downs,” where we recently experimented with a cooking tutorial. Some days I’ve felt energized and incredibly productive; others, it’s been a triumph to hold off on lunch until 11 a.m. or resist distracted afternoon snacking. And it’s been helpful to be able to share the ups and downs honestly.

    Outside of my immediate team, there are fewer unscripted interactions, but that means making a little extra effort to seek people out to ask questions and get to know them. Everyone has been dealing with different challenges, whether it’s caregiving, homeschooling, loneliness, anxiety, lack of space, and more. I’ve reminded myself frequently that it’s up to us as professionals not to wait for explicit guidance or direction, especially as a new employee. Ask questions, don’t operate in a vacuum—but identify needs, propose solutions, and add value. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t establish boundaries or work all hours of the day, but it’s worthwhile to prioritize tasks and goals at the start of each week and work diligently to accomplish one or two, or make progress toward larger ones, each day. Self-starters are even more prized within our organizations in times like these.

    How I landed my job and my experience of navigating its early days while adjusting to remote work during a global pandemic have reinforced my commitment to ​influencing what I can ​ . It’s been heartening to see so many in my network using this time to revisit what they want out of their careers, whether it’s doubling down or making a big change. For me, it’s been rewarding and validating to be part of the efforts of an organization that I think does so much good, even in “normal times,” as we work to divert material from landfills, but especially now, as the recycling industry has become even more critical to our domestic supply chain. Our roles, and the world at large, won’t always feel so unsettled, but these uncomfortable periods are formative and offer unique opportunities for creativity and connection.

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