Every thorn has its rose

Every thorn has its rose


How we keep on rockin’ in the quarantine world

I went to a hockey game on March 11. It was a good crowd for a Wednesday. Our local AHL team, the Colorado Eagles were winning, as usual — but something was off. There was an unspoken tension in the air. Between periods, I checked the news on my phone. America’s dad, Tom Hanks, announces he and Rita Wilson have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. The NBA suspends its season after several players test positive. A handful of governors ban gatherings over 250 people. I left with five minutes to go in the third period, a cardinal sin in my book, vigorously disinfected my hands when I got to the car and drove home. That was my last day in the old normal.

Nobody at our nine-person office was sick, so we all went to the office the rest of the week. On Friday, I grabbed my big monitor and encouraged everyone to take whatever they needed, just in case. That was the last time Dawn and I saw any of our co-workers in person. 150 days ago. It’s hard to say when we’ll all share the office space again.

Business as usual, unusual as it is

Some client projects got put on hold. Every tradeshow we were planning to attend or help clients prepare for was canceled. But relatively speaking, Toolbox has been very fortunate. From Agtech to CleanTech to 3D Printing, our clients were deemed essential businesses and pivoted as needed. Tradeshow budgets became digital budgets. Wheat field days became video plot tours. Clients needed to launch internal safety campaigns quickly.

Carpenter COVID Safety image

We tapped the power of humor and our deep well of potty jokes to develop effective safety messaging for Carpenter Technology, an essential manufacturing company.

Though each of us occupies our own space on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, the entire Toolbox crew is missing the old normal and working to find creative ways to stick together while we’re apart. Here are a few things that have helped us keep the ‘Box rocking from a distance:

Rose, Bud, Thorn

We’ve actually been doing this for a while, but it’s become even more powerful in the past couple of months. A few years ago, our Monday morning production meetings were miserable. We’d come into them fresh and relaxed from the weekend, review all the work we needed to get done that week and go back to our desks with our heads on fire and stress-bees buzzing our bellies.

Dawn deconstructed and rebuilt the process. Production meetings would still last an hour, but we’d spend the first half of it connecting personally. We’d talk about the highlight of our weekend and each share our professional and personal successes, reviewing the high and low points of the previous week. We learned about Rose, Bud, Thorn from a client, who learned about it from her daughter, who then interned for us, completing the full circle. Here’s how it works:

Your Rose is the work you’re most proud of, large or small: landing a new client, getting a quick message of appreciation, successfully working a Mötley Crüe reference into some ad copy.

Your Bud is work that has exciting potential: a chance to try a new illustration technique, a web-dev project that’s really starting to come together, implementing new internal systems.

Your Thorn is something that caused disappointment or frustration: a communication breakdown, challenging compromise, global pandemic.

Your Personal Success is something outside of work that brought you joy: hanging with the grandbaby, office DnD, a weekend getaway.

Your Rose is the work you’re most proud of for the week, like landing a new client or working a Mötley Crüe reference into some copy.

This seemingly subtle shift had an incredibly positive impact on our workplace culture. This year, we designed weekly planners so we can all RBT in style. (If you read this and you’d like one, we’ll hook you up.) Production meetings and daily 15-minute stand-ups shifted pretty seamlessly to video meetings — and now that no one has plans, ever — we do them more regularly.

Toolbox Master Plan

The TBx weekly master planner, with Rose, Bud, Thorn action. Ask and we’ll send you one.


I’ve always worked to music. Every design job I’ve had, the computer lab in college, doing homework in my bedroom as a kid — there’s always been a soundtrack. From WXPN to 12-CD changers to Pandora to Amazon Music, I’ve enjoyed imposing my favorite artist on the rest of the crew. While we work from home, we’re missing that sonic thread that keeps our individual and collective work resonating in harmony.

In early April, Dawn’s fellow Museum of Art | Fort Collins board members started sharing three songs to brighten the day. It worked so well for that group, Dawn brought it to Toolbox.

Each day a different Toolboxer shares their quarantunes. So far, we’ve dug deep into the Springsteen catalog, realized Harry Styles is awesome, learned a lot about show tunes and stayed a little more connected.

The real Neil kicked off our Quarantune festivities.

Slack it to me?

I’m a creature of routine. I don’t like new things. I’m wont to yell “get off my lawn” more often than I’m proud of. So when Shane introduced Slack to the team a year ago, I was, let’s just say, non-compliant. We’re 10 years into a committed relationship with Workamajig, a terribly powerful project management system built for creative agencies. It’s good at lots of things, but you can’t easily share cat memes or let your coworkers know you’re out to lunch. Slack, on the other hand, is meme-tastic, freemium and has a super-friendly, social-media-style interface.

Another thing we really miss while working from home is being able to pop over to someone’s desk and chat for a few minutes. These quick, unscheduled meetings were a combination of getting things done and socializing — and they were always productive.

Digital interaction will never be better than human interaction, but necessity has forced our digital interaction to become more human.

When we shifted to working from home, Slack started to organically replace those quick desk chats. When clients started Slacking us, I knew my resistance was futile. Digital interaction will never be better than human interaction, but necessity has forced our digital interaction to become more human. Plus, I see a lot more cat pics during the workday than ever before. So it’s not all bad.

When we have an office again, I think we’ll need an office cat.

The next normal

As Colorado transitioned from stay-at-home to safer-at-home, and businesses started to reopen, merchants needed unified messaging to explain new guidelines and encourage safer shopping. Driven by the Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority and with help from the inimitable Allie Ogg, we pulled a long weekend and produced the Business as UnUsual campaign. Bears served as the perfect visual metaphor to represent emerging from isolation while still saying, “Don’t stand so close to me.”

Business as UnUsual Downtown Fort Collins

I miss Downtown Ace Hardware’s free popcorn so much I had Allie work in a portrait of me — as a bear — eating popcorn.

As for Toolbox, it’s still business as usual, as unusual as it is. We’ve proven we can work from anywhere, so we’re going to keep doing just that. We’re using the office individually as needed, and my plants are alive and well, but lonely. Some day we’ll all be together in the same physical space, but our forced separation has brought us closer together. I’m immensely grateful to each and every Toolboxer and our kick-ass clients that allow us to draw bears and and make potty jokes for a living.

Plus, I have an entirely new playlist I can’t wait to force everyone to listen to.


The TBx virtual FAC.

Get your RBT on

If you’d like your very own RBT planner, give us your digits and we’ll give you the goods.

I want my RBT

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If you’d like to print your own or keep it digital, download the weekly planner as a Google doc.

About Tom Campbell:

Business as UnUsual Downtown Fort CollinsTom is Toolbox’s co-founder and creative director. When he’s not keeping the ‘Box rocking, Tom can be found backstopping his beer league hockey team or playing drums for local bar bands. He’s also a founder and fairy godfather of Art Lab Fort Collins and keeper of TomLovesTheLibertyBell.com, a quirky repository of stories and stats on Liberty Bell replicas around the world.

About Toolbox Creative:

Toolbox Creative is a B2B Brand Engineering firm, helping mission-driven organizations assess their brand equity, clarify their positioning and amplify their voices — creating lasting impact and building brand love.