Working remotely from a distance

I work remotely everyday, and have done so for more than 7 years. Like everyone else, though, my entire world has changed in the last few weeks. I usually work at a rented office — I don’t share it with anyone, and I could continue to work there probably, but I feel safer being at home. So I am adjusting to working actually from my house (which doesn’t have an office), and my husband and I are adjusting to figuring out how to manage the kids at home all day between the two of us, and the kids are figuring out how not to be jerks to each other (real mandate I gave them).

Right now, we’re switching off and working 6 hours Monday through Saturday. He’s going to the office from 8am-2pm, and I’m working from 2pm -8pm. The reality has been that he has things that come up, and I end up working later (both with the kids, and then at work-work). But that’s ok: we’re both adjusting to this. Bob is the director of public works for our city, and he’s had an incredibly draining week, figuring out what and who is essential to the functioning of the city, and also getting everyone on Slack so that communication doesn’t break down. I had a really easy time moving from my office to my house. I had an office backpack (one I keep at the office specifically to bring my office home), and I know exactly what to toss in it for a trip or extended period at home. It took me two extra minutes at the end of my day to transfer my work from the office to my house. It’s just not that easy for everyone. People have to figure out whole new methods of communicating, how often to communicate (over-communicate, people, when it doubt, over-communicate), and how to structure their lives again. It’s tough.

When I work now, it’s 10am Pacific, so I see those folks much more, and I see East coast people much less. I have almost zero overlap with Europe now, which is hard. I’ll be re-adjusting my schedule in microdoses in order to be able to connect with my leads in Europe and APAC. It’s like I’m visiting a new place, and experiencing a slightly different work environment because of it (like that joke, it’s like going to Toledo and Jeopardy is on at 7 instead of 7:30). But since everyone has gone to their own private Toledo, it’s not even predictable. I’m sure it will be, however. I have great faith in the team I work with and with Happiness at Automattic as a group to adapt, and keep rolling, while communicating clearly about what they need to do to take care of themselves.

Let me tell you about my days:

I get up with the kids, and I gin up breakfast for them (rarely is it gin, however). While I make my own breakfast, we put on TedEd and TedTalks. We themed this week Lemony Snicket (because Audible is reading us A Series of Unfortunate Events at bedtime), so they’ve done some Unfortunate art, and we’ve been watching TedTalks (or TedEds) about disasters or problems (being very relaxed on the theme, “problems” also includes riddles!) After breakfast and Ted, we do laundry. One twin (they’re 8.5) helps to empty the dryer, switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer, and start a new load in the washer. Then that same twin helps with folding and putting away the basket. The other twin plays with Grant. Then they switch jobs the next day. After laundry time we might go outside, or we might get math done. Eleanor has a math packet (and a bunch of online content) she’s been assigned, so she does that, and then Henry grades her. We do art or reading (sometimes both). Henry sometimes will use this time to work on coding. Much of my time while the twins are doing learning is spent with Grant. Around this time lunch rears it’s head, so I make them all sit down and articulate what they want (they tend to wander like lost cows if not actively corralled). They eat, and we either sit down for quiet time (a movie/reading), or we go outside. If we went outside, there’s a good chance that Grant needs a bath. By then, Bob is arriving home, and I head upstairs to get to work-work.

At work-work, I log on, and sometimes have a call or two lined up (on Zoom). Once those are over, I catch up on backscroll in Slack and all the pings I missed. Then I go through Basecamp and read all the posts/comments I missed overnight and during the day. Then I sweep email (I get P2 digests via email), and I pull out the posts I want to read in depth. I then read those P2 posts and comment/like, whatever, and move on. Then I can start with everything else. If this sounds like a lot, it’s not. I feel a sense of intense urgency for about the first hour. Then I realize that work is humming along smoothly. Yes, people are anxious. We are absolutely being really careful to make sure people are able to take care of themselves and their families. We are making sure to communicate and establish new schedules as best we can, and stick to them, then re-evaluate, and commit again. It’s shifting sand, but it works and it’s working pretty well as a whole, because this is a dynamic bunch that is used to working remotely. Even though individually we are stressed and scattered, the basic blocks of work are happening because our workplace hasn’t changed at all. We all “go” to work how we’ve always done, just sometimes with more coworkers.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not! I can only speak for myself here, but this experience has shown me just how fortunate I am. I have an incredibly flexible job — I dropped a note in Slack over the weekend explaining my new schedule and my boss and team said “no problem.” I’ve been rescheduling calls with team members and everyone has understood and been flexible too. My kids are all healthy right now. This wasn’t the case a few weeks ago when Grant was in the hospital for severe asthma. I have a partner who can work from home and adjust his schedule in a way that means we can be here for each other. I live near parks and other places the kids can splash in puddles and ride their bikes.

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Who says the pools are closed?

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I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I feel a great sense of stability from having worked in a remote environment, and having that touchstone in all this turmoil is really important. I sincerely hope that more companies that are able to go distributed after this pandemic, do so. Not only is your entire workforce not in one city, but you have amazing talent able to provide stability across the entire world to those who really need it — their friends, family, coworkers.

I think this post hasn’t made much sense, but you’ll have to forgive me, as I feel pretty scattered this week. Here’s to a better one next week. Love you.

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