A lot of advice about remote work in the wake of COVID-19’s rapid spread around the world has been centered on two things: an employer’s ability to take their company remote, and an employee’s ability to function while working remotely. They’re both incredibly valid points, with multi-faceted issues for everyone involved. However, there’s an equally large challenge that is looming for some, and has already arrived for others. Literally overnight, most homes in the world, where there’s more than one occupant, are becoming diverse coworking spaces.
First, some personal context. I’ve been working remotely since 1998, so none of this is entirely new. I enjoy breakfast with my family and then see them off as they head out to teach and learn. My wife is an 8th grade math teacher (in addition to baking for Emoticakes from her home-based commercial kitchen), my daughter a freshman in college, and my son a sophomore in high school. I’m alone during most of the day … at least I used to be.
Early this week, we learned that Ithaca College would be extending its spring break by a week, then having online-only classes (on a normal schedule) until at least early April. They’d reassess after that. So, my daughter, a music education major, would be taking classes, studying, and playing piano at home for the foreseeable future. Last night, our county health administrators decided to close all county schools for 30 days. When the news broke, my son was in one of the last rehearsals for the school musical, where he’s a saxophone and flute player in the pit band. Tears were shared by the directors and kids alike, as they were so close to the finish line of a creative production that brought them all such joy. The closure means so many things to the kids — trips they won’t go on, musicals nobody will see, games they won't play … not to mention the shift to online learning. My wife had retrieved most things from her classroom after school, anticipating the potential for disruption. When the news broke, she headed back to the school to get the rest of the things she’d need. My son cleaned out his locker when we picked him up from his rehearsal. We were going to be home, for the duration.
This leads me to the analogy of a coworking space. Yes, we all need to be as productive as we can be with our respective jobs and education. Yes, we need to communicate readily with our teachers, administrators, and supervisors. More importantly, we’re all new members in the “Dawson Family coworking space.” Since we’ll be sharing the home together, there are some things that we’re going to have to do, some more purposefully than we’ve done in the past.
We are going to have four distinctly different schedules running in parallel with each other. An added complication is that my daughter is a pianist and my son is a piano, saxophone, and flute player. These things are not inherently quiet. When virtual lessons happen, the rest of us should be aware so we can adjust accordingly. Perhaps we need a few more doors shut during those times, or make sure that we’re doing something where there can be background music. Or, maybe it's time to use our lovely noise-canceling headphones. Same goes for when Amy is leading virtual training for her peers, or recording a lesson to post to Google Classroom. We’re going to have to communicate what we’re doing and when we’re doing it, along with our expectations of privacy when we need it.
We’ve had a shared family calendar for a while now, and I’m so grateful that we do. I’m sure we’ll be leaning on this more now, so we can see at a glance what each day looks like. Want to be sure that everyone knows what’s going on in your day? Put it in the calendar. It’ll be colorful, for sure.
We’ve been taking turns with preparing dinner each night of the week already, but now we’ll all be together for lunch, too. Perhaps we’ll continue to pack lunch in the morning as part of our routine, but it’s equally likely that we can enjoy something that’s prepared in the moment. We’ll need to be up front with everyone about who’s available each day to help prepare lunch and dinner. There are also household chores to consider. Everyone likes to clean the bathroom, right?
Sensitivity and Empathy
This isn’t going to be all roses. Who’s stressed out there already? Show of hands? We’re all going to have daily stressors and we’re going to step on each others’ nerves. When that happens, all of us will have to “row together” and have sensitivity to the stress that others may have, and empathize when those stresses come to the fore. Our mantra needs to be like that “Keep Calm” posters, but without a punchline. Simply, “Keep Calm.”
We all have things that we like to do to start and end our days. Most of the time, they align. Mornings are easy, since we’re all up and eating breakfast at the same time. I imagine for some households this can be very different. At the end of the day, some of us like to wind down with a show, and some of us like to quietly read. It’ll vary day-by-day, and it’ll take communication and respect to keep things harmonious. Communicate what you would like to do, and respect when others have different plans for themselves.
I feel fortunate that my kids are old enough to be autonomous during this time, and I know there are plenty of households where there are younger kids who can’t (or shouldn’t) be alone while their school is closed. This coworking scenario is going to look rather different for everyone. What if you don’t have daycare lined up and need someone to watch after your child because you have a job that you cannot do remotely? There’s no easy answer, and it’s going to require some creative community-based solutions. What if you are working remotely, but your child is young enough that they need supervision from you during the day? Again, not an easy answer, but one that can be mitigated with shared responsibilities if there’s another adult in the home, leaning on your community if you can, and being transparent about your unique challenges with the people you work with.
Ironically, the virus — that’s driven so many of us apart due to social distancing and challenged logistics — may be the thing that brings families and friends closer together. It’s all about communication, empathy, and love for each other. Godspeed.
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