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Remote work: How parents are adapting and working during COVID-19

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Are you a parent attempting to work from home for the first time? Many Hubbers are working at home with kids too. This week’s focus is a change for our remote work series, which has been about functional groups within GitHub sharing their insights and best practices on working remotely. We thought it would be helpful and fun to speak with a couple of Hubbers, who are also working parents, to get their insight on how to juggle parenting, work, and other personal commitments during COVID-19.

Before COVID-19, working from home and having flexible work schedules could be a lifesaver. But, as the pandemic continues and schools remain closed, many working parents are adapting to working from home while taking on schooling and household tasks. This week, we hear from Cindy Alvarez, head of customer research and mother of two, along with Simon Taranto, senior software engineer and dad, who were able to take a moment out of their hectic lives to share their perspective on what it’s like to do it all during the COVID-19 pandemic. For me, as a mother of two school-aged children, their advice hits home as we blend work and parenting.

How do you manage your current work schedule while having kids at home?

Simon: My partner and I are fortunate to have some family nearby to help with our childcare needs during this time. What works for us is that I’ve shifted my work schedule to earlier in the day, while also allowing some time in the evening to wrap up any loose ends from the day and prep for the next day. My partner watches our toddler in the early morning until my mother-in-law arrives, who helps take care of her for the extended morning. Then, I’m able to take over around 2 pm through dinner when my partner wraps up her work. So far, this routine has been manageable but definitely tiring. I’ve found it helpful to hear from our leadership team that many of us are not running at 100% right now given all that we’re facing with this pandemic. Therefore, none of us are trying for a normal routine at the moment. We’re all just striving to do the best we can and be as productive as possible, even if it’s not at 100%. Additionally, it’s been challenging having both of us work from home. If we’re on calls at the same time, one of us needs to take a call from a couch or patio. I’m so grateful for Zoom’s customized backgrounds!

Cindy: I’ve often recommended being intentional about aligning what needs to get done with when and where you have the appropriate level of focus to complete it. Even before COVID-19, I’ve always worked on somewhat of a split shift, similar to what Simon described, with a shorter working day and then back online after my kids (ages 10 and 6) are in bed. I’m so grateful that GitHub allows us this flexibility since it’s always been a remote-friendly, global company and therefore people are working all hours of the day and night, so this has never been an issue.

During the first two weeks of the quarantine, thinking this was a temporary situation, I tried to work a normal work schedule with some breaks in between to tend to the kids and personal things. But trying to work normal business hours while taking care of kids was stressful and ultimately ineffective. That’s when I recalled a framework that I learned from The Vanishing Options Test by Chip and Dan Heath that I turn to when I’m feeling stuck. The premise of this framework is to ask yourself, “What would you do if you were stuck in this situation forever?” This question helps free your mind to think of new options and help derive alternatives that work for you. What works best for me in this situation is a more extreme split shift, where I work from 7 am through noon, then I’m mostly offline until 10 pm and then back online in the late evening. I went through my calendar and declined all meetings scheduled past noon, which has been a good forcing mechanism for me to ask if I really need a particular meeting. And if I don’t need to be in a meeting, I can communicate with my team using asynchronous communication.

Are you a part of any parenting support groups online or through work?

Simon: GitHub has a useful #parents Slack channel that I belong to, and I’m also part of forming a new parents-focused employee group. Having the opportunity to hear from colleagues in similar situations (or perhaps more complicated child care situations) has been very helpful. I also appreciate how this parent group can offer a nice balance between serious conversations and helpful solutions, along with a healthy dose of more lighthearted fun and commiseration that we could all use right now.

Cindy: I’m also a part of the GitHub #parents Slack channel, and agree that it’s very helpful and a nice way to connect with other parents. Though I’m not formally in any other parenting support groups, I’ve always offered to serve as a resource for anyone looking for support privately and they’re welcome to reach out via direct message or text. Having experienced the challenges of balancing a tough pregnancy with work, preparing for and returning from parental leave, having general concerns about my child’s well being, and the like, are all things that I’ve been through. I’m happy to lend any advice to anyone who may not feel comfortable asking a question in a larger forum.

How do you stay focused on work given other distractions around you?

Simon: It’s important to be clear with your other housemates regarding your schedule—whether it’s your children, parents, partners, or roommates. If either my partner or myself has an important call or long, focused session with work, we make sure to communicate with each other so the other person can help watch over our daughter at that time. We use shared Google Calendars to track each other’s schedules, which helps us see each availability throughout the day and as it may change.

Cindy: If possible, I do my best to find a location where there may be fewer distractions, though I realize this may not be feasible for everyone. There are times where I might take an important meeting from my backyard patio and put on my headphones to avoid noise or distractions happening in the house. It’s not a perfect scenario and certainly exhausting at times, but it’s the best way that I’m able to manage distractions for important calls. That said, I think back to times when I wasn’t feeling well and tried to work through it and thought to myself, “Why did I think it was so important to tough it out? I would have completed my work more efficiently if I’d given myself permission to take a break and come back later.” In the software industry, there’s so much work that can be done at 6 am, 1 pm, or 11:30 pm. Especially during this challenging time, it’s important for those in tech to embrace asynchronous communication so employees have the flexibility to get work done on a schedule that works for them.

Any advice on how to manage stress while offices are closed with kids, family, and other demands?

Simon: Normally, I’m not the best when it comes to staying in touch with friends and family, but since the Coronavirus outbreak began, I’ve taken this time as an opportunity to reach out and call my loved ones more often. I’ve found it very therapeutic from an emotional perspective to speak with people on a daily basis that are outside of my home and regular work environments, and it’s also fun for our daughter to have the chance to “say hi” when we’re unable to see them in real life. I’m also fortunate to live in a place where we can go for regular walks. Being able to take a long walk (especially in the sun) with the stroller, and occasionally the dog, has helped me unwind after work.

Cindy: My best advice here is to be insistent about doing things that recharge you, whether it’s walking or exercising, watching a movie, or reading a book. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself, because it enables you to be more patient with your kids and more energized with your team. The main way I recharge is by running. I find that I’m a kinder person towards others after I run. Each individual has their own way of unwinding and recharging and needs to be something that works best for you. I’ve also chosen certain habits that I do each day, which is something I’ve been practicing for more than a year now. Each month, I pick a couple of new daily habits, which gives me a sense of achievement even on my bad days. For example, one routine is to make it a point to get outside, even if it’s just to step outside my front door and stand on the sidewalk for a moment.


Want to learn more about best practices for working remotely? Check back next week as we continue our series to help you make the most of working in a remote environment from our next interview. And share these useful tips with others who may be new to working remotely.

Explore the remote work series