Going Remote: Kids at Homewith Andy Didorosi, Kristin Aardsma, John Williams, Andrea LaRowe, and Conor Muirhead
Several of Basecamp’s working parents talk about (not) getting things done with small children around, navigating responsibilities and feelings with partners, structuring the day, primal screaming, and more. You can also watch the full video replay of this Q&A session.
- Going Remote series on YouTube - 00:10
- Basecamp's Remote Resources page - 00:39
- Question 1: If you’re home with kids under three, how do you work while they’re craving your attention? - 4:00
- Going Remote episode about customer support - 6:25
- Art for Kids Hub on YouTube - 15:31
- Lunch Doodles with children's book author Mo Willems - 15:51
- LeVar Burton does #LeVarBurtonReadsLive on his Twitter feed - 15:55
- Question 2: How do you navigate tension between partners when one person bears more of the childcare responsibilities? - 19:22
- Question 3: What morning habits do you have to keep yourself aligned? - 23:33
- Basecamp on Twitter - 27:23
The Full Transcript:
[00:00:00] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:00:01] Welcome to Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Shaun Hildner.
Wailin: [00:00:07] And I’m Wailin Wong. This is another installment in our Going Remote series of bonus episodes. Folks from Basecamp have been doing livestreamed Q&As about different aspects of working remotely. Today’s episode is about working or at least trying to work with kids who are also home all day.
[00:00:25] I happen to be on this one and my daughter sat on my lap for part of the livestream. You’ll hear some other Basecamp kids popping in, too.
Shaun: [00:00:32] We’ve collected a ton of resources around remote working, including the full videos of these Going Remote livestreams. Head over to Basecamp.com/Remote-Resources and check it out. That’s Basecamp.com/Remote-Resources.
[00:00:48] Now here’s Basecamp’s head of marketing, Andy Didorosi to kick things off with the working parent Q&A.
[00:00:53] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Andy: [00:01:00] You all want to go around and introduce yourselves?
Kristin: [00:01:02] Hi, I’m Kristin. I work in support at Basecamp. I’ve been here for a long time. I am a new parent. I have a seven-month-old and I’m only back at work, this is my third month back at work after parental leave. So it’s pretty wild.
John: [00:01:20] Hi, I’m John. I’m on the Ops team here at Basecamp. I have with me Ava, our oldest child, who is 11 and Norah, with me. She is 10. And upstairs is our four other kids. They are seven, five, three, and less than one.
Kristin: [00:01:43] Good job, John.
John: [00:01:44] I can remember all their ages and all their names.
Andrea: [00:01:45] I was going to say, that’s impressive that you can remember them all. That’s good.
[00:01:49] I’m Andrea. I have two kids. Ellie is seven and a half in first grade and Abby is two and a half.
Wailin: [00:01:55] My name is Wailin Wong. I co-produce and co-host the Rework podcast and I have a seven-year-old first grader named Beatrix.
Conor: [00:02:05] Hey, I’m Conor and this is my youngest, Maeve who’s just having a meltdown. But we’re thriving now. And I’ve got four kids at home. Ten, nine, five, and three. And we homeschool for the last couple of years so a lot of things aren’t as different for us as they are for some. But the added stress and such of the virus has made it not exactly calm, either, around our house.
Andy: [00:02:37] So you’ve been homeschooling for a while then so this is not super different. For parents who are newly homeschool, what tricks do you have? Do you have anything that you’ve learned in those years of doing it that you might share?
Conor: [00:02:50] Well, I wish I could have useful advice, however, I don’t actually personally do much of the homeschooling. My wife Katie does almost all of it. I do the occasional math lesson here and there, but, I mean, the kinds of things that are generally useful are, having a door where you’re trying to work. Closing it when you don’t want people to come in, and those kinds of signals, stuff like that. Be kind to yourself, mostly.
John: [00:03:16] I think, too, people that are just jumping into it, it’s totally different than us that have homeschooled for a long period of time, too. We have time to plan our years out and our time out and everybody else has kind of been thrown into this and maybe gets some direction from teachers and that sort of thing, but it’s certainly not normal right now anybody.
Conor: [00:03:38] Yeah, totally. We have months to plan a curriculum and decide on things and it took at least a year to feel like we were decent at the whole homeschool thing in the first place. So, you’ve got be kind to yourself. It’s a big transition.
Andy: [00:03:54] Yeah, for sure. So we actually got a question in from the public, and if everyone would like to respond to this and how you handle it. Yannick asked, “If you are home alone with kids under three for most of the day, how do you manage to get work done when they are craving your attention and not sleepy?
Kristin: [00:04:06] You don’t.
Andrea: [00:04:10] Yeah.
Kristin: [00:04:11] This happened to me recently. Our nanny was sick. So, before we were self-isolating, my husband is a cook at a restaurant and the restaurant is now closed so he’s home all the time and able to help with our seven-month-old. But when he was still working our nanny was sick last minute, like really early into me coming back to work. And when the baby was awake, I wasn’t working. And when the baby was sleeping, I would wear them and work as much as I could. But I was really honest with the team about what was going on. I didn’t pretend to work. I don’t think people should pretend to work, and I don’t think people should try to work while doing childcare. Both of those things are full-time jobs and you’re doing a shitty job on both if you’re trying to work and take care of your children.
[00:05:02] I know that doesn’t really answer your question but that’s my answer.
Andy: [00:05:07] No, I think that’s totally accurate because a lot of companies just assume that you’re gonna push through, right? And I think a lot of what makes our remote culture successful is a little more empathy about that. And that seems to be a lot of things that we have.
[00:05:21] Andrea, from your perspective as the People Ops person, how do you see the employer side of the people with young, young, young children. How does that work?
Andrea: [00:05:32] I mean, I think empathy is really at the heart of it. If people give us, in normal times, are giving us their best work and supporting Basecamp as an employee, this is the opportunity for the employers to now turn around and return the favor and say you’ve been working hard for us for so long, we’re going to give you the time and the space to handle this extremely weird situation.
[00:05:54] And personally from a People Ops perspective, this has been really hard for me because a lot of my job is supporting the employees at Basecamp, but it’s really hard to do that when you, yourself, personally, are having a hard time just dealing with the kids at home, the climate in general. I think from an HR perspective, recognizing that you might not have the capacity to do that right now, or at least not as much as you normally would.
[00:06:19] And, again, just allowing, showing yourself some kindness as well.
Andy: [00:06:24] Yeah, on our Support one, they talked about grace and space, that was the tool that support uses whenever we get a grumpy person, is that, normally it’s not about Basecamp, it’s about something that’s going on in that person’s life. Same thing, maybe, applies.
[00:06:38] Does anybody else want to weigh in on some strategies or tips or maybe just open challenges you’ve had with working while you have children at home?
Andrea: [00:06:47] I think for the kids under three, I have a two and a half year old and so I’ve just had to get really good at prioritizing. Sometimes there’s stuff that needs to get done. If I can do one thing in a day and identify what that one thing is that has to get done, that’s reasonable. But to think that I’m going to accomplish the same amount of work with a two and a half year old at home, that’s ridiculous. It’s not going to happen.
[00:07:10] So it’s just really being, setting the intention at the beginning of every day and then forgiving myself if I can’t quite get there.
Conor: [00:07:17] Yeah.
Andrea: [00:07:17] And then pawning her off on the older kid, too.
Conor: [00:07:22] That’s a totally legit strategy. Go, your older sisters want to play with you.
Andrea: [00:07:27] Yeah, oh yeah.
Conor: [00:07:29] We do a good amount of that. I also find waking up early and doing some work before anyone’s awake can be a way that I can feel like I was at least able to accomplish an hour of super-focused time before everybody else was up. It’s not always easy to wake up but that’s one thing that I’ve done and to try to get some stuff done because I know that I won’t be able to get much work done when I’ve got something else going on with my kids.
John: [00:07:58] One thing that I’ve done, too is be selective about the tasks [crosstalk]. And some things I can work on and be distracted and there’s other things that I need a lot of focus on and I can save for another time when I know that I’ll have the mental resources to be able to work through those things.
Wailin: [00:08:17] Yeah, I’m the same way. On a super practical level, my husband has always worked from home. He’s a writer, and the way, and we’re very structured people, we really like structure, which made spring break really hard. But now that we’re back on sort of a school schedule with materials that our daughter’s classroom teacher sends us. Basically we split up the day. We start it at eight, and my husband is on from 8:00 until 1:00. And then I just stop whatever I’m doing at 1pm and then I’m on from 1:00 to 6:00. So it’s just a very kind of blunt way to chop up the day.
[00:08:58] And to John’s point, anything that requires focus work, like if I’m editing audio, if I’m doing an interview with someone, that all is saved for, that’s squashed into the morning hours as much as possible. Then in the afternoon, that is the time I can catch up on emails and take care of smaller tasks that can be chopped up into 5 to 15 minute segments of time that I get in between things.
[00:09:25] And my husband needs three to four hours of completely uninterrupted focus time to get what he needs to get done. And he’s on a deadline for a big hairy book project. So I’m very cognizant of protecting his time as well, and he’s good at protecting my time in the morning and that’s just kind of how we split it up.
John: [00:09:42] Yeah, it’s basically matching your attention span with your kid’s attention span.
Andy: [00:09:49] Do we have anything—
Conor: [00:09:49] Also, Play-Doh. I’m sorry.
Andy: [00:09:51] Oh yeah, Play-Doh. Choice toy.
Conor: [00:09:54] We just got some new Play-Doh this week for this exact purpose and you know, it’s a magical relief. When things are going crazy we just get out, have something special that we pull out for these moments when you’re really feeling like, okay, I need some time and that’s when we play out the special Play-Doh, or the special whatever. It works.
Andrea: [00:10:16] We do the same thing, yeah.
Conor: [00:10:18] Yeah.
Andy: [00:10:18] Does anybody have that toy with the rock that you smash open with the fossil inside? I’ve seen everybody’s been buying those lately.
Conor: [00:10:26] Sounds cool.
Andrea: [00:10:29] Our daycare teacher sent us a time-waster activity which is, you freeze a bunch of toys in ice and then just give the kid some salt and a scraper and it takes half an hour for them to scrape—
Kristin: [00:10:41] You’re giving away all the secrets to the children who are here.
Andy: [00:10:50] Do any of the kids who are here want to share their perspective? I mean, how is it when your parents are working at home? Do you have anything that you want to add.
Ava: [00:10:57] I’m usually the one who’s watching the kids while he works.
John: [00:11:01] She is. Ava’s very helpful whenever I’m working and Marie’s teaching one of the other kids or something like that. Ava’s always, Ava and Norah both are helpers, really, because they’re the oldest and they take the lion’s share of the kid responsibility, that’s for sure.
Andy: [00:11:15] What are some tools that you use to keep the smaller kids busy? What are some of your favorite activities you like to do together?
Ava: [00:11:21] The TV, that’s… [crosstalk] for a couple hours.
Andy: [00:11:29] Classic. Do any of you use a sign on the door, do you have set hours? What… I’ve seen some of these tools on Reddit and stuff, but what are some practical things that you all use?
Kristin: [00:11:40] I just tell my husband what’s going on. I don’t have to tell the children, but I just say I have these meetings today. You can interrupt these if you need to. These meetings, probably too sensitive for an interruption, but obviously, if there’s an emergency, always interrupt. But yeah, we talk about that every day and before the meetings I remind him. And I’ve had meetings get interrupted and be like, oh, I’ve got to call you back, I’ve got to go breast feed. A meltdown is happening and everybody is really understanding.
Andrea: [00:12:10] Yeah, everyone’s in the same boat right now. I was on a very stuffy conference call and Ellie and Abby freaked out. They were screaming, and everyone could hear it, and I was embarrassed and apologized profusely. And everyone kind of laughed and said we’re all in the same boat right now. So it’s kind of a nice, it’s a nice experience. We don’t have the space. We live in an apartment in Chicago that doesn’t have a lot of… it’s very open concept and there’s very few doors so we just have to make it, we’ve been trying to make it work. We’re not the best at structure, like Wailin’s family. It’s very much going over the schedule at the beginning of the day and what can’t be interrupted, the few things that cannot be interrupted. And everything else is kind of—
[00:12:50] And my husband’s the same way. He’s working from home, now, too, which is new. He’s never worked from home before. So it’s just kind of a recap at the beginning of the day, every day. This is what our loose schedule looks like and can you take the kids during this call, and okay, I’m going to take the kids in the other room during this call, and just being as flexible as we can.
Andy: [00:13:07] In previous places that you’ve worked, let’s say your workplace isn’t as empathetic to the needs of childcare at home. What are some tools as an employee you can use? We’ve all had jobs before this, perhaps, with children. What if you have a less empathetic manager? What, I guess, aside from just saying, hey, I need this space, what tools have you used before to get yourself that space that you need? Because I imagine some people watching this are maybe working for companies that aren’t as flexible.
Andrea: [00:13:35] Well, my husband currently works for a company that’s not. They’re being great now, but this is a new thing for them. They’re getting used to how remote work is working for them. So it’s like, I think Conor said, closing the door is a big one. Just having the sign that this is uninterrupted work time and then opening the door again when it’s okay to come in and not. It’s a temporary thing.
Andy: [00:14:01] It seems like another reason to have fewer meetings and more write-ups and asynchronous working is that every time you have an impermeable thing on your schedule, it’s another thing you have to work around with childcare. Whereas, we don’t really think about how much time that occupies in people’s world when we set that meeting for eight people on a shared calendar, but it just ripples throughout because now spouses are telling their partners that they have a block. If it’s not a super important meeting, that sucks, because all that energy is just wasted. That’s another thing against meetings.
Wailin: [00:14:36] I was going to say that I think one big tip I can give is be easy on yourself when it comes to screen time. Now is not the time to be really neurotic about screen time and what it does to kids’ brains. If TV is the thing that is going to help keep your child entertained and buy you that 15-30 minutes, however much time you need to get something done that is some immovable thing on your schedule or that meeting with your boss where you know your boss is not going to be understanding about interruptions or rescheduling or canceling the meeting, or whatever. It’s fine. We’re all in survival mode, so you just do what you need to do and it’s just, again, now is not the time to stress out about screen time.
[00:15:20] And there’s actually a lot of interesting stuff for kids to watch now.
Beatrix: [00:15:24] I want to watch TV.
Wailin: [00:15:26] You’re… oh. So she’s going to go [crosstalk]. We really like Art for Kids Hub which is a drawing show and there’s tons of back content there. Then she’s doing something slightly interactive. But even if it’s not interactive, who cares? Who cares? We have Disney+ on, I feel like six hours a day. I’m telling you, it’s okay.
John: [00:15:47] There’s also a lot of neat resources that have just come out now, too with, like Mo Willems doing the art classes and LeVar Burton is doing reading time and that sort of thing, which is really neat that these things are happening to help people out.
Conor: [00:16:03] Yeah, we also, one thing we’ve found that’s just really helped our whole family have sanity is just going for a schedule long walk / scooter ride whenever every single day, rain or shine, it’s happening. It’s just been a nice thing for everyone to look forward to, I think. It’s just good for the soul to get outside for a bit and have some space away from each other, I think, as well. So that’s been something that doesn’t directly impact your work life maybe, but it, I think, overall kind of helps change the tone around the house for us, at least.
Andy: [00:16:38] Yeah. Does anybody schedule blocks to maybe shove off for a minute, go for a walk, depressurize? I sometimes put some of those on my calendar. I don’t know if anyone else does or if you just do it when you feel like it?
John: [00:16:51] Usually a few times a week, I try to get out for a bike ride, at lunch time. Get some fresh air and both clear your head from working, from home life, and it’s always good. Usually for me, anyways, lunch time works the best because I’m not really taking, necessarily taking away from family time, I guess. Because a lot of times I eat lunch at my desk anyway, so it’s probably healthy habit to step away for a little while.
Wailin: [00:17:18] I have a standing therapy appointment. I mean, I’ve always had it, but now it’s even more important just to keep it and keep that as a sacrosanct time in the week because kids mirror your emotions and kids are very good emotional radars. They pick up on how you’re feeling and they mirror it back to you, so I can really feel the difference in our household when I’m short on patience or just not feeling my best. That comes out immediately in the way that I parent and the way that I speak to my child who left now, so I can be more honest about this stuff. I think that having that mental health time is more important than ever because otherwise, it’s like, everything’s just going to fall apart. I’m not going to have the bandwidth to be a patient spouse and parent if I don’t have that time.
[00:18:12] So that’s not outside time, I’m not good at exercising or getting outdoors but I am very good at now sitting at my computer and talking about my feelings once a week.
Conor: [00:18:21] On a similar mental health thing, something we started doing yesterday on our outside walk time is we just do a primal scream collectively, to just. And it actually feels so good. We’re just like, okay, we’re going to count to three, everyone just scream for all your worth. We’re just walking down the alley by house and we all just let it out. It felt so good. So we actually, our plan is to keep doing that every day. Just have a scream time where everyone just lets all that out. And then also, maybe when things are feeling a little crazy to just be like, hey, let’s just get it out and do a little scream everyone. And it feels good sometimes to just back to that urge inside you to just let it out.
[00:19:07] So that’s something, I think, is another one that we’ve found helpful recently.
Andrea: [00:19:08] That’s an awesome idea, I’m stealing that.
Kristin: [00:19:10] That’s amazing, Conor.
Andy: [00:19:13] I hope that catches on. It’s good. 8am primal scream.
Conor: [00:19:17] Yes.
Andy: [00:19:19] One question we got from Twitch. “One issue I’m having at home is my spouse is not working right now and watching our kid full time, and I feel like there’s some frustration directed towards me since I get to focus on work for some time while they’re doing childcare all day. Any advice for navigating those feelings?” Pretty heavy, but what do you think?
Conor: [00:19:37] I can just say that it’s more than one time we’ve talked about, my wife and I have talked about the challenge of how it feels like my life is just normal. I generally carry on with thing as they are, meanwhile she kind of has this whole other factor piled onto her lap because she does not work outside the home. She was homeschooling before, but our kids would go to a community thing twice a week for probably half the day. They would go play with friends on a regular basis. My wife would go hang out with her friends on a regular basis. There’s so many things that are just different that we don’t have the ability to do now. Whereas me, I used to just kind of work my whole day and then I would hang out with my family the rest of the time. I’ve lost some things but for the most part, a lot of my life is a lot more normal right now than hers is. And it’s frustrating. It just, straight up, it is and I think it’s really valuable that zeltcm is like, acknowledging and identifying this, and I think it’s helpful to acknowledge it and say, yeah, this is different from the two of us.
[00:20:42] And once you’ve acknowledged it, you can start being sympathetic. So I just sent a message to my small team. I work with two other people on a super regular basis here at Basecamp and this morning, I let them know that I’m not going to start work until nine and I’m going to end at three for the next while. I don’t know how long. But that’s what I’m trying out this week, because what we’ve found is that by three o’clock, someone’s going to die around here unless we have a relief.
[00:21:12] So, it’s less hours, and I’ve been working early in the morning and then chopping my day up super throughout the day and I realized what happens there is I felt like I was working 12 hours a day with a bunch of little breaks in between and it sucked for everybody. I was stressed out and my wife felt like I wasn’t actually, really ever there to help with things and I was still ending the day at five something, which was two hours, at least, too late.
[00:21:36] So I’m adjusting my schedule this week to try something different where I’ve got a focused block of time in the morning that I can spend on some family stuff. We have a nice good breakfast together and enjoy some time together. Then I’ll go to work and planning on calling it by three o’clock at the latest, honestly, and saying, hey, now’s my time that I’ll probably take the kids for a walk or do something that occupies them and give her a break because she’s had this kind of bananas situation to deal with all day long with four kids, and it’s just too much. So that’s one thing that we’re doing. I don’t know if any of that’s helpful.
Kristin: [00:22:09] That’s similar to our situation. My husband is suddenly taking care of a seven-month-old and has no place to go. They go on walks and that’s it and my husband is high risk so he can’t do any of the other errands that we might have to run. He said last week that he just wants to go to a store and buy an item. And I think we all feel that way. It doesn’t even matter what the thing is, it’s just go do something that’s not walking around the block.
[00:22:39] We talk about this almost every single day, I think, this type of frustration. I get to use a certain part of my brain that maybe he doesn’t get to use very often because he’s with a seven-month-old all day. And we’re incredibly privileged to have this scenario in our family but it does create some frustration.
[00:22:59] So for us, what’s possible, because we only have one child, is I go to bed pretty early with the baby and my husband stays up and plays video games with his friends for a while. And he does stuff like that to connect with other people and not be in baby mode the whole time. I don’t know if that’s possible for you, zeltcm, but giving your partner space to be alone and to think about things beyond childcare is essential for keeping a stable mind.
Andy: [00:23:31] I like this one. “What morning habits can be done to keep yourself aligned? What kind of regular things do you do during your boot-up parent stuff or not parent stuff, just individual stuff?”
Kristin: [00:23:40] I sneak away really early and I go downstairs and make tea and have breakfast and write for five minutes at least. It’s a minimum of five minutes and then everybody else comes downstairs and we hang out for half an hour and then I start work.
Conor: [00:23:59] Yeah, around here, I get up at 5:30 or so, so I’ve still got a couple hours before anybody’s really up and I use that time to do some scripture study and I work out and then people are waking up, and spend time making breakfast for everyone and spend time with family doing a scripture study routine that we like to do together as a family, too and discuss what we’re learning, which is nice. And then, this morning we played tag for five minutes and then I went to work. So it was nice to have a little bit of fun, get out some energy and then carry on.
John: [00:24:36] And I feel like, too, one of the best ways to keep yourself aligned in the morning is to kind of prepare things before you go to bed. Not leave yourself a mess before you try to go to work, and just getting a good night’s sleep. That’s pretty important here, also. It’s really tough with small kids but sleeping well is definitely important to start your day right.
Andrea: [00:24:57] I have to remind myself, to take care of myself, too. It’s so easy to just go into mom mode and be like, okay, I’ve got to get the kids up, get the kids dressed, get them fed, get them ready for the day. But it’s just, to take half an hour for yourself. I just get up and drink my coffee and sit at the table and drink coffee. And maybe read some entertainment website, or something like that. Something that’s super low stress and then deal with the kids.
Wailin: [00:25:23] I actually get up last in my family. I just, if I’m not up by 7:30, my husband comes and wakes me up. But otherwise, it’s like, our kid gets up when she gets up and then it’s Disney+ in the morning. Just right downstairs, Disney+, and then what I found helpful in the morning was the night before I leave my phone plugged in downstairs. We have two levels, not everyone has two levels. But I found that it was actually not enough the night before to leave my phone plugged in in the other room. It literally needed to be downstairs to disincentivize me from going and sitting on it before bed and dooom-surfing and getting myself all worked up into an anxious ball. And so I leave it downstairs and then I try to, each morning it’s a challenge, how long can I leave my phone alone after I wake up? Can I make it all the way through my shower without checking Twitter, if I’m showering? Can I make it all the way until I’ve had my cup of coffee.
[00:26:31] I think it’s like, not firing up the dread machine so early has been very helpful to me.
Andy: [00:26:35] Yeah, I turned off my phone probably six hours yesterday, and it was swell. No news, no nothing, just Netflix.
[00:26:45] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Andy: [00:26:45] I appreciate everybody being on the stream today. Thank you for taking the time out.
John: [00:26:48] Thank you.
Wailin: [00:26:48] Bye!
Shaun: [00:26:58] Rework is produced by Wailin Wong and me, Shaun Hildner. Music for the show is by Clip Art.
Wailin: [00:27:02] You can find full videos for our Going Remote sessions at Basecamp.com/remote-resources. Again, that’s Basecamp.com/remote-resources where you’ll find some other neat guides as well.
[00:27:16] I will provide this link in the show notes for this episode at rework.fm. You can follow Basecamp on Twitter at @Basecamp to find out when new livestream Q&As are happening, and we are on Twitter at @reworkpodcast. If you have a question about working remotely, tweet at us or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:27:37] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.