Last week we posted the first part of this story after chatting with several members who are parents. But over the weekend we continued to hear from more parents who are navigating their new lives as work-at-home parents. Read their stories below. 

Adjusting to remote-work can be difficult for any architect who is used to the collaboration, client meetings, and WiFi bandwidth that a traditional firm office provides. But for architects who are also parents to young kids, working from home means doing double duty all day long.

Some members requested information about others who were navigating this new reality, so here you have it. We chatted with several AIA Colorado members who were willing to get real and tell us how it’s going, what seems to work, what doesn’t and what they wish their employers understood about this complex situation.

We hope in their answers you can 1. Commiserate and know that you’re not in this alone and 2. Glean some helpful ideas for keeping the kids occupied while you Zoom with clients.

What does remote work look like for you while also caring for/teaching kids?

Katharina Jenista, Senior Associate at architectural workshop. Katharina is the mother of six-year-old and 11-year-old boys: CRAZY. I am also a single mom. I get very little done when they are with me (I split my time 50/50 with my ex-husband). The hardest thing is getting ‘chunks of time’ to focus on any task. I try and make up time at night and on days that I do not have my kids. Also being an involuntary substitute teacher is a full-time job – at least with kids in that age group. We are all still learning the remote learning/working thing.

Leanna De La Torre, AIA. Architect at RATIO/HPA. Leanna is the mother of a one-year-old and a three-year-old: I am lucky enough to be able to keep utilizing our nanny share, and have pulled my three-year-old out of her preschool to be with the nanny as well. Thus far, I have been able to maintain my same work schedule (working reduced hours at 30 hours per week).

Matt Post, RA. Senior Associate at OZ Architecture. Matt is the father of a tw0-and-a-half year-old boy and a five-year-old girl:

  • 6 a.m.-8:30 a.m.: Me: Working remotely from the “office” that used to be our master bedroom (bed is now in the basement guest room)Spouse: A few minutes of extra sleep followed by breakfast and “morning meeting” with the kids.
  • 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Me: Chasing the kids around the basement followed by bike ride with Nelly leading and Simon on the back of my bike before lunch prep. Spouse: Working remotely in the “office” until lunch.
  • 12:30-1:00 p.m. Lunch with the family
  • 1:00 p.m. -3:00 p.m. Me/Spouse: Working Remotely (While Simon naps and Nelly does workbook or coloring activities)
  • 3:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Me: Working Remotely in the “office.” Spouse: Snack and activities with the kids.

Ali Menke Joiner, AIA, Associate at SA+R. Ali is the mother of a four-year-old girl: We’re working staggered, longer days with more breaks. My husband gets up early to get a few hours in before her. I tend to get up later, around 7, when Caden wakes up, and I work into the evening and night-time hours. The extended day gives us breaks between 8-5 to be able to make lunch or snacks for her as well as stretch our own legs. I have replaced our commute time with a walk or run and LOVE it. In the mornings, I grab my regular ceramic mug and head outside for a 20 minute walk. I do the same thing at the “end of the work day” to get myself to stop work and decompress back to family time.

Matthew Joiner, AIA and works at Anderson Mason Dale. Matthew is the father of a four-year-old girl (and the husband of Ali Menke Joiner!): “I need help wiping!” Yes, all 20 people on the call heard that and now are aware I’m simultaneously wiping a bottom while answer questions about change orders.

It is harder than working in an open office. Almost nothing is ignorable – work related and not. “Headphone” time does not non-verbally communicate “trying to focus.” Doorbells could mean unimportant deliveries or the neighbor asking for help because his younger brother with epilepsy fell down the stairs (not a joke). Tag-teaming parenting necessarily entails having at least an ear on conversations in other rooms because 4.5 is old enough to understand asking one parent and separately the other can be beneficial to one’s ambitions. The dog knows you’re home now and is not satisfied to maintain the terms of being home alone…

Further, in an effort to create quiet work time and get in a full day to absorb tangents, we work earlier and again later, so the working days feel LONGER. Switching to cell phones has made me feel I’m ‘potentially’ available 24-hours a day. Two weekends in, I honestly cannot distinguish the weekend from the weekday. Detaching is a very real struggle.

What are you finding works?

Jenista: We are working on a “schedule.” It seems to help everyone to know what’s coming next. Some outdoor time at the same time every day. Quiet time. And trying to keep it to one-hour a day of screen time (plus a movie at night). I have a basement and a community backyard that my kids can be wild in and get some of their energy out. Not sure how anyone can possibly manage without those amenities.

Post: The two-parent tag team is working to give each other time and space to get things done during the day. Something that has helped is that we bought a printer this weekend via the Best Buy curbside pickup. With easy access in our respective offices it never seemed necessary to have one at home. My daughter is thrilled that we can download and print nearly anything that she can think of to paint or color. And there are great free resources for educational workbooks and activities to download and print.

Menke Joiner: Caden has always been really great at independent play and has been incredibly understanding while she’s learning mom and dad are not always available even though we are home now. I’ve learned it works well for me and her if I do work in 2-3 hour segments broken up with a dedicated break when she and I go for a bike ride or walk to the park to play soccer, have a picnic together, etc. Whatever she picks! She then gets 1-on-1 time and it energizes her to go back to focused play individually until the next break with mom or dad (we take turns).

What are you finding is the biggest challenge?

Jenista: For whatever reason the boys come out of hiding and whatever they are doing and feel the need to ask a million questions right when I am on a conference call. I’ve been hosting most of my calls and don’t really get to mute much. Everyone has been very understanding though.

De La Torre: One of the main challenges I have had is with everyone working modified schedules, I’ve been getting more requests to do something when I’m usually off. Which leads to either me or my husband attempting to work (usually me) with two little kids trying to crawl on me, and hitting buttons on my computer.

Post: It can be hard to stay focused with kids running around the house, even if they are being watched by the other parent

Menke Joiner: Being able to draw in real time. I am used to talking and drawing, so not being able to have a pen in my hand to think through a detail or diagram is difficult.

Joiner: Establishing new social and professional boundaries. I have learned a great deal about how much I lean on the different spaces to support different life functions – compartmentalize them – for efficiency and I think for better mental and physical health. I don’t want to be a different person in any of these places, but I want to be wholly present in each of them. I have practiced making work where I can diligently work, home where I can be singly focused on my family, the road/path (running) where I can be wholly focused on my body. All of this is futile when everything happens in one place, so I’m making adjustments. I’m working on finding ways to allow a longer work day that occurs in more pieces without it going on continuously, but also allowing myself to give-in to unexpected needs elsewhere, like re-filling paint supplies or cleaning up the paint that traveled to the bedroom carpet.

Are you finding that your employers are understanding?

Jenista: Yes, very much so.

De La Torre: Everyone seems to be very accommodating, as we are all in this together.

Post: Yes, very accommodating of working hour shifts and have taken great strides to take advantage of technology.

Menke Joiner: YES! SA+R has always been supportive of family needs on a variety of scales, and they’ve only shown their dedication more now by how supportive they’ve been in the past few weeks. More than half our staff are dedicated parents, including S, A and R. We share pictures and tips, and have been hosting a 7:45 bed-time video chat story time for everyone with kids. Its terrific.

Joiner: Yes. I’ve actually been uneasy at first with how smoothly this has seemed to work for our office of around 60. They have seemed to genuinely understand that remote-working while raising our 4.5 spunky-brewster has challenges similar and different from others with infants, multiple children, and no children and no spouses at all. They’ve shown great confidence in us to do our work despite all this complexity, and it’s empowering.

Are you expected to meet deadlines and put in the same hours like business as usual?

Jenista: Deadlines – yes. But certainly not business as usual. I have been with the firm for a long time (16 yrs) and they are quite empathetic.

De La Torre: Yes, I have been expected to keep deadlines, and have been putting in the same amount of hours. Though I know my office has created a new category of PTO for working parents to use if they are unable to get their hours in due to caring for their children, so they don’t have to use up their regular PTO hours. Also, a lot of deadlines have been pushed back or put on hold, due to our clients being unable to work, or contractors slowing down.

Menke Joiner: Yes, and we want to! We continue to work with our clients collaboratively, but in a new way remotely, via video conference and digital presentations. Our office has adapted well by being understanding and supporting flexibly schedules for when we complete our work and ‘get our hours in.’ Its different for all of us based on kids, or sharing responsibilities with partners.

Joiner: I think the answer is that the office has made great efforts to enable us to do our jobs technologically and from new physical spaces in such a way that, while it might cross my mind to check how many hours I’ve put in today, I realize that I got up early to have time specifically to myself, I found time to be partially parenting, and time to be fully parenting, which means I might just be finding some balance over an entire day. This week, that’s a win.

What do you wish your boss or coworkers understood about working with kids at home?

Jenista: It’s one of those things that I have learned are impossible to explain/understand unless you are in it. I am the only single mom in our office (with no family anywhere close other than my ex-husband).

Post: Time spent with kids is just as or more exhausting than time working. Having both parents work at the same time is nearly impossible with small children.

Menke Joiner: They totally get it. All our Principals are dedicated parents themselves and 80% of them still have kids at home with them. They are in this in the same way as the rest of our staff. For our coworkers without kids, its been really fun to share more of our personal lives with them while we have kids on our laps during office video calls or they over hear their voices in the background. Its quickly turned into a new way we all work closer with each other.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Post: While this time has been challenging, it has also been a unique opportunity to spend quality time with my family. Under normal circumstances this would not be possible, and I am certain that ultimately it will make our family stronger.

Menke Joiner: For me this has been an amazingly positive experience. My hunch is that this experience is launching us into leveraging technology to a greater power than we’ve utilized it before. We can always be better, clearer, more efficient communicators. As we all know, studies have shown that physical communication, body language, is sometimes more telling than the words coming out of our mouths. But when we don’t have the physical connection, or ability to capture a room by being present, we need to focus on our message and execute our story more clearly than we perhaps have had to do in the past. Our drawings and graphics should return to being able to tell a story standing on their own. I think we will be sharper from this experience in a way that will benefit the industry as a whole.