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?
Dan Craig, AIA, Senior Associate at SA+R. Dan is the father of seven-year-old twin boys.: It’s a total workout – emotional, physical, intellectual – all skills are being tasked at all times. So, it’s a balancing act. We’re trying to make sure the kids learn some good things, but trying not to be too hard on ourselves too. And we believe there are plenty of life lessons to be learned right now outside of the classroom. (So practicing flexibility, understanding, appreciation for our own health, etc…)
Adam Harding, AIA, Partner at Roth Sheppard Architects and 2020 AIA Colorado President. Adam is the father of a four-year-old son.: It is a daily struggle and it’s crazy! My wife and I both have demanding jobs. So, we have created a schedule for each day and we are taking turns being the “director” of the schedule.
Our schedule for him is broken into 30 or 45 minute segments for the most part.
- 8:00am – 8:45am – Work Time – Educational App
- 8:45 – 9:30 – Book Corner
- 9:30 – 10:00 – Virtual Play Date – Nana/Papa
- 10:00 – 10:30 – Snack/TV Time
- 10:30 – 11:00 – Virtual Class Time
- 11:00 – 12:00 – Outside time
- 12:00 – 1:00 – Lunch
- 1:00 – 3:00pm – Nap/Quiet/Book time
- 3:15 – 4:00pm – Snack/TV Time
- 4:00 – 4:30pm – Virtual Play Date – Grandma
- 4:30 – 5:30pm – Outside time
Margarita Gonzales, International Associate, BOSS.architecture. Margarita is the mother of an eight-year-old girl.: It’s crazy. In addition to being not independent enough, my daughter has an attention disorder. She is missing so much content via online schooling that I have to stop quite often to help her with basic tasks like reading an email.
Erica Stahl Golden, AIA, Principal at 2757 Design Build Co. Erica is the mother of twin six-year-old girls.: With this aged children, they want you to be engaged with whatever they are doing, so honestly, the only times work gets done when you are the parent in charge is the couple hours that they are allowed screen time during the day or after they go to bed at night!
Brad Tomecek, AIA, Principal at Tomecek Studio Architecture. Brad is the father of a 13-year-old boy. Keeping one eye on daily work requirements and the other on the energy level of a 7th grader who no longer has a social outlet other than Zoom class meetings and his parents.
Anonymous. Anonymous is the parent of a three-year-old child. Between remote connectivity issues, setting up a temporary office space for two people in the same small room sitting two feet apart (scheduling alternating conference calls), and really missing the collaborative environment of an office there are ,many challenges. The pressure to complete work on time with the same level of intensity and passion is the biggest challenge along with being spread too thin while balancing parenthood. There is also a looming feeling that the worst is yet to come. Having been through the recession in 2008, we are concerned that there will be long term effects with the economy, so the need to be productive and as billable as possible is real and stressful. Hard to do as a parent when you have another human being to care for who doesn’t understand any of that.
What are you finding works?
Craig: Schedule, repetition, prediction, and fun stuff! [My wife ]and I have created a separate calendar that shows when we are each on conference calls or in other meetings, which “class” they’re supposed to be in at school, and we coordinate each night who’s getting the kiddos going on which topics throughout the next day, based on all we have going on… It seems to work most of the time, but once in a while we both have critical meetings at the same time and the kids need to manage themselves for longer periods of time. And then we break-out Kids A-to-Z! (Educational game on an iPad)We’re taking advantage of the good weather to create outdoor learning experiences, even just in our yard. Observing squirrels and birds, sketch sticks, messy science experiments outside. It gets the kids out of the house (and out of our hair!), they can have some independent learning, burn some calories, and get some fresh air. Can’t imagine doing this in the middle of winter!
Harding: All of it! Keeping him occupied and engaged in what he is doing so we can focus on our work has been challenging.
Gonzalez: Being disciplined and relaxed. My daughter starts the day with some homework that will stop by noon. She has to start at the same time every single day to make it happen. Plus, I know that I can help her at that time. In the afternoon, she’s more relaxed, and so am I. That’s when I take phone meetings and work on some other things. We go outdoors at least one hour per day. I make her run as much as possible. Also, artistic homework is really helpful. I put on some classical music and give har tasks that I know she will love, like building models, drawing, writing stories, etc.
Tomecek: Taking a lunch break and getting outside to try to mimic recess (without the 7th grade friends).
What are you finding is the biggest challenge?
Craig: Managing everyone’s schedules. It was hard enough when I was responsible for myself from 8-5; but now everyone’s schedules are tied together. Requires constant communication and tons of patience!
Gonzalez: Being able to multitask at a different level while with a youngster. Their attention span is not the same.
Golden: I think the hardest part is that when you are a working parent, your kids want to be right next to you or on top of you every moment you are actually at home together. This is great when its evenings and weekends, and you love the affection and snuggle time. When you are trying to work from home, however, and you have an amazing staff that you are trying to keep employed through this crazy COVID-19 time and great clients that you want to maintain responsiveness with… its challenging! I find that the two of them want to sit on either side of me and we bump elbows and they get crumbs on my computer keyboard and leave me no personal space! The first photo is how I wish I felt about this… the 2nd photo is a bit more real.
Are you finding that your employers are understanding?
Craig: Completely and unquestioningly.
Gonzalez: Yes. My boss has a kid the same age, and I’m sure he knows what means to quarantine with a kid.
Golden: Well, my business partner and I are the parents to these two girls, so we are very understanding of each others’ needs, and our employees are very patient when we need to jump off a call to help someone in the bathroom :-).
Tomecek: I am self-employed and trying to understand the great impact this will have to business flows, both for me and my staff.
Anonymous: Those words have been said, but not really. Some of which is understandable, as they are thinking long-term and need to keep productivity up and projects moving forward. Employers are in a difficult position.
Are you expected to meet deadlines and put in the same hours like business as usual?
Craig: I expect this of myself. In reality neither [my wife or I] is able to work eight actual hours during the school day, so we do as much as we can during the day and catch-up before the kiddos wake up and after they go to bed.
Harding: Our expectations are the same, we expect our employees to get their work done and meet deadlines and service our clients. That last part is most important. Now more than ever is the time that we need to show the value that we bring to our clients and reassure them that they can count on us even though there are so many uncertainties in the world right now.
Gonzalez: I’m not asked to do things under pressure, but I feel I have to do it since I’m the newest member of the team. In order to finish, I have to either work late at night or wake up early to have some focus power. But it’s really challenging and exhausting.
Tomecek: I expect to meet needs of clients who are still moving projects forward however all clients seem to be a bit more relaxed given the situation.
Anonymous: Yes. Not realistic, but yes. It creates so much extra stress in an already stressful time.
What do you wish your boss or coworkers understood about working with kids at home?
Golden: I would say that setting up frequent check ins ahead of time is helpful rather than just calling randomly, because if I know I have a call, I plan around it and allow my kids to watch a show at that time.
Anonymous: They could not understand unless they go through it themselves. With two full-time working parents, dependent on two salaries, with no family support for childcare, it is impossible to do everything. No one can understand that fully unless they have lived it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Craig: There is a very cool community of people out there that is reaching out to help their neighbors, friends, fellow parents, etc… This article is an example – something worth writing about that no one was discussing a few weeks ago! We’re part of a chat-session with the kids’ piano teacher and all of her students – they record a piece once in a while and share with the group. We watched a Museum of Nature and Science webcast last night on space – 1,400 people joined for free and the kids learned about the Mars Rover! One of the dads at our office who has older children has started a bedtime story session for the younger kids – each night we can call-into a conference line and he reads bedtime stories. And the return of the pen pal is a very cool opportunity for the kiddos to stay in touch and continue to learn to read and write. So weirdly, I think kids have an awesome perspective on all of this – they’re super-resilient – and it’s up to the parents to practice patience, rigor, and self-forgiveness, since none of us will be perfect, but we’ll all be fine.
Tomecek: If there is a silver lining, it is looking at the potential of a more mobile/remote office environment. I typically struggle with this as I believe group work is so effective within the office.
As the stay-at-home orders only get stricter, we plan to add to this story and develop others. If you have a perspective you’d like to share, emails firstname.lastname@example.org.