Today marks the eighth day of my husband, our high school sophomore son, our eighth grade daughter, and myself all being inside the house together. It is the fifth day of my husband working from home (he usually goes to an office) and the third day of our kids doing their schoolwork online.
What’s odd is that, aside from a pandemic sweeping the globe, inside our house feels kind of… normal.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I bought a car. When the salesman collected our information for the loan application, he asked me, “What’s your employer’s address?”
“I work from home,” I said. “I mean, I have an employer. I just don’t know the address.” I looked at my husband. He looked at me. His look said, well, I certainly don’t have the address. “One sec,” I said, and pulled out my phone. I frantically searched for my company’s mailing address.
“Ah, here it is on our website,” I said, and smiled with triumph. The salesman raised an eyebrow. I gave him the address.
“Employer’s phone number?” he said.
“Well, we don’t really have a phone,” I said. “I mean there’s no office, no phone.” I stopped talking. The salesman waited for a phone number. I pulled out my phone again and found a phone number on our company website.
My husband looked at me again. His look said, you do realize how sketchy this sounds, right?
At the time, working for a fully distributed company wasn’t common, especially a company that doesn’t even have a headquarters office. I guess it’s not really common now, either. But it was normal for us. I do all of my work online, I don’t commute, I don’t go to an office outside of our home. I use software to communicate with coworkers, I use software to communicate with customers, I em engaged with colleagues or deep work all day, every workday. I’ve got a home office with a door that closes. My family knows when I’m at work, that means I’m not available to run errands or have conversations or relieve their boredom.
Now, as long as I don’t let my mind land on COVID-19, when I’m at work it’s just like any other workday over the past five years. I still have my morning routine, I still go into my home office, I still come out of my office for lunch. For my husband and kids, it’s an adjustment to shift their work to be remote, but the concept of remote work is not really that weird to them. They don’t have the questions of “How will anyone know I’ve gotten my work done?” or “Who will hold me accountable if I don’t have a physical place to go to?” They know what they have to do, and they do it.
For my husband, it’s creating a lot more work, at least in the short term, because he needs to redesign his university course, which includes a lab. Figuring out communications, fairness to every student, how to present the material, and how to evaluate students in this format is all new.
For our teenagers, though, they’re reaping the same benefits grownups who move to remote work experience: no commute, less busywork, more concentrated productivity, a lot less wasted time. Prior to the school closure, their school day, door to door, was 8 hours. On Wednesday, at the end of their first day of online school, where they checked into Google Classroom like they always do to check for assignments, homework, and notes from their teachers, I asked them how it went.
“How was school today?” I asked our 16 year old son. “How long did it take you?”
“Fine. I dunno, two or three hours.”
I asked our daughter the same questions, “How did you like doing school online?”
“It’s great!” she said. “I can do it on my own time and be done, I don’t have to wait around for end of class to move to the next thing.”
“How long did it take you?” I asked.
She did some calculations in her head. “About three hours.”
Three hours. For both of them. Versus the eight hours they’d typically spend at school.
She just went for a run to get outside and get some exercise because she has the time and freedom to do it. Our son is also done with his schoolwork. He’s playing video games with his friends, his normal way of socializing.
For now, we’re doing okay. The wifi is holding up. The weather is nice enough for us to get out of the walls. The kids have adapted to this school-from-home thing. Our daughter misses her friends, though. She likes the autonomy of online school, but I don’t know if she’d agree that it’s worth giving up socializing. She likes face-to-face friend time, IRL, not over video.