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An open letter from working parents to our colleagues

May 10, 2020 — Written by Annie Wickman

When the COVID19 crisis hit, and turned many of us into remote workers overnight, I was struck by how much our team made it a point to check-in on each other. We worried first and foremost about each other’s emotional and physical well-being. We set up walking 1:1s on the phone, started meetings by asking “How are you?,” and opened up about our struggles.

Now, two months in, we’re all settling into new working-from-home routines. But things certainly aren’t getting any easier. For those of us who are parents, we’re more tired and stressed than we were two months ago, maybe more so than we’ve ever been. I’m sure the same is true for many non-parents. 

The danger with adjusting to a new normal—to viewing anything we’re going through as “normal”—is that we’ll start to let some of the deliberate empathy-building practices we put in place slip. That’s why we (parents at Humu) wrote the letter below. It’s intended to be both a thank you note, and a nudge to continue being vulnerable with each other. We’d love to hear from you. 

 

To our amazing colleagues and friends,

The parents of Humu want to THANK YOU all for being such a supportive and understanding community. Among many feelings of guilt, one has been that we aren’t currently operating at 100% (at least not all the time), and we feel grateful that we have colleagues who have been accepting of our crazy schedules and/or reduced availability.

We really appreciate the flexibility that you’ve adopted alongside us. Some of the ways that have made this new reality easier (of which you all have been really supportive) include: 

  • Letting us know if the answer or input that you need is time sensitive
  • Understanding that a parent might not turn on their video (or may need to turn off their video) if they’re multitasking with the kids
  • Trying to default meetings to 30 mins
  • Suggesting asynchronous communication to allow us to contribute when we can 
  • Asking before scheduling meetings when it looks like we have blocked our calendar for “kid time.” If we are busy, being okay with us missing the meeting and getting us up to speed later (or with notes)
  • Give us as much notice as possible for meeting requests (day before is usually OK), sometimes we review our calendar the night before so a same day request or waking up to a new calendar notification can impact our calendar juggling.
  • Flexibility when we occasionally need to suddenly leave a meeting or task to respond to something – emergency, massive fights, poopy diapers, meltdowns
  • Asking how we’re doing

In an effort to give you context for why it’s been hard to participate in everything the way we’d like to, we wanted to share some insight into what our new “normal” looks like. 

While we all have kiddos at home, each situation is different and our challenges vary – but here are a few things we’re facing:

  • Our kids need us more than ever and we don’t have enough time to give them. Kids, especially younger ones, really need predictable routines, and their routines were suddenly and fundamentally disrupted for reasons that they don’t understand. This leaves us feeling incredibly guilty.
  • A worry that our decreased capacity may result in our team members feeling resentful or frustrated at having to pick up the slack 
  • When our kids are awake, we can (almost) always hear them – and likely, so can you. Even if we are lucky enough to have a partner who can take turns being on parent duty, we’re sharing small spaces and can still hear the kids, which is frequently distracting (are they okay? Is that TV show educational? Is that schoolwork or Minecraft? Why is she/he crying? I hope it’s nothing serious. Is that joyful yelling or angry yelling – and does it matter?). And when they do happen to be quiet for a prolonged period, that can sometimes be even
  • Before shelter in place, the times after our kids go to bed at night or before our kids get up in the morning were generally great times to get some work done. In this new “normal,” exhaustion is real and it’s much more difficult to do that
  • Quality work requires periods of uninterrupted time, but with our current parenting obligations and interruptions, we are less able to find blocks of work time these days, leaving us less able to do as much work
  • We might be working late, but it’s probably because we didn’t work much during the day when our kids were awake. Or on the days when we worked a lot both during the day and at night, we end up feeling even more exhausted and guilty because we’ve also been trying to tune out our kids all day. 
  • Tremendous guilt when we are enjoying the extra time with our kids, when we know our colleagues are working
  • Our kids miss their friends; we miss all of you; it’s hard to be patient with one another (and hard to escape one another when you need a break)

We know we’re not the only ones struggling right now. We would love to hear from all of you about what your days and weeks are like — in 1:1s, in Slack.

We feel so lucky to have such amazing co-workers, thank you all for being the best! 

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