When tech execs are parents too: Fighting for Zoom time, 'vegetable diversity,' and a shower
Lots of workers with young kids are balancing two full-time jobs. Leaders of the companies understand ... well, at least some of those problems.
Every evening around 8:30, Alexis Ohanian and Serena Williams convene in their home, in the suburbs of Miami, once their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Olympia, is asleep. The 10- to 20-minute rendezvous, which Ohanian views as an informal board meeting, is meant as a way for the couple to strategize and go over all the "main agenda items" on their minds during this time of sheltering in place. How are they feeling? Which meals should they cook for the family tomorrow? Should there be more "vegetable diversity" in their pantry? (The consensus: too many black beans, not enough of everything else.)
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Minor as the discussion items sound, Ohanian views those check-ins as invaluable touchstones in his family's routine, one that has radically changed since the spread of COVID-19 forced Americans to stay at home for an extended period of time.
"In a world with things we don't have control over, it's really helpful to find things that you can control and exert control over," said Ohanian, who added that family board meetings aren't formal in any way. "I'm not asking Serena to put together an agenda! We're definitely partners. But it's a good mental model for me to be checking in on them."
As working from home has become the new normal, many workers across the country find themselves confronting new obstacles, including social isolation and, in some cases, close quarters with their partners. Parents of young kids are possibly the most stressed of the work-from-home cadre. That's true even for tech executives, who also find themselves in difficult positions of juggling the steep demands of their jobs with managing the all-encompassing needs of their children, many of whom won't return to school this academic year. Having their kids home all day is a blessing but also a stressful, sometimes downright overwhelming challenge, several executives confided in Protocol, although experiences varied widely depending on child care options.
Ohanian trades off looking after Olympia with Williams and their live-in-nanny. The 36-year-old VC says working from home and parenting is rewarding and exhausting in equal measures. He has made it a point to integrate his daughter into his workspace. Case in point: Half of his home office, in the family's detached garage, now includes a makeshift play area for his daughter, where they play golf games and preschool exercises involving colors and shapes.
View this post on InstagramGive it up for my #startinglineup! @alexisohanian @olympiaohanian @realqaiqai and chip ❤️🏡@nike @nikecourt #playinside #playfortheworld @Uninterrupted
A post shared by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on Mar 31, 2020 at 6:00am PDT
Ohanian's trying to make the most of the extra family time. Now that his travel schedule has ground to a halt, he finds that his new daily routine instills a welcome sense of normalcy — a feeling he didn't have previously, having to embark on work trips several times a week.
"It's just a lot more normal and regular," he said. "Both of us have lived our entire adult lives constantly moving, constantly traveling, constantly in motion. So it's been nice to have this. We're just really lucky."
For Brit Morin, CEO and founder of Brit + Co, one of the biggest challenges she faces running her company remotely from her four-bedroom Mill Valley home is trying to do so while managing her children's remote learning schedules. She and her husband, Dave, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, don't have a nanny. So in between their own Zoom work calls, they are setting up Zoom classes for their 5- and 3-year-old sons, who are both in preschool. The boys have calls with their teachers, which include video cooking lessons.
"You have to be there to monitor each Zoom call, so it effectively takes away from your own work schedule, and you have to block out meeting times that aren't your kids' Zooms times," Morin said. As she spoke she was building a road on the floor with one of her sons using washi tape, a decorative paper masking tape.
That has forced Morin to become more efficient with her work, whizzing through calls, meetings, emails and other items in roughly four or five hours each day, then wrapping up loose ends after her sons are asleep in the evening.
"I've been joking that Tim Ferriss' '4-Hour Workweek' never seemed realistic, but I do think the four-hour workday is becoming more realistic," Morin said.
Since March 12, Jules Maltz, a general partner with venture capital firm IVP, has been working at his three-and-a-half bedroom home in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood alongside his wife, who works at a nonprofit, and their 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. When San Francisco went into lockdown on March 16, their nanny of six years stopped coming to work. Though the city ordinance stated that some in-home child care was essential, those exceptions didn't appear to apply to their situation, because neither Maltz nor his wife were deemed essential workers and their children didn't have preexisting medical conditions. For two weeks, Maltz and his wife juggled child care and work and worry.
After roughly two weeks, Maltz was alerted by another father who subscribed to a newsletter to a change in the ordinance, making it clear that their nanny was allowed to come back. They were all relieved. Maltz, his wife and their nanny discussed safety precautions she can take now that's she's back. Those include having her avoid public transportation and ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft. Instead, their nanny's husband drives her back and forth, and when he can't, the Maltzes pick her up and take her home.
Still, even with their nanny's help again, Maltz uses two words to describe his household at the moment: "massively chaotic."
"You have no time for yourself, and you're constantly failing," said Maltz, who no longer has the time to go for a run outside five days a week. "You're just up in the morning when they're trying to get breakfast. You're trying to help them with their homework, and then one of them spills something. Then there's an hourlong call, and you're still wearing the same shirt [you woke up in], because, like, you haven't had a shower. Who has the time to shower?"
Matt MacInnis, COO of the employee management platform Rippling, sometimes doesn't. He lives in a four-bedroom home in San Francisco's Upper Haight with his partner, Jason, and their 3-year-old daughter. They employ a nanny. When San Francisco first issued its shelter-in-place order, they interpreted it to mean their nanny could keep coming to work. Since she doesn't live with the family, they asked her to have zero interactions with anyone else.
Since he began working from home on March 8, the MacInnises have followed a weekday routine that includes having breakfast together. Lunch is also an opportunity for MacInnis to spend time with his daughter, which is sometimes spent watching game shows.
But not everything goes according to plan. Last week, when their nanny got sick with food poisoning and couldn't come to work, MacInnis and his partner were forced to divide work schedules. MacInnis rescheduled all his morning meetings, and Jason rescheduled all his afternoon meetings. (Although they initially worried their nanny had contracted COVID-19, her symptoms didn't align, so they invited her back into their household once she felt better.)
"We both worked feverishly at the same time during her nap" when they had no child care for that period, MacInnis said. And even with their nanny back watching their daughter, it's hard to get work done during the day, so there's more work to do at night. But, he said, the stress of the whole situation makes working at night difficult, too. "It has been hard to work in the evenings even after she's down for the night, because by that point, we have both been already drinking, which I know sounds funny, but also, not kidding," MacInnis said.
For now they are making do, but MacInnis is worried about how to fill the months ahead with enriching activities for their daughter. Although President Trump extended social distancing guidelines for Americans through April 30, and with California's shelter-in-place order lasting through at least May 3, MacInnis believes it will actually be months before the guidelines are lifted. He and Jason have gotten creative, buying an indoor trampoline and turning running up and down stairs into a game.
"We're losing months of time where she would be in play groups, going to classes, going to the playground and interacting with other kids, and the problem is that we're pretty concerned that when she goes off to pre-K, this fall, she will be at a disadvantage having had literally months of developmental time with other kids down the drain," MacInnis said.
Several months with a decline in social interactions can have a negative impact on child development, two pediatricians told Protocol, although that lapse can be made up for afterward.
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If there's a silver lining to be had, however, it's being able for these busy executive parents to spend more time with their children in general. Zocdoc CEO Oliver Kharraz, who lives with his wife, who's a pediatrician, their 10-year-old twin girls, and his 70-something mother-in-law in Brooklyn, canceled their daughters' upcoming joint birthday party and baked cakes for them at home instead. And although his day is chock-full of meetings — Zocdoc just announced it's helping patients book virtual appointments with specialists through its platform to meet a surge in demand — Kharraz makes it a point to check in with his daughters throughout the day. He takes water cooler breaks in the kitchen with them and leaves small notes of appreciation for his family around the house for them to find.
Kharraz conducts at least five meetings a day via video chat, during which his employees' children make cameos. For Zocdoc's chief executive, seeing kids crash video calls isn't a nuisance, but rather an opportunity to call upon his empathy. He sees the interruptions as an important reminder of how many other people at his company are also facing the challenge of balancing work and parenting. Those glimpses of humanity help bring people together.
"Our kids become part of the conversation, and we get to know each other better," he said.