Zoom call. Zoom call. Zoom call. Bathroom break. Bite to eat. Zoom call. Teams call. Then it’s a dash of real work, then open the door to my office for a breath of air. From there, it’s time to prepare for the next round of chaos: Two energetic toddlers, an equally tired-out wife, and an attention-seeking small dog. After preparing dinner, it’s a whirlwind two-hour rodeo of baths, books, and bedtime wrangling.
Of course, I’m unrealistically compartmentalizing what working from home during the pandemic is really like. But this is a reasonable enough approximation.
I live in the suburbs with an office in downtown Seattle. Which means that way back, in normal times, I’d have a reasonably lengthy bus commute that served as either a workday palate cleanse or an additional period of work before returning home to eat dinner and maybe see one kid off to bed, in the best-case scenario.
Regardless of what I was doing during that commute, there was a transition time, or an ability to (if not completely log off) decompress for a short window or, at the very least, get some focused work done unencumbered.
Like many modern workers, I’m never really off the clock. In my industry of advertising, the whole “having ideas in the shower” thing is totally legit. Likewise, it can happen when you’re washing dishes, on a run, or getting rid of your baby’s dirty diapers (it’s rare, but it does happen). The point is from office to home life, I previously always had some sort of mental transition at some point in my workday.
Now that’s gone, and it’s weird.
I step out of our guest room/my home office after a tense call and see my daughter smile, then see her collapse boisterously into our indoor ball pit. Two beats later, my son comes running up playing one of two pairs of cymbals, waving a random flag, or singing a Christmas song.
Wait, what meeting was I just in again? What were the next steps? Did I really agree to that deadline? Wow, I really have to pee. I should remember to pee. These are directions my mind can go in a matter of seconds.
People are more stressed out. The economy is still cratering (including a temporary pay reduction on my end). Most businesses loathe to spend money right now—especially in an area like marketing and advertising. Hence, my feeling of pressure each day at these uniquely uncertain times.
But being home with my kids for dinner and bedtime routines every night, regardless of if (or, let’s be realistic, when) I log back in for the evening, has kept my sanity.
That’s because without that commute/mental transition period, I am granted an opportunity to pivot my focus the moment I step away from my cramped home-office nook. I have no choice, since 10 seconds after I get off Zoom, I’ll find myself helping to line up a Matchbox car parade, grating cheese over that night’s spaghetti, or attempting to locate Waldo; some days, it’s all three.
And with my immediate transition from work to time in Toddler Town, my collective day not only improves instantly (meltdowns, stubbed toes on wayward Hot Wheels, and inexplicable carpet stains notwithstanding), it also allows my pie chart of collective brain distribution for the day to tilt further in favor of time with my family. This is a wonderful thing. Without my kids, I’d find more time to worry, to whine, to totally freak out about the state of the world and my place in it.
It’s terribly cliché to try to “live in the moment,” but in many ways, this completely chaotic and blurred cycle of home and work, work and home, work and life, and life and work has forced my hand on this. All that’s required is that I take a few steps downstairs or even to the playroom across the hall and boom, I’ve escaped. Even if for just a moment or two. And to be honest, it’s going to be extremely hard to go back to whatever “normal” becomes. After all, how will I be able to replicate those around three daily hours of physical presence that has replaced my daily commute?
It’s going to be challenging—possibly more so than the past seven months have been. Now that I’ve seen the other side, here’s what I know: I don’t always think about how lucky I’ve been to get this quality family time. And the truth is, I’ve probably logged more work hours overall.
But the feeling of being able to wash away a bad meeting, bad morning, or bad day by immediately immersing myself in a backyard Paw Patrol adventure, game of cornhole, or a quick car trip with my son to check out a local attraction—there’s nothing quite like it.
Andrew Gall is the group creative director at Copacino + Fujikado, an advertising agency in Seattle. He resides just outside of the city with his wife, two children, and fluffy white dog. He’s also the author of three books.