In the four weeks since the COVID-19 crisis compelled our team at Dropbox to leave our offices and become a fully distributed workforce, so much has changed in a short time.
Despite being separated and unable to meet in the same physical space, we’re learning how to carry on the best we can. We wanted to reach out to see how our team is coping with the challenges of being out of the office for an uncertain amount of time.
In part one of a new series called Homework, we’ll find out how working from home has changed the concept of “office hours” and whether the absence of commuting has given them more free time or just expanded their work day.
Blurring the boundaries between home and office
Stacey Stevens Johnson, Director, Head of Product and Partnership Communications at Dropbox, says her team has been working around the clock to make sure our internal and external stakeholders are well informed about the developing news landscape and Dropbox’s role in it.
“All rules are out the window right now,” she says. “As we settle into a new normal, I expect to find a bit more buffer in my day. I find that I’m starting work at the same time every day, but definitely finishing later.”
Johnson now notices that since she doesn’t see people around her packing up at the end of the day, it’s sometimes it’s hard to recognize that it is the end of the day.
“We’re also using Slack so much, that I find I’m getting pings at all hours and it’s hard not to give an immediate response,” she says. “Those off hours feel a bit more blurred. I do have work hours designated on my calendar, but would like to start respecting them more.”
“I find I’m getting pings at all hours and it’s hard not to give an immediate response.”—Stacey Stevens Johnson
She says the upside has been having a little extra time with her daughter.
“I have been referring to my daughter as my ‘emotional support baby,’ and love that I have the option to play with her for at least five minutes here or there.”
Finding the balance of parenting while working full-time has been incredibly tough, she says, “but I missed her so much when I would go into the office under pre-COVID circumstances—I’m really grateful just to see and hear her during the day now.”
Unplugging after hours gets harder when you’re bored
Kate Sokolina, Product Analyst at Dropbox, says she finds that she’s having a lot more trouble turning off Slack and email in the evening. “Working at the office, I would log out of everything on my phone and computer at the end of the workday,” she says. “Now, it's a much more blurred line. I check after hours for some fun social sharing because it's a bit boring, but then get sucked into checking non-urgent messages just because I'm there.”
“Working at the office, I would log out of everything on my phone and computer at the end of the workday. Now, it's a much more blurred line.”—Kate Sokolina
“There is always something productive/rewarding to do for work if I am feeling bored or restless, so I have to make sure I don't do that after hours—only to feel more tired the next day. So, I stocked up on puzzles, books, video games, cookbooks, and created a checklist I called 'If I'm bored, I can....' with a long list of ideas of what I can do instead of work in the evenings. It's working well—and I plan to check off each item at least once.”
Letting the tools tell you when the workday is done
Joe Topasna, HR Project Manager at Dropbox says he’s intentionally structured his day to keep his typical working hours. “That said, there's more predictability for when my day starts since I no longer have to deal with the Muni wildcard.”
“I use the ‘working hours' feature on Google calendar so folks know when I'm signed off for the day,” he adds. “My team's norms around respecting others' calendars and working hours have been instrumental in keeping 'office hours.’ We all have a mutual understanding that our days have a start and an end.”
Working parents are in survival mode
Kate Kruizenga, People & Strategy Operations at Dropbox, points out that while working from home might mean more time and flexibility for some, for parents, it feels like taking on a second job if you don’t have childcare assistance.
“I previously [worked from home] a couple days a week and found it fantastic to see others also remote, and demonstrate more inclusive ways of working and sharing the conversation beyond those ‘in the conference room.’ Lots of good stuff, no doubt,” she says. “[But] let's not over-celebrate the creative, wonderful, silver-lining [working from home] season we're in at this particular moment.”
“Working parents are in an impossible spot with no end date where it's not working from home—it's working from home and providing childcare all at the same time,” she explains. “We don't have extra time. Instead we're up from 6am to midnight juggling work and childcare."
“Working parents are in an impossible spot with no end date. We don't have extra time. Instead we're up from 6am to midnight juggling work and childcare.”—Kate Kruizenga
"We are in survival mode where we don't have flexibility to do anything but essentials,” she explains. “We're too exhausted for creativity, and tips and tricks for Zoom meetings involve using virtual backgrounds to try to conceal that your toddler is literally destroying the room behind you.”
Kate says the net-net is that working from home offers flexibility, but it's easy for boundaries to blur, and sometimes necessary—especially for parents. “We should all be checking on one another—finding ways to share the load—and remembering that some of the worst outages and errors are the result of fatigue and burnout.”
“In the evenings, I've been making it a point to video chat for about an hour with at least one person whether it's a friend or family member.”—Joe Topasna
“Working from home without childcare is a minor problem to have in what is literally a global pandemic, so that we all have our health, and two paychecks, and can flex for a season is something for which I'm very grateful.”
Converting commuting hours into extra time for sleep and family
“My commute is typically an hour each way,” says Topasna. “With the time savings of working from home, in the mornings, I've gifted myself 30 more minutes of sleep and 30 minutes to make breakfast. In the evenings, I've been making it a point to video chat for about an hour with at least one person whether it's a friend or family member.”
“In the mornings, I take my time enjoying coffee and breakfast with my family and spending a little extra time with my daughter,” says Johnson. “It’s been nice to linger, rather than jumping straight into the morning hustle to get out the door.”
Sokolina says she has a walk as part of her commute, “So I'm still going outside every day for a walk around the neighborhood—after sleeping in an extra hour.”
Check out part two in our Homework series, where we find out how workers are managing to maintain a boundary between their personal and professional lives.