Like many people, Googlers Alan Mclean and Jennifer Daniel are navigating their new at-home lives, finding ways to work while also parenting their two young children. The couple are working from their home in the Bay Area, where they’re taking shifts parenting and creating a remote office from...wherever they can find some room.
I recently had the chance to “sit down” (via Google Meet) with them and talk about our relationships with technology during stressful times, how they’re personally handling all the changes and also, why playing "Animal Crossing" is a totally acceptable coping mechanism.
Alan, you’re a Product Designer on the Digital Wellbeing team, and Jennifer, you’re the Creative Director for emoji. But how would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t work in tech?
Alan: There’s an official answer, which is “I help people balance their relationship with technology,” but…
Jennifer: 🚨Ugh, corp speak!! 🚨What did you tell our neighbor?
Alan: I told him I’m trying to help people get more rest and have a healthier life.
Jennifer: Yes! Hmm, for me I guess I usually say I make little smiley faces. :-)
What do your days right now look like?
Alan: Typically the day before, we both check-in on our calendars and look to see where we might need coverage from the other. If we both have meetings, we’ll throw a tablet in our kids’ faces with a mix of educational (and not so educational) games. Lately our son has really taken to playing chess so he’ll practice digitally and we play together on a physical board.
Jennifer: Our daughter enjoys the books that read out loud with her, and Toca Kitchen. They both love ”making food” that makes the characters get sick.
In terms of day to day, we divide and conquer by keeping it fluid. Sometimes I cover the morning routine which has settled into a relatively stable pattern now: breakfast, walk the dog with the kids, writing, reading and drawing time, punctuated with video meetings.
The afternoon, depending on our work schedule, includes science experiments (tin foil boats or paper airplane contests), some outside time, yoga (Cosmic Kids Yoga is great!), TV (Science Max is a hit), more tablet time and then dinner.
Alan: I usually make up some work time in the evening once the kids go down.
What is your home office setup like?
Alan: We live in a small home—950 square feet, two bedrooms—with twin 5-year-olds and an eight-month-old Husky puppy, so there isn’t much of an office. In general, we move around the house and try to be out of earshot. Sometimes I work in the kitchen, other times on our front steps, once from the kids’ bunk beds.
Are you able to create some work-home boundaries?
Alan: Trying to avoid working where you sleep is a big one. Don’t do what we’re doing right now...which is working from bed.
Jennifer: Sometimes that isn’t really possible. The bedrooms and bathroom are the only rooms with doors! For me, it’s less about creating a physical boundary and more about a mental one. I don’t work early in the morning or in the evening anymore. That’s MY TIME.
Alan: I think the challenge right now is that it’s hard to reinforce boundaries when you’re in the same place all the time. In the past we used context clues like walking to the bus or the BART or whatever, or there were subtle hints when a meeting was about to end. But you don’t really have that anymore. So trying to avoid working where you sleep…
Jennifer: But, I work from the bedroom, and I sleep in the bedroom. That works for me 🤔.
Working from bed works for you?
Jennifer: I’ve spent most of my life in small apartments, I guess I just got used to it? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Alan: I also think maybe the norms of what “balanced” means has changed.
Jennifer: Yeah, just be forgiving of yourself. It took awhile but I really had to recalibrate and give myself permission to not live up to my previous expectations as an employee, as a mother and as a partner. I also have to make it clear to others to not expect the same out of me. As much as I try to project that I am fine, I am not fine.
I’ve personally seen my screen time and news consumption skyrocket; have you?
Alan: I’m definitely more of the news addict; I’m also lying in bed looking at an endless stream of things to worry about. I think a bit of an insight for me is that there’s a couple reasons why you might do that, and part of it is that you might want to feel some light version of control over what’s happening. And of course the net effect of that is that you might feel incredibly anxious. That’s my personal experience with screens lately. What about you, Jen, what about your doom-scrolling?
Jennifer: I love that you call it doom-scrolling, did you just make that up?
Alan: No, no, definitely not.
Jennifer: Not to make this just about parenting, because this is also very much about work, but I am having flashbacks to new parenthood. When I became a parent, I got extremely efficient at my job. I don’t have time to doom-scroll! That would be a luxury! I have things to do, I got people to take care of. And, just as important now as it was then, I need to find time where no one needs me 😉. These days I’m playing "Animal Crossing." And I love it; it is screen time, unquestionably, but it’s a very specific kind of screen time as it is clearly not work-related. Now that Alan mentions it, maybe playing video games is also an expression of seeking control and stability in an unknown time? But, instead of doom-scrolling I plant cute flowers and little animals come visit me 🌼🌻🌸🐰🐻🐿🐙.
What else are you adding to your routine? Anything else to help find some balance?
Alan: For me, I know that the end of my day and the end of my use of my phone is occurring when I put a podcast on at night. Or ambient music. For me, that’s a really strong signal and I try to do it every night. For some people, that might be putting your phone in a box or charging it. I like the audio cue because that way you’re experiencing some stimulus without interacting with the screen. But I got that from Jen; I used to be like, “Why are you putting a podcast on at night? It’s time to go to bed… and doom-scroll for two hours.”
Jennifer: I just listen to podcasts so I don't have to listen to my own thoughts as I fall asleep. Otherwise I'd be up all night 🤣.
How are you keeping your kids entertained?
Alan: We just got tablets—prior to that we hadn’t experienced the liberating power of having educational apps and games with our kids before 😉.
Jennifer: When the tablets arrived, I felt like I was not being a great mom but the kids say I'm really good at technical support 😛. I need to remind myself that being a quote-unquote good mom is not related to screen time. I can’t disguise my stress from the kids, I’m doing my best. Now, go watch some "Octonauts."
Alan: I’ve been taking the kids to the beach on the bike.
Jennifer: Bonus! No one else is in the house! I get to stay home and be alone! I definitely need some time for myself.
Are there any surprise “silver linings” you’ve experienced?
Jennifer: I'm getting to really be with my kids in a way that wasn't possible before; I used to only see them in the morning and the evening. Age five is really cute.
Alan: The transition to two full-time jobs simultaneously has been incredibly difficult, although our colleagues have been really supportive. But we’re both struggling with the desire to be the best possible parents and employees we can be. That feeling was always there, but with the lack of boundaries, it’s exacerbated. One thing that’s especially nice these days is seeing colleagues’ kids jump on video conference calls. It’s a nice reminder of what everyone is dealing with.
Right now, we all have to be compassionate with ourselves, and also with our colleagues and friends. Coming late to meetings, missing emails, things like that, are OK right now. We sort of just need to be empathetic and flexible for a little while.