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I'm stuck working from my New Jersey home with my entire family — so I used a new scheduling app to 'reserve rooms' and plan everyone's day like we ......

Alex

April. 02, 2020

My relationship with working remotely has always been complicated. Sometimes I'm more productive than I would be in the office. Other times, I do the bare minimum: respond to emails and binge Netflix.
But working from home during a global pandemic has added an extra layer of complexity to my day. Instead of the silence of my New York apartment, I'm sharing a house with my mother, father, and brother in New Jersey all of whom are also logging on and taking hours of conference calls from home.
I'm an associate editor on Business Insider's Strategy team, where I manage a team of four writers who cover everything from management consulting to human resources. Most of my job requires quiet so I can focus on editing or writing, which is why working from home with other people can be a challenge.
It's only been a week and I've already spent hours listening to my father gab with colleagues on speakerphone, and my mother has appeared in numerous video calls. It also means everyone treks to the kitchen (my preferred workspace) around noon or 1 pm for lunch, and interrupts my workflow.
These are, of course, minor issues. But it got me thinking that there must be a better way to do this working-from-home-with-your-family thing.
Turns out, there might be. Owl Labs, a technology company that makes video conferencing tools, recently released WFH Scheduler , an app that you can use to "book" rooms in your house the same way you would conference spaces in the office.
Bob Breznak, vice president of engineering at Owl Labs, told me the company decided to create WFH Scheduler to help employees at Owl schedule their day while working remotely. When they saw there was a wider need for a tool like this, they decided to release it publicly. The company conducted a survey of 504 US workers and found that 80% were struggling to work from home with family members or roommates during the pandemic.
"Suddenly being within really tight quarters with people is a challenging experience," Breznak said. "Hopefully we'll see a lot more tools that will crop up and innovative ideas that come out of this experience and make the best of what we're facing now."
I decided to put the WFH Scheduler to the test in my own life and plan one day of work in my house on the app. Here's what I learned.
How it works
WFH Scheduler WFH Scheduler
The WFH Scheduler works like a conference room booking app, except the conference rooms are bedrooms, dining rooms, and kitchens. You can also use the app to create a to-do list for yourself for the day.
It's important to note that once you add a room or event to the schedule, you can't remove it. This is a feature Breznak said the company may update in the future.
First, I created a household and listed each room in the house on the app. Then I input everyone's schedule for the day. Ideally, everyone books their own rooms on the app. You can add others to your household so they can do this, but right now they need a Gmail account, which my mother and father don't have. (Breznak said the company may update this, and other parts of the app, in the future.) I decided it was easier for me to book the household for everyone.
My father has claimed the dining room as his primary workspace, so I scheduled him in there from 9 am to 6 pm. He has a regular call at 8:30 am, which I also put on the schedule. I booked the kitchen for myself, which is connected to the dining room, and made sure I didn't have any overlapping calls with my dad. Then I booked my brother and my mother in their respective bedrooms, where they prefer to work.
Then came the challenge: Lunch.
My father takes lunch around noon. But I had a conference call at that time, so I had to book another room for myself. In this case, I chose the basement. It's quiet, separated from everyone else, and not too far from the kitchen.
On this day I also planned a 1.5 hour "focus" time in the afternoon for myself to get some writing and planning done. While I generally don't mind having a little background noise while I work, in this case I needed total silence. So I booked my bedroom. I don't normally like working from my room because I find it hard to focus in the same area where I sleep. But if I need total silence and a comfortable seat, it's usually a good bet.
What I learned
For the most part, everyone stuck to their assigned rooms and schedule save for a few unplanned phone calls here and there.
This experience taught me the most effective strategy for working from home with others is just clearly communicating your needs.
Even though we had each reserved a room for our work during the day, there were times that calls or snack breaks would interrupt work. If that happened, a simple "Hey, I have a call in a few minutes, should I move to another room?" sufficed to resolve any distractions.
Increasing communication around work was the initial goal of the WFH Scheduler, Breznak told me. It's about encouraging families and roommates to have conversations about when they need to focus and when they're open to socialize throughout the workday.
"It's a tool to spark conversation rather than replace it," he said.
The app did help to create some consistency in everyone's daily schedule, but I don't think you need a tool to plan your remote-work day. You really just need a clear line of communication with your housemates and a firm sense of boundaries.
Ultimately, no tool is going to solve all of your work-from-home woes and one of the best parts of working from home is actually getting the chance to spend more time with my family. So while my parents may continue to appear in the background of my Google Hangouts, all that really matters in this confusing and stressful time is that we're able to be together.
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