Kelley Walters has always had to do some work from home, typically after long days on a school campus across town.
And she usually dreaded it.
It’s now been nearly a month since Walters reported to the Harmony School of Ingenuity, the charter school in Southwest Houston where she serves as assistant principal. So she’s no longer bringing work to her home in Inwood Forest.
Instead, her work lives at home. It moved in when COVID-19 temporarily evicted people from their offices, board rooms and classrooms.
“That mental weight off my shoulders of taking work home has been lifted, because there’s no real distinction if that makes sense,” Walters said. “Because all of the work is at home.”
People all over the city – as well as the state, country and world – are adjusting to a new way of operating on account of COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus strain. The pandemic has infected more than 1 million across the globe and led to strict social distancing guidelines in places such as Houston, where much of the workforce is doing jobs from home.
Other area residents described circumstances similar to those of Walters, who lives with her husband and two children. Because all schools in Texas are closed until at least May 4, and utilizing online learning, many families are juggling work responsibilities with childcare and teaching.
Woodland Heights resident Jessie Sumners said she and her husband, who have two young daughters and also are working from home, have to periodically remind themselves they aren’t the only ones who are mostly confined to their homes during Harris County’s stay-at-home, work safe order, which is in effect through April 30.
“It’s so crazy,” Sumners said. “It feels like you’re on an island by yourself.”
Sumners, who is an executive assistant for a point-of-sale software company, and her husband, Russell, who does IT work in the oil and gas industry, take turns tending to their daughters during the day. She said it helps when the girls are tuned in to their online schoolwork at Travis Elementary.
Walters said her 18-year-old son, a senior at Heights High School, helps look after her 18-month-old daughter while she fulfills her assistant principal responsibilities. She said she still recently had to change a diaper while conducting a video conference.
Garden Oaks attorney Tonya Knauth said the need to help her kids with their schoolwork has been the most challenging aspect of working from home. Her husband, Rick, who is an asset manager for an energy company, also is working from home but spends most of the day separated from the family so he can focus on his job duties.
Their oldest son, Christopher, is home from college in Massachusetts and taking online classes. Katherine, who attends Heights High School, and Matthew, a student at Frank Black Middle School, are engaged in distance learning as well.
“Transitioning them to remote learning is hard. That takes a tremendous amount of my time,” Tonya Knauth said. “I spend hours every day, at least right now, making sure they understand everything and are logging on to the various websites.”
Knauth, who practices probate law and does estate planning and guardianship, said pivoting to a remote work environment has been “pretty seamless.” She already had established a mostly paperless practice and can complete the majority of her tasks from home.
What she can’t do is execute wills, which requires the signatures of two witnesses in the same room as well as a notary public. If a client is a COVID-19 patient and needs to have a will executed immediately, Knauth said she is prepared to do so while wearing a mask and gloves, but that scenario has not yet arisen.
Fellow Garden Oaks resident Terry Jeanes, a Realtor with Led Well Realty, has had a home office for 20 years. So working entirely from home has not been too much of a change, although she said she misses the face-to-face interaction she gets from networking events and showing homes in person instead of online.
And because she’s stuck at home most of the time, Jeanes said she has felt a greater need to periodically step away from her work.
“I’m having to take more breaks from what was the daily routine,” she said. “That’s probably the key to sanity to all this. Take the breaks, 10 minutes or whatever it might be.”
Knauth said working from home has come with some silver linings, namely increased time with her family. She said they have been cooking together more often, taking walks together and doing community service work together.
Walters said she and her family are still trying to find their rhythm. Her husband was planning to start working on the weekends and taking Wednesdays and Thursdays off, in order to help look after their toddler.
And now that her work stays at home with her, she’s trying to escape it from time to time.
“There’s really no off period at this point, especially since I’m putting out fires and answering questions (from teachers and students),” she said. “It’s all day. There’s not really an end of the work day.”