Since much of the world shut down in March—including child-care centers and schools—creatives have had to find new ways to live and work from home. Now parts of the country are opening up again, but it’s unlikely that office culture will snap back to “normal.” In our new series, Making It Work, couples and families share how they are getting things done (or not) at home.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, creative director Bob Stel worked at an office; his partner, Jenny Nguyen, the creative director and executive producer at Melting Butter Studios, worked at home; and they had help with child care for their 1-year-old daughter, Jet. Now, the trio is stuck together in a two-bedroom apartment on New York City’s Lower East Side. Nguyen just launched Hello Human, a creative PR firm, and she and Stel are also collaborating on a new baby-focused venture inspired by Jet. In March the couple decided to institute a creative timetable to make sure they each could keep working on all of their projects.
One Day On, One Day Off
Out of necessity, Nguyen and Stel have fully reimagined how their week unfolds. “Monday to Friday is just this construct,” says Nguyen. Now they each work one day on, one day off, with the “off” partner focusing completely on caring for Jet. To make the arrangement as equal as possible, they extended the workweek by a day, so that each has three workdays and three child-care days. Sunday, then, is family day.
This arrangement has so far worked out for everyone. “It feels like you have more time,” says Stel. “Because in the end, you work only three days a week, so you have four days off of hard work, but then you have time to do all the other things.”
Having uninterrupted hours to focus on their projects has made them “super-efficient,” says Nguyen. They only schedule Zoom meetings on the days that they’re working, and luckily their clients have been understanding.
Reimagined Living Space
Before the pandemic, Nguyen had a home office organized in a nook in the hallway of the couple’s apartment. When Stel started working from home, too, they decided to rethink that space and set up a collaborative table in the living room instead. “I got rid of my big iMac and got a laptop so that we could work together around the dining table, rather than squashing in together at my desk,” says Nguyen.
When it’s time for dinner, they clear the space to eat. Afterward, one partner gets Jet ready for bed while the other cleans the apartment and turns the dining table back into a work zone.
The couple considered turning their bedroom into an office at the beginning of the pandemic, but “it’s nice to not sleep in your workspace,” says Stel.
Nguyen and Stel say they often tackle their joint projects at the table after Jet goes to sleep. (Right now they are working on a creative baby announcement business, based on the adorable design they created to mark Jet’s arrival.)
Nightly Wind Down
Throughout the day, Nguyen and Stel make a point to take breaks and get outside, even if it’s just to walk around the courtyard of their building. “It’s so essential to keeping sane,” says Nguyen.
After they sign off in the evenings, they make time for each other. “I don’t know if this is TMI, but we actually have a bath together almost every single night,” says Nguyen with a laugh. “Just like an Epsom salts bath—it flushes the day away and helps you sleep. We light candles and we soak until the water gets cold.”