Closing The Gap

'Every day has been so different': How executives at Facebook, Twitter and more are working from home

Liz Meyerdirk, senior director & global head of business development for Uber Eats.
Photo credit: Uber

Before March 11, when Twitter employees were mandated to work from home, executive Dalana Brand would wake up at 5 a.m. to shower, get dressed and head to the company's office in San Francisco.  

As vice president of people experience and head of diversity and inclusion, she would spend most of her day meeting with team members and company stake holders to go over key objectives about employee experiences and diversity initiatives. Nowadays, she says, those in-person meetings have turned into video calls that focus on "how to support our Twitter employees to manage the challenges that COVID-19 and the associated work-from-home restrictions bring."

Like many professionals around the world, Brand and her co-workers have been ordered to work from home in order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Though this new policy has caused major adjustments to her workday, Brand says she's making the most of her experience. 

CNBC Make It spoke to the Twitter executive, along with female leaders from Facebook, Airbnb and Uber, to get insight on how they're managing their work-from-home schedules in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Dalana Brand, vice president of people experience and head of diversity & inclusion at Twitter.
Photo credit: Dalana Brand

Morning Routines

Brand says that one "silver lining" in her new work-from-home schedule is that she gets to sleep for an extra hour, until 6 a.m. After waking up, she starts her day with an hour-long workout, before showering, getting dressed and heading to her at-home office to have a cup of tea and catch up on the news. "I then read inspirational messages and write down reflections in my gratitude journal," says Brand, who logs into work around 8 a.m. "I am finding this practice to be even more important in these turbulent times to help center myself and try to remain calm in the midst of the chaos."

Similarly, Maria Cuba, Airbnb's diversity and belonging business partner, starts her day off with a bit of self-care. Usually, she says, she walks to Airbnb's office from her San Francisco home, which takes about 25 minutes, or she uses a ride-sharing app to get to work in about 15 minutes. But, now that she's working remotely, she uses the time that is normally allotted for her morning commute to exercise for about half an hour and "just be present in my space."

"I also use this time to catch up on the news, but am careful not to go down a rabbit hole and absorb too much," she adds. 

On most days, Cuba logs into work at 8 a.m., which is a bit earlier than the 9 a.m. when she usually arrived in the office. But, she says, her start time sometimes varies depending on her schedule and she's happy that Airbnb has been supportive of employees working flexible hours in order to "manage any personal situations [they] may be dealing with."

Creating space for an office

Liz Meyerdirk, senior director and global head of business development for Uber Eats, says she's envious of her colleagues who have just one space designated as a home office. As a mom of three young kids, ages 5, 3 and 11 months, Meyerdirk says she's managed to create a few different "work stations" around her San Francisco home.

"There is the desk by the window in our bedroom that has close access to a patio," she explains. "There is always the dining room table, with easy access to water and snacks. And then there is anywhere my kids can't find me, so I can actually be on a call without a small human touching me and interrupting me. These days, that is either in my parked car in the garage or in one of the kids' rooms in a tiny chair next to the dollhouse." 

To keep her kids distracted while she works, Meyerdirk says she's allowed them to spend a bit more time watching TV and playing on the iPad. "I have just taken the attitude that as long as they feel safe and cared for, we are doing OK," she says.

Fidji Simo, head of Facebook app.
Photo credit: Fidji Simo

Fidji Simo, head of the Facebook app, says she's converted her art studio in her home into an office for the time being. "We got rid of all the paintings, sculptures, costumes and made the room look much more respectable for work," she says. "It's a creative space, so it has good vibes."

Balancing family life

Luckily, Simo says, her husband is a stay-at-home dad, so she's able to get a lot of work done in her studio while he watches their 4-year-old daughter. But, she says, she still finds herself taking breaks during the day to entertain her daughter. 

"The other day, I managed to make fairy potions (water + glitter + food coloring) with my daughter off-camera while participating in an important call – multitasking for the win," she says. "I think it's important for everyone on my team to know that it's okay for your young kids to show up in the middle of a meeting, since we're all juggling these new demands."

From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Simo says she logs off work in order to be fully present with her family. Once her daughter goes to sleep around 9 p.m., she briefly logs back on to check emails and check in with her team, many of whom are  located in different time zones around the world. 

Similarly, Brand, who is a mom of three adult children, logs off work around 6 p.m. to enjoy dinner and quality time with her family. Though her kids are older, she says having two of her kids home from college does place "extra pressure" on her to spend more time with them. 

Cuba, who is working from home with her husband, also sets a 6 p.m. log-off time to take a break and eat dinner. During this time, she says she checks her emails periodically until about 8 p.m. before turning on her "do not disturb" setting. 

"We also need to be protective of personal time and allow an opportunity to decompress and enjoy ourselves with family and friends even in this time of social distancing," she says.

Maria Cuba, Airbnb diversity and belonging business partner.
Photo credit: Maria Cuba

Managing stress and team communication

Simo, who manages a team of over 4,500 people, says that constant communication with her staff has been critical during this time period. But, she says, she makes a conscious effort not to overload her team with back-to-back meetings, which is why they have "moved a lot of meetings to emails to allow people more flexibility over their schedule." 

"We also created lunch blocks for the entire organization so no one schedules meetings between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m.," adds Simo, who hosts virtual happy hours every Friday with her team. She adds that she's also started hosting frequent Facebook Live question-and-answer sessions so that she can get feedback from her staff on any challenges and concerns they're having.

At Twitter, Brand says her team has relied heavily on video conferencing apps like Google Meet and BlueJeans to host their meetings virtually. Some of these meetings, she says, have included listening sessions to raise awareness and provide support for communities that are heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. For example, she says the Twitter Asians business resource group is hosting listening sessions to discuss ways they can combat xenophobia and discrimination due to COVID-19. Additionally, the Twitter Parents business resource group is hosting listening sessions to discuss the challenges of working from home while parenting. 

At Airbnb and Uber Eats, Cuba and Meyerdirk both said they have started to provide space at the start of each meeting for everyone on their team to share how they're feeling and coping with the adjustments of today.

"Everyone handles stress in such different ways, and every day has been so different throughout this crisis," Meyerdirk says. "Extending that care and kindness, and simply checking in more often (before taking care of the business at hand) has had a powerful impact on our team."

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