‘We joke that the conference room is booked’: Around the (home) office with N6A’s Valerie Leary

Leary is working from an apartment with her husband and two kids under seven.

Where are you working?
We are actually in an apartment because we're renovating our house, which adds a whole other layer of complication in the COVID-19 woes. We started the renovation in December, and we were supposed to be wrapping up by May or June, but because of COVID-19 it has been pushed back. So now we are going to be in the apartment likely through July, maybe August.

Who is in the apartment with you? 
It's me, my husband and our two daughters. One is six and a half and in kindergarten and the other is three and a half and in preschool. And our dog, a Shih Tzu. 

What sort of technology are you using?
Luckily, we had a pretty good work-from-home set-up. I had a large monitor and my laptop already at home. In terms of software, obviously we’re relying a lot on email. We use Slack and Google for collaboration. 

What would you be doing normally if you were in the office? 
As director of demand generation, 50% of my job is client-facing, so I support clients with their amplification of their PR efforts. A lot of my time is spent on client calls. Also, pre-COVID-19, I spent a lot of time in client meetings. I also run all the North 6th marketing, so [that means] spending a lot of time with the executive team to execute North 6th’s vision and supporting our brand publicly and also with our sales team. I also work on demand generation to support the pipeline.

What has been the hardest thing about doing your job from an apartment?
I would say the hardest thing is definitely juggling being a parent with a partner who works full-time as well. We joke that the conference room is booked, because we're in a two-bedroom apartment and it doesn't have an office. If he needs to hop on a video call, there's really only one place to do that. In our bedroom, we have a set up where we can close the door, and if we both have calls at the same time, our kids are pretty self-sufficient, but they're not fully self-sufficient. 

What's the best thing about working from home? 
At the end of the day, I am grateful for the extra time with my family. Before this, on the days that I commuted in, it was easily a 12- or 14-hour day between the commute, full work day and coming home, so I was missing out on family dinners and that kind of thing. It's cheesy, but my six-and-a-half-year-old is in kindergarten and is learning how to read right now. I would have missed out on her sounding out words or getting excited and when she figured out how to read a word. Being privy to those moments is definitely a positive, and waking up and just being able to have a couple of minutes snuggling with them is nice rather than like jumping out of bed and thinking, ‘Okay, brush teeth, get dressed, we gotta go, we gotta go.’

What are you doing with your children that is special?
I was thinking how can I make this interesting and not just plop [her six-and-a-half-year-old] in front of worksheets all day. I sent a note on Slack to our whole company and asked if anybody has 15 minutes, I'd love to make this like a standing Friday thing for her to be able to understand the different components of PR, marketing and client services and have someone she can kind of interview. 

Different skills are needed for that, right? I make her prepare the questions in advance, so there's critical thinking. She has to think through what questions she wants to ask and what she's curious about. Then there's writing and spelling because I actually make her write down the questions. So she's sounding out words and she's writing them out. 

She's also planning in advance by finishing the questions the day before so we can send them to the person she's interviewing the same way that you would if you were doing a brief ahead of time for an interview.

Then she dresses up for the Zoom calls, so we pick out our outfit. She wore a cardigan and a dress the other day because she said she feels like a work outfit. 

How is your schedule?
As much as everybody complains about New Jersey Transit, for me it was a great breaking point to the day. When I got on the train, I went into professional mode and on my train home I started that transition back to being a mom, and I don't have that now. 

There is the positive. My daughter is at an age where she's asking more questions and we’ve been able to incorporate it into my work, but without having the transitions in the morning and at the end of the day, it does kind of bleed all together. 

I do try to wake up before the kids in the morning. That's one of my big things that I've learned works best for our family. I can wake up on my terms. That way I can check on emails and see if there's anything that needs to be touched from the night before.

I can also catch up on things that need to get sent over before calls and meetings start, but we have to be flexible because every day is different in terms of client services, and every day is different for my kids. 

When this is over, how do you think the world of work in PR is going to change? Some people think they will mostly be working from home. 
I disagree with that. I think North 6th has done a fantastic job in supporting us as much as they can for work from home. We already had a fully flexible work-from-home policy. I worked from home a couple of days when I wanted to do the school drop-off or if my kids had soccer after school. There was no way I made that coming home on a 7:30 train. I don't think that we'll ever be fully remote as an industry or as a company because we like each other so much.

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