Around the (home) office with Highwire PR’s Ben Liwanag – and his grandma

Liwanag traded the city for rural life to stay with his grandma during the pandemic.

Ben Liwanag and his grandma sit on the deck and talk about news.
Ben Liwanag and his grandma sit on the deck and talk about news.

So where are you in the world?
I’m in Western Massachusetts. I came up here just about last month to stay with my grandma and to get out of the city. It's interesting. My bedroom is probably the size of my entire New York City apartment. So it's been a good change.

What do you do at Highwire PR?
I mainly work across our fintech and cyber security accounts. So I'm doing a lot of media relationships and thought leadership. But it's really more of an execution role and then also working really closely with our leadership team. 

How long have you worked there?
Next week actually makes three years.

And where were you in the city?
In Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I live in a small three-bedroom apartment and my roommates work in marketing and social media. So as you can imagine, we've all been kind of busy and confined to our rooms, taking calls. So I just kind of needed a change of pace. 

I was just talking with my grandma about how interesting it is to stay with her. It's almost like I'm getting a little bit more of normality back.

What I miss the most about the office was just the typical water cooler talk. But it's funny because I'll just be working on the deck and my grandma comes out and she brings pictures she found and she loves looking through the newspaper every morning and so she sits down and we talk about the news. We'll just sit on the deck and bird watch and talk about what it is I'm working on. So it's almost kind of like I have a new coworker again.

Is it just your grandma or is someone else living there as well?
My grandma has a partner and he stays with us as well. He is out in the garage doing his own thing. He loves to woodwork and do the yard work. So it's funny, I'll be on the deck taking a call and he starts up the lawnmower and you will hear my grandma chasing after him to get him to wait until the afternoon so I can finish working. 

What was the relationship like before you started living there?
It's kind of unique because I grew up in California and she's in Massachusetts. I'm used to spending summers with her, which would be two or three months at a time. Then once I moved to New York I got to see her a little bit more for holidays and quick weekend trips. 

I think it'll be interesting seeing how this plays out depending on how much longer I stay here. I will say she's been really good about letting me work, but she's the first person to run over and say, “It’s 6 p.m. Are you off work yet?” I think she remembers when I'm off work more than I do. 

So she's enforcing the work-life balance that you might've ignored?
For the most part, we're relatively good at work-life balance at Highwire. I think she's just more excited that it's dinner time.

So how old is your grandmother? 
She's 82.

Did she have an understanding of your job before this?
I think beforehand she had absolutely no idea what I do. And I still don't think she entirely understands. But what I can say is she has an understanding of my clients, so she knows I represent a mortgage company in a small business lender. 

She's got 82 years of life experience. Has she had any advice that you can apply to your job?
I grew up in a completely different generation and I live in a big city and she's in a much more rural area. And I think she grew up a lot differently than I am. So I think I’m just running ideas off of her for perspective. 

One thing that's really interesting is I'm not used to watching the nightly news. Every day at 6:30 p.m. on the dot after we eat dinner, she turns the news on and we watch it together. It's interesting to hear her commentary about what's going on in the world. And she likes to tell stories about when she was little.

She's been really good at keeping me grounded, making sure we're eating lunch together, having those conversations about what's going on in the news. 

And I think we obviously have very different perspectives on things. So she's been really good about challenging my belief system. One example is the coronavirus. I think her point of view is like, let's stay inside, let's go nowhere. I'm kind of like, let's go for a bike ride, let's go for a walk. 

What about schedules and timing at the house with meals and things like that?
She likes to walk the dog at 8:30 a.m., which is just about when I get out of the shower. So sometimes we'll walk the dog together. I come back and usually she eats lunch around 11:30 a.m., which is kind of early. 

The biggest challenge for her has been dinner. She likes to eat at 4:30 p.m. I know she's been doing a lot of the cooking, so I've been trying to step away from work for a little bit after she started dinner. Then I jump back online and work a little bit and wrap up the day. I'm so fortunate to have that kind of flexibility.

The funny thing here is her happy hour time. It's a lot sooner than mine. In the office we usually start a drink and hanging out around 4:35 p.m. And here it's like 3 p.m. she's pouring a glass of wine, asking me if I want some. Of course, I can't do that. 

We stayed up till 11 p.m. on Sunday to watch Grease. And that was really late.

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