As school starts online, parents need to study up on ‘pandemic pods’ – and what they mean for equity

As school starts online, parents need to study up on 'pandemic pods' – and what they mean for equity

Learning pods and elementary school child care may support or replace remote learning, but experts say access inequity will widen the education gap. Nude modeling is a classic component of art education. But when the coronavirus forced art educators to pivot, model Kent Van Dusseldorp had to, too. Here is the Carson City area road report for the week of July 27 through Aug. 2, as well as the South Carson Street Project report for the week. For information on lane restrictions and street closures related to the South Carson Street Project, please visit Working from home is about more than just Slack and Zoom. It could increase wages for some, but also inequality and insecurity.

“I’m in Studio City, I’m ‘poding up,’ who’s with me?”  

That’s what Jess Zaino posted on a Facebook mom group after she learned Los Angeles schools would not reopen campuses in August. Her 5-year-old son will start kindergarten remotely.

It’s hard to say when – or if – education will ever look the same. As COVID-19 case levels spike, schools across the country turn to remote learning for the start of the fall semester. 

To be safe, parents of elementary and secondary students might decide to keep their children at home. But many parents have to work, and they want their children to grow and learn as best they can.

Some families are “poding up.” Learning pods, also dubbed “pandemic pods,” are small groups of families that agree to do supplementary learning or complete at-home coursework together. Sometimes they hire a tutor. Sometimes they share the supervision among parents.

The trend is in part a reaction to the general feeling that online school this spring was awful, with disengaged and lonely students, hours of schoolwork, unreasonable expectations for parents and, in many cases, little new learning for children. Parents want this school year to be different. Many of them work and can’t manage their kids’ schoolwork alone. 

“Remote learning … was highly discouraging and frustrating for families in the spring,” said Waine Tam, CEO and co-founder of Selected, a platform that matches schools and parents with qualified teachers. “There’s just been a lot of confidence lost in the system.”

Interest in additional, at-home educational support has flooded social media over the past few weeks. One Facebook group called “Pandemic Pods” had more than 26,000 members as of Saturday. 

In addition,,  a company that connects families with caregivers, has seen a 14% increase in families using keywords such as “part-time school,” “remote learning,” “former teacher” and “in-person tutor” in their job posts. has seen a 92% increase in families seeking shared care arrangements. 

Parents of all backgrounds and income levels don’t want their child to fall behind academically – or to be unsupervised for hours at a time while they’re working. However, many options aren’t financially possible for everyone.

As classes head online, many families lack access to internet or a computer for every child. The unequal use of “pandemic pods” and child care options are likely to exacerbate devastating class and race divides in education.

“We’re actually going to see this inequality widen,” said R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, a sociology of education professor at New York University. “Even if we’re just talking about the fall semester, we’re going to be dealing with [the impact] for years to come. … One of the most important things we could do right now is try to actually at least reimagine school, and in the most radical sense, completely rebuild this idea of schooling and who it benefits, and how.”

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The Backstory:Whatever back to school looks like, it has to serve the kids without internet and tech

A learning pod is a small group of families, with similar-aged children, that agree to do remote learning, together. The families hire a teacher or tutor to lead instruction and help students with assignments,and the group usually rotates between homes.

Is it “home schooling”? Yes and no. Sometimes forming a learning pod means children stay enrolled in school and do video-based instruction together. Other times, it looks more like home schooling – families opt out of the district’s online learning, leave their original schools and hire an instructor for a full-time group at home.

The hope is kids can have some social interaction with less coronavirus exposure, and the parents don’t have to personally manage every day’s schoolwork for their child.

Can kids spread the coronavirus? ‘Conclusively, without a doubt – yes,’ experts say

“The pandemic has been … incredibly challenging for working parents, especially single working parents,” said Zaino, who is forming a pod for her 5-year-old son in Los Angeles. “It is not an option for me to continue forward, to be distance learning or teaching my child.

“In-home teaching is very attractive to me,” she said. “It allows my son to socialize. It allows my son an actual teacher to come in and give him what I think he needs to be on par with his age group.”

To find a teacher, Zaino worked with Tam and Selected.  A few weeks ago, Selected launched “Selected for Families,”  a service that connects parents with educators.

Between the combination of her online inquiries and several friends her son made in preschool, Zaino says she’s been in touch with about 10 families. She hopes the pod will consist of three or four families working out of two homes.

Advocates for learning pods recognize they are not possible for everyone in their current form. There is an immense financial barrier for lower-income families.

Tam said the costs widely vary, but families looking for full-time support could essentially be paying the salary of a teacher – in addition to possible search prices and what’s needed to create a successful school environment overall.

“The parent is the employer. It’s expensive,” he said. Say, for instance, a pod wants to hire its own teacher, whose normal salary is $50,000. “Even if you have five families, right? Minimum, that’s $10,000 a year.”

The arrangement may cost the teachers, too. As public employees, teachers often receive pension and insurance benefits that cover themselves and their families. There’s no way to ensure that even well-to-do private family employers will, or can, bridge that gap. Some teachers may go for it to avoid coronavirus exposure in school or tedious online coursework.

Though many families create pods in their homes, Lewis-McCoy said he’s seen “folks talk about literally renting a studio apartment.”

“This is a really large weight to bear,” he said. “Those who are on free or reduced lunch, those who are lower-income are much less likely to actually afford to participate in these pods.”

Lewis-McCoy said it’s important to recognize that private pods will be segregated along race and class lines – a reflection of social networks still seen today – even in school districts some consider “integrated” or “diverse.”

Most pods are made possible by a family’s preexisting assets – and Black and Hispanic families statistically have fewer resources to draw from, even if their  incomes match their white peers, Lewis-McCoy said.

“With every parent I’ve ever met, or ever spoken to, they are interested in having the best education for their child,” he said. “With that in mind, it’s going to be very hard to dissuade someone not to create a pandemic pod if they have financial means.”

What about inviting a child whose parents can’t afford to pay? “To me, the answer is a partial yes with a good amount of no,” he wrote on Twitter. “That kid you invite is much more likely to satiate the individual’s feeling of charity and doing good, than actually doing them good. If you’ve been a ‘beneficiary’ you know that charity [does not equal] equity.”

Families should “internally look at how their own lives have been structured by segregation,” he said. They can go to their districts or their Parent Teacher Association and talk about distributing resources to make at-home learning accessible for everyone. This could look like districts facilitating pods or providing funding, he said.

Zaino and Tam said financial support should be provided to combat pod inequalities.

“There’s no reason that this can’t be publicly subsidized or publicly funded,” Tam said. “I’m hoping it’s just a matter of time, [and] of people realizing that this can be an effective means of delivering education.”

Thursday in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed announced the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families will launch community “learning hubs” on Sept. 14 at more than 40 sites across the city, pending approval from local and state health officials.

The mayor’s office said the hubs will support distance learning for 5,000-6,000 high-need students in the San Francisco Unified School District – including those learning English and those who are in low-income families or experiencing homelessness. That’s about 10% of SFUSD’s total enrollment.

“It will take a village to address the wide range of learning needs for our city’s children and youth during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Breed said in a statement. “The Community Learning Hubs will provide a much-needed resource for our most vulnerable students.”

The locations of the learning hubs will range from recreation centers to branch libraries that are walking distance from the students’ homes and will be staffed by community-based organizers.

Full-day programming will include education support and enrichment services, meals and snacks and physical activity.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced free child care for students in preschool through eighth grade,  planning to serve 100,000 of the city’s 1 million students. About 50,000 will participate in child care each day, since New York is scheduled to send children to in-person classes two or three days a week. 

Some activists said other schools should do more, especially for early elementary students.

“Our youngest kids – pre-K through grade three – these are kids who can’t be left home alone. They are not kids who can learn independently. A lot of them can’t even read,” said Courtney Fox, an Arlington, Virginia, mother of a 10th grader. Fox started a petition to pressure Arlington schools to abandon a plan to offer families a choice between part-time, in-person learning and online-only classes. She said the schools should start everyone online, then offer preschoolers through third graders first priority when COVID-19 transmission declines enough for school buildings to open.

The school district has since said all students will start the school year online, but Fox  asked that it rethink its plan for reopening.

More:New York City says child care will be available for 100K children in the fall as schools partially reopen

Video:Lin-Manuel Miranda on kindergarten homeschooling and explaining the pandemic to his kids

“No matter what approach … our truly vulnerable students are potentially left behind unless we very intentionally prioritize them,” said Fox, who hopes the coronavirus will force “a paradigm shift in education.”

“[A lot of us] want the school that we used to have, but that doesn’t exist right now – it just doesn’t,” she said. “We have an opportunity here. … Let’s re-create schools so that they work for all students.”

Fox noted the flexibility of online learning for some students – such as high schoolers who work full-time to support their families. Tam said he could see pod-like education thrive, especially if it’s made accessible for all.

“In moments of crisis, creativity will actually get us to a moment of safety,” Lewis-McCoy said. “This is a very uncertain time, but it’s going to call for something very dramatic for us to even begin to chip away at the gross inequality that we live under and the gross inequality that we could easily contribute to. … I’m seeing more and more people become uncomfortable, and more people stretch – so I am hanging onto hope in this moment, while it would be very easy to hang onto despair.”


When Art Classes Went Online, This Kansas City Nude Art Model Went Global

When Art Classes Went Online, This Kansas City Nude Art Model Went Global

For artists, one of the best ways to study the lines of the human body is to draw it from life, with a model posing in front of them. It’s a centuries-old tradition that was recently disrupted, when the coronavirus shut down art classes and live drawing sessions. But artists have been finding ways to adapt by moving online and outside. An Kent Van Dusseldorp keeps them busy by taking off his clothes.

A couple weeks ago, Van Dusseldorp hosted a Zoom session on his computer in the living room of his south Kansas City home.

To set up the call, he wore a light blue robe and red-framed glasses. Behind him stood a white screen, a black backdrop and several props. A spotlight in the corner lit up the set. On his computer screen, eight artists waited with their sketch pads, ready to begin.

Then, Van Dusseldorp took off his robe, walked to the back of the room, and turned towards the camera — completely naked.


“When I model, it’s almost like I’m an actor taking a role,” Van Dusseldorp explained. “I’m the nude model posing. And so that kind of helps me just to sit here and relax and be still. This isn’t an egotistical thing, but I like my body structure and the angularity of it.”

Van Dusseldorp is 66, and he’s been a nude art model for fourteen years now. It’s hard work. Drawing sessions often run three hours long. The key for him is finding a pose you can hold comfortably, but it has to be interesting too.

“Do something you normally would but then look at it and say, ‘How can I make this maybe a little more interesting?'” Van Dusseldorp said. “Maybe I put my arm up here and I twist my head a little further.”

Julie Denesha

Van Dusseldorp usually poses for art students in studios and classrooms around town. But his work was interrupted this spring when the coronavirus shut down in-person teaching. When art classes moved online, he knew he had to find a way to start posing online, too. It’s changed the way artists see him.

“People who may have drawn me for ten or more years are like, ‘Oh wow, he’s doing something different.’ And, ‘Yeah, I want to draw Kent again; I don’t care if I’ve drawn him a hundred times.’ ‘Hey, this is new and interesting,’” said Van Dusseldorp.

There’s another big advantage to modeling on Zoom: Van Dusseldorp can pose for anyone around the world.

“Life drawing is so much about being in the real world and drawing somebody live,” Van Dusseldorp says. “But this has really opened up drawing for a lot of people.

Wang Rana Gurung


Nearly eight thousand miles away in Bhutan, 26-year-old Wang Rana Gurung joins Van Dusseldorp’s drawing group whenever he can. Bhutan is a country that borders Tibet in the Eastern Himalayas. Before meeting Van Dusseldorp, he’d never sketched a model without their clothes on.

“Here in my country, Bhutan, we never do posing nude,” says Gurung. “Even if you do some kind of art classes or drawing sessions, we have the clothes on. So I have never tried a nude figure. It was always from a photo reference. So it was a very unique experience.”

And Gurung says it’s also been a chance to meet other artists and share what he’s learning.

“Some of the artists, they are comfortable sharing their work and they allow me to post it and credit them,” says Gurung. “I find it very exciting, because I can share it with people here. I think more Bhutanese artists will be able to join in (the) future.”

Kent Van Dusseldorp models for artists. He’s been experimenting with safe ways to continue to work during the pandemic. Recently, he opened his backyard to life drawing sessions. He keeps the groups small. And he spaces out the chairs so artists can work socially distant.

Closer to home, Van Dusseldorp also opened his backyard to life drawing sessions. He keeps the groups small, and he spaces out the chairs so artists can work at a safe distance from each other.

“There’s something about being outside and drawing,” Van Dusseldorp said on a warm Friday in July. “It’s just a pleasant atmosphere. It helps that we’ve been cooped up. But regardless of that, people are out here and they’re like, ‘Oh this is great. This is great.”

Between poses, Van Dusseldorp likes to walk around to see how the artists are sketching him. He often gets very excited.

“Look at that,” exclaimed Van Dusseldorp, picking up the sketchbook of one of the artists. “I love the background lines, horizontal. And I like how you just fit me on the page.”

Julie Denesha

Bernie Loomis is a retired electrician who likes to draw, and he also made use of the backyard session. He said he doesn’t mind Zoom sessions, but working alongside other artists helps him feel connected.

“You feed off of each other,” Loomis said. “You get that bounce and that bounce back. So, beyond the fact that you just have a model and someplace to draw you find that you both inspire and are inspired by the people around you.”

For Loomis, learning how to draw from life is what it’s all about.

Julie Denesha

“When you start looking at the human body,” Loomis mused, “yes, it’s a wonderful machine. Yes, it’s all this other stuff. But when you start looking at it and realizing that this is what we are— this is real.”

Van Dusseldorp says finding new ways to work with artists has been life-changing for him.

“This has really been an amazing time for me,” says Van Dusseldorp. “I’m 66 and I’ve had a great career as a model, but I kind of thought my 20 minutes of fame was over. But I’m not on the way out. I’m here and I’m now and I’m doing stuff.”


Author: KCUR | By
Julie Denesha

Road and roundabout work continues this week around Carson City

Road and roundabout work continues this week around Carson City

Photo submitted by Carson Now reader Katie Farr on Sunday as she was walking her dogs near the Carson River.

Carson City Health and Human Service is reporting Sunday, July 26, 2020 of 12 additional cases and 15 recoveries of COVID-19 in the Quad-County region. This brings the total number of cases to 600, with 455 recoveries and 10 deaths, 135 cases remain active.

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Division of State Parks is currently seeking grant pre-applications in anticipation of the 2021 Federal Highway Administration funding of the Recreational Trails Program.

More thunderstorms are on the way for northern and western Nevada and the Carson City, Carson Valley region Sunday with the potential for stronger thunderstorms and associated lightning strikes beginning early Monday, according to the National Weather Service, which issued a Red Flag Warning.

Here is the Carson City area road report for the week of July 27 through Aug. 2, as well as the South Carson Street Project report for the week. For information on lane restrictions and street closures related to the South Carson Street Project, please visit

Retired Army Col. Alvin Bolton of Reno has been named the Nevada National Guard’s first chief diversity officer and he will begin his new position in Carson City on July 28.

Watching the news on the Numbers Fire south of Gardnerville reminds us how important it is to create and maintain defensible space around your home. The fire burned 18,380 acres in the week it took to get it contained. Have you taken responsibility to make your home/landscape defensible and survivable?

Just four months ago, Jamie Westbrook was on the brink of making the major leagues.

The 25-year-old outfielder received a Spring Training invitation from the San Francisco Giants at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. He spent the previous six seasons in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system and sensed his time in the big leagues was on the horizon.

Dawn’s early light Saturday on the Carson River.

We are reporting 21 additional cases and 10 recoveries of COVID-19 in the Quad-County Region. This is the largest daily increase for the Quad-County Region. The previous high was on June 4th with 18 new cases. This brings the total number of cases to 588, with 440 recoveries and 10 deaths, 138 cases remain active.

Hello fellow anglers. I finally got out to do some camping and fishing for a few days. We stayed at the Carson River Resort just south of Markleeville CA.

Multiple groups were in front of the legislature Saturday, with the regular every-Saturday Black Lives Matter protest along with the counter “All lives matter” protesters, but this week a new group showed up to have their voices heard in the form of education advocates.

Time to empty those piggy banks to help small businesses. Nevada banks are asking consumers to deposit their spare change at their local bank or coin-cashing machines as pandemic-related shutdowns have created a coin shortage.

The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange (Exchange), the state agency that connects Nevadans to Qualified Health Plans through the online State Based Exchange (SBE), known as Nevada Health Link, announces the Open Enrollment Period (OEP) for Plan Year 2021 will run from November 1 through January 15, 2021 – extending the traditional OEP by an additional 30 days and giving consumers a total of 75 days to enroll in a comprehensive health care plan.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks has announced that a Sun Valley man has been sentenced to life in prison following convictions on child sexual abuse charges.

Patrick Ian Brymer, 27, was sentenced in District Court last week to life in prison with the possibility of parole after a minimum of 45 years has been served.

In the midst of COVID-19, several local non-profits, churches, homeless shelters and social services are helping those in need. Community food resources in the Carson City, Minden, Silver Springs, Yerington, Gardnerville and Dayton areas have put together plans and options during these unprecedented times.

Carson City Health and Human Services (CCHHS) is reporting an additional death due to COVID-19 in the Quad-County region. The individual was a male Lyon County resident in his 80’s. It is unknown at this time if he had underlying conditions. CCHHS is also reporting thirteen new positive cases and elven additional recoveries. This brings the total number of cases to 567, with 430 recoveries and 10 deaths, 127 cases remain active.

This week’s Flat Bed Concert Series will be going through the middle of Carson City, featuring Spike McGuire from Loud as Folk along with two other musicians. The concert will be held Saturday, July 25 beginning at 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.

The route will begin at the Tanglewood Apartments near the CHS tech center, drive through Mills Park and then wherever people are safely gathering.

Finalized data from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) show initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) totaled 15,548 for the week ending July 18, up 882 claims, or 6.0 percent, compared to last week’s total of 14,666.

This is the fourth consecutive week of increases in regular initial claims. Through the week ending July 18, there have been 592,700 initial claims filed in 2020, 571,048 of which have been filed since the week ending March 14.

A 37-year-old Carson City woman was arrested on a violation of a suspended sentence warrant, issued in Oct. 2019 by the Carson City Justice Court, after calling 911 to report that two men had come into her room pretending to be cops searching for drugs.

The Carson City School Board will be voting on the final plan for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year and the effect COVID-19 has had on it at the board meeting this Tuesday, July 28, at 6 p.m.

The meeting, which will take place in the Sierra Room of the Community Center located at 851 E. William Street, will decide on how the reopening of the new school year will go in Carson City Schools.

Fall high school sports are now temporarily postponed in Carson City, Lyon, Douglas and Storey counties as well as the rest of Nevada. State playoffs are not expected to take place this year, as well. The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association announced Thursday that all fall sports in Nevada will be played in March of 2021 to lower the spread of COVID-19.

Ozzie Fumo, Nevada State Assembly member for District 21 in Las Vegas and candidate for the Nevada Supreme Court, Seat D, will be the featured speaker at Monday’s virtual Democratic luncheon. Fumo advanced from the June 9th primary election and now faces District Court Judge Douglas Herndon in the November 3rd general election.

Heading into the weekend, there’s a bevy of activities around the Carson City region. New safety guidelines for the state of Nevada have been enforced, so please make sure to bring a mask and practice social distancing.

Carson City Health and Human Services reports Thursday, July 23, 2020 that there are 12 new positive cases and 23 additional recoveries of COVID-19 in the Quad-County region. This brings the total number of cases to 555, with 419 recoveries and nine deaths, 127 cases remain active.

Partnership Carson City, a local organization that inspires a healthy community by building strong families and successful youth, announces two new team members joining the ranks to support education, collaboration and engagement with residents.

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services estimates that nearly 223,000 Nevada children who were not already receiving SNAP benefits will be eligible for Nevada’s Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program.

Nevada Builders Alliance, the state’s largest construction trade association, has partnered with Heritage Bank of Nevada to complete a renovation of the historic building, formerly Jack’s Bar, in downtown Carson City.

A 61-year-old Carson City man was arrested Wednesday for a felony warrant alleging sexual assault against a child under the age of 14.

Each year, the community gathers along the banks of the Truckee River to watch as hundreds of tiny yellow rubber ducks float across the water, and viewers cheer them on.

Adopt a Duck is one of the Nevada Humane Society’s biggest fundraising events of the year, and this year despite COVID-19, it will continue! However, instead of participants gathering on the banks, this year’s event will be live streamed from the Reno Shelter on August 29 at 12 p.m. and will consist of adorable shelter dogs and cats doing adorable activities.

On Friday, July 24 and Friday, July 31, Farmers Market coupons will be distributed from 1 to 3 p.m. or until the coupons are gone. Coupon booklets will be distributed at the Carson City Senior Center in the parking lot, with the help of Carson City Rotary members, RSVP volunteers and staff.

Since COVID-19 entered Carson City and Northern Nevada communities, there have been many questions about how to stay safe, where to get information and how the community is affected.

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ 30-man Opening Day roster is stacked with former Reno Aces.

RENO — Portions of Geiger Grade and Veterans Parkway are currently closed as multiple fire crews are still on the scene of a large apartment fire that took place in south Reno early this morning.

Feeding Pets of the Homeless, a national animal welfare nonprofit based in Carson City, Nev., received a $3,000 grant from the Dave and Cheryl Duffield Foundation to provide financial assistance towards helping those in Northern Nevada.

Carson City Health and Human Services is reporting Wednesday, July 22, 2020 that there are 11 new positive cases and 14 additional recoveries of COVID-19 in the Quad-County region. This brings the total number of cases to 543, with 396 recoveries and nine deaths, 138 cases remain active.

Thunderstorms arriving into the region Wednesday have brought a number of calls for downed trees, power lines, outages and a fire reported in the Silver Springs area of Lyon County.

In a scene reminiscent of the “old days” a small string of pack laden horses recently made their way into the rugged Toiyabe Mountains of central Nevada. Their precious cargo was neither gold nor silver but rather a load of brook trout fingerlings bound for two of the many small streams that can be found in that part of the Silver State.


Author: Carson City Health and Human Services

How Remote Work Will Create Economic Winners and Losers

How Remote Work Will Create Economic Winners and Losers

Working from home is about more than just Slack and Zoom. It could increase wages for some, but also inequality and insecurity.

When the pandemic hit and tens of millions of American workers suddenly redeployed to their basements and living rooms, it was easy to imagine that their workdays would unfold roughly as before, with communication tools like Slack and Zoom substituting for face-to-face interactions (and maybe with slightly greater multitasking opportunities).

But the shift to a heavily remote work force — companies like Facebook and Twitter have announced that they will allow many employees to work from home permanently — has the potential to change people’s work lives in much more profound ways. It could significantly affect their wages, alter career prospects and restructure organizations. And as with many economic shocks, workers are likely to be affected unevenly.

The changes that remote work is accelerating “are a disaster for low-skilled labor and could be a good thing for high-skilled labor,” said Gerald F. Davis, a professor of management and sociology at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business who has written extensively about shifting work arrangements. “I anticipate it having this centrifugal effect.”

Many workers could see an increase in disposable income and flexibility, but others could be pushed into contracting arrangements that lower their wages and make their livelihoods more precarious. Even highly skilled workers may find it harder to band together to improve their pay and working conditions.

So-called fully distributed companies, where everyone works remotely, often pay employees somewhat less than they might earn in the most expensive metropolitan areas, but more than they would make elsewhere.

DuckDuckGo, an internet privacy company with a well-regarded search engine, formally bases its compensation on salaries at a group of technology companies across the United States, excluding the San Francisco Bay Area. Automattic, the maker of the website-building tool WordPress, pays employees based on job responsibilities and qualifications, regardless of location. (By contrast, tech companies with physical headquarters often pay workers less if they live in a less expensive area.)

This benefits skilled workers living outside the most expensive markets, and especially where jobs with generous pay are scarce. Jason Caldwell, a marketing manager at, makes safely into the six figures working from Billings, Mont. He is hoping to buy a 100-plus-acre plot where members of his family can build homes.

And while wages for high-skilled workers in the Bay Area could increase less quickly as a more remote world reduces local competition for talent, even they could come out ahead in the end. Reduced hiring of affluent workers in the Bay Area would also mean fewer bidders for real estate, slowing the rise in housing prices, said Adam Ozimek, the chief economist of Upwork, an online freelancing marketplace.

The deeper change is organizational. At a typical company, small chunks of information relevant to one’s work tend to be scattered throughout the organization — with the woman on the other side of your desk pod, the guy three cubicles over, the manager at the end of the hall. This forces workers into a series of person-to-person interactions throughout the day, making it necessary for them to keep similar hours even when that’s not convenient.

By contrast, distributed organizations like DuckDuckGo and Automattic seek to “separate individuals from the information they possess” and create a centralized “knowledge repository,” the Stanford business scholar Jen Rhymer has written. This makes it possible for employees to complete their assignments from anywhere, at almost any time of day, without having to check in frequently with colleagues.


At Automattic, which spreads its roughly 1,200 full-time workers across more than 75 countries, managers like Mr. Caldwell often spend about four hours a day reading and writing memos on one of the company’s internal blogs, known as P2s.

They document any development that might be relevant to their co-workers — everything from “Google Chrome just announced a change, here’s what I understand about it,” Mr. Caldwell said, to a description of an effort to highlight the company’s one-on-one training sessions for users.

At DuckDuckGo, which has about 100 full-time workers across 17 countries, all relevant developments are recorded in a software program called Asana. In any given week, employees focus on their “top priority” contribution to a company project.

Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo’s founder and chief executive, said the company tried to keep the projects small and self-contained, with their goals and scope clearly detailed in a written template, allowing people to work independently without constant coordination.

“This system works best when it continues to be modular — there are not tons and tons of people on a project,” Mr. Weinberg said. “It’s easy to jump in as a new member. You read a one-page document and understand what’s going on with it quickly.”

DuckDuckGo, like other distributed companies, also creates specific opportunities for bonding. There is a weekly “neighbors meeting” in which four or five colleagues who don’t normally work together are randomly assigned to mingle, and an annual companywide gathering that is normally in person but was held online this year.

Several academics and industry experts said the changes might go even further. For example, remote companies, because they are set up to allow people to work efficiently on their own, are also well positioned to use contractors and other workers who are not employees.

“If you know how to have remote full-time employees, it’s much easier to have remote on-demand people from a freelancing platform,” said Stephane Kasriel, who until recently was the chief executive of Upwork, which counts Automattic, the Wikimedia Foundation and other fully or heavily distributed organizations as clients. He added that much of what made this possible was sound management that companies with physical offices didn’t adopt simply because they could afford to be sloppy.

The ease of working as a freelancer can be a boon to many skilled workers, who can command high hourly rates through Upwork and other freelancing marketplaces.

But for lower-skilled workers, such as those in customer service or data entry, working as a contractor tends to reduce wages and increase insecurity. Companies often pay low-skilled employees above-market wages because they have internal pay scales, but pay only the market price for a contractor or freelancer.

Mr. Ozimek of Upwork acknowledged that outsourcing work could reduce wages for low-skilled workers but said this didn’t take into account the lower cost of living for remote workers outside expensive cities and the job creation that platforms like Upwork made possible by allowing new businesses to form and scale quickly. Both he and Mr. Kasriel said freelancers on Upwork tended to be relatively skilled and well paid, as a new study from the company shows.

Even highly skilled workers could find less leverage at a distributed company than at one where they work in offices, however. Laurence Berland, a longtime Google engineer who was active in organizing workers there before he was fired last fall, said that digital tools made it easy to coordinate remotely among workers already involved in an organizing effort, but that it was often difficult to recruit new workers who were not in the same physical space.

“Some people maybe correctly consider it a big red flag to say to someone on a corporate chat, ‘Hey, can we talk on a noncorporate device?’” Mr. Berland said. One typical way of enlisting co-workers, he said, is to start a conversation after overhearing them complain about a company practice — something less likely to happen remotely.

Sandy Pope, the bargaining director for the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents workers at the crowdfunding site Kickstarter as well as university and clerical staff members elsewhere, said remote work could create inequality among workers performing the same job because it was harder for them to share information discreetly outside an office.

“There’s a lack of transparency,” Ms. Pope said. “The lack of ability to even track what’s going on.”

She said this lack of transparency could also make it easier for companies to outsource work without employees’ knowledge.

Whatever the case, it appears that more and more traditional companies, recently forced into remote work, are exploring how to use the setup to better advantage. Upwork’s client registrations have increased significantly during the pandemic, Mr. Ozimek said, though a need for cost savings may partly explain it as well.

Business has also picked up at Tongal, a platform that connects freelancers with video production work, from promotional videos to original programming.

Before the pandemic, many prospective clients seemed reluctant to use Tongal, but things changed markedly after they sent their workers home, said James DeJulio, a co-founder of the company and its chief executive.

“Businesses aren’t set up with distributed knowledge centers,” he said. “And then overnight, every business was forced to distribute its knowledge center to a lot of places.”

“It’s been really eye-opening,” he added. “Any psychological barrier to using a model like Tongal seems to have evaporated.”


Author: Noam Scheiber

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