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MIT Technology Review

Meet the parents using Trello to plan their kids’ coronavirus homeschooling

Families in indefinite lockdown are turning to Asana and Trello to run their households.

April 1, 2020
Titovailona | Twenty20

Russell Benaroya loves Asana. In fact, the Seattle-based startup founder claims the project management software saved his marriage. And now he’s using it to put together a scheduling table for his kids while they’re stuck at home during the coronavirus crisis.

“We’re having a family meeting tonight,” Benaroya says. “The conversation is going to be about what could be a way to go about their time and get things done.”

As shelter-in-place mandates stretch indefinitely and school years are increasingly canceled, families are scrambling to instill a sense of order into lives turned upside down as they spend days—weeks—within the walls of their homes.

Enter planning apps like Asana and Trello. Parents are discovering that the software they use to organize their workdays might also help manage their kids while they’re quarantined at home, replacing dry-erase boards, Google calendars, and plain old pen and paper.

The adoption of workplace productivity tools for the home isn’t entirely surprising. In this “new normal,” families are isolated within the same space, and what was once just home has now become a school and workplace. A planning tool can help working parents hold on to some sense of normalcy in what is definitively not a normal time, by approaching family dynamics during the pandemic as a business task to solve.

“Trello has just enough structure that it can help parents bring a sense of control into a pretty crazy situation,” says Stella Garber, the head of marketing at Trello. “And it’s super visual and easy to customize.”

Garber won’t reveal precise numbers but says that Trello has seen an increase in people signing up from non-corporate email addresses around the world. “We’re definitely seeing that too,” says Alex Hood, head of product at Asana. 

Dominic Coballe, who lives outside Ottawa, isn’t a stranger to using Asana at home; like Benaroya, he’s used it with his wife to divvy up chores. When shelter-in-place mandates were first ordered, Coballe says, things were a bit scattered for their two sons, 7 and 10. But by the second week, he realized “we probably should apply some discipline and not feel like everything is overwhelming and throw our hands up.”

Coballe was initially joking when he created an Asana calendar for his kids, but soon the idea made more practical sense: “By week 2, they needed it [structure].” He laughs. “But they haven’t reached their KPIs [key performance indicators] yet!”

Coballe isn’t the only one to use startup jargon to talk about his kids. Benaroya told me that later that night, he planned to propose that his kids help create the family Asana calendar, but he figured there would be resistance: “Introducing software, whether it’s in a business setting or a personal setting, can feel jarring unless people are ready for that software to solve a problem that they’re all experiencing,” he says. “We want the conversation to be about feeling autonomous and empowered to go about your time and getting things done.”

Audree Fletcher, a designer who works with the British government, says her two daughters, 6 and 8, use Trello to choose what they want to do in the mornings. “They like using the screens; they like having the choice,” she says, adding that the software has eased her load by allowing her to “collaborate asynchronously” with her husband. “It’s easy to flex with the kids' energy levels, the weather… [with] templates, it’s much quicker to create for the next day and week,” she says.

One word that appears constantly in conversations about planning tools? Nagging.

“With Asana, I don’t need to be nagging,” Asana’s Hood says. Benaroya says at the root of it, Asana is to “avoid nagging” his wife; Coballe echoes the same sentiment. Fletcher diplomatically notes that Trello is for “communicating and discussing with my husband, so that we [know] what each other has covered.”

The comments underlie who this home use of tools like Trello and Asana is actually for: parents—specifically, partners negotiating time and space in a reality that they might not have asked for.

“We wanted it as parents, so we could cope as well,” Coballe says. “It’s not 100% for the kids.”