The Home Buyback Business Advisor

With his typical weekly trips during the pandemic, consultant Ren Herring has embarked on a new project: to optimize his life.

Courting at the red breakfast table in his kitchen in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, armed with a laptop, the 36-year-old led daily stand-up meetings at 8:30 am with his partner, Brett Holmes. They covered topics like how to deal with the sand that keeps dragging from the driveway and takes the dog out for his morning walk.

Evenings are often spent rearranging furniture: “No room is literally the same,” says Herring. They also delve into thorny issues like why, after several meetings devoted to the topic, Brett still doesn’t remember putting his keys in the growing series of containers they tested near the front door.

Ren Herring, left, and Brett Holmes, right, with the cabinet they rearranged in an attempt to prevent Brett from losing his keys.


Kileigh Holmes

And any time is a good time for real-time commentary, or RTF, as Mr. Herring, who works at PricewaterhouseCoopers, calls it. A recent evening spent baking a steak tostada recipe together necessitated plenty of breaks for RTF on topics like cleaning cheese from the grater faster.

“I just integrated the way I work with clients and the way I work at PwC into our house,” says Herring. “It’s okey for me.”

“I think Brett wants to lock me out sometimes,” he adds. “I think it’s fair.”

We all struggled to adjust to more time at home. But maybe no one is wreaking havoc more than the suddenly motionless consultant, accustomed to flying off to companies in need Sunday through Thursday. There, their advice was appreciated and they were well paid for it. Now unable to fly to Cincinnati to visit a client site in search of synergies, many put their skills at the service of those they love.

“We live it. We cannot turn it off. It’s not something you say, okay, today I won’t be a consultant, ”says Julia Demkowski, who runs her own practice, Stanford Management Consulting, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

She’s been on a mission to maximize efficiency in the home for years, administering something she calls an ongoing service to her husband every time she revamps the kitchen and cupboards, which is a frequent occurrence. About six months after she started debriefing, he finally asked her what in-service training meant.

“I had to tell him that these are small mini-meetings where you learn new information. The new information was, “Where’s the salt? ” ” she says.

Then again, the only thing worse than getting in-service training might be not getting it.

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“I come down at night to try for a snack and look for plates for 10 minutes,” says Demkowski’s son, Drew, 21. It’s boring at the moment, he adds, but she always seems to manage to find more optimal places for cups and pots.

His mother once printed him copies of the timesheets she uses with her clients so that he could record hour-long intervals of video games and homework. He wasn’t surprised to find out that she had had a lot of comments for him this spring when he returned home temporarily from his college fraternity home in the midst of the pandemic. “It was like, well, I guess I’m going to be optimized,” he says.

When the coronavirus shattered Diana C. Nearhos’ initial plans for a 200-person wedding in July at a Cape Cod resort, it was her sister, Steph Nearhos, who stepped up a gear, taking the reins of the planning a last minute evening for close family. A consultant for PwC in Boston, Steph attributed “deliverables,” like the cocktail hour deli platter, to Diana’s future in-laws, and criticized the pace of Diana’s walk down the aisle during the repetition.

Oh, and the music needed commentary too.

“Which of you has the play button on the speaker?” She cried to the groom’s family.

“My mom kept giving me deadly looks,” recalls Steph. “I was like, ‘You just have to trust me, I’m getting better.’ “

Steph Nearhos, right, has taken the reins of planning the wedding of his sister, Diana C. Nearhos.


Lindsay mann

Diana, a sports reporter, says she is grateful for Steph’s help and organizational skills. She was so pleased with how happy the newlyweds were at brunch the next day that she couldn’t even remember Steph starting a discussion with the group about what they could improve next time around.

Some experiments to bring new working techniques home during the pandemic have failed. Sarah Elk, partner of Chicago-based Bain & Co. and co-author of the book Doing Agile Right, used Kanban boards, an essential part of agile management, to keep four of her children on track during the spring closings. The signs, which featured post-it notes detailing the children’s school subjects, including a drawing of a bicycle for Ms. Elk’s preschooler who cannot yet read, are meant to organize work and clearly show progress to the team.

Turns out that’s only half the battle when it comes to kids.

Ms. Elk has realized that you must want to finish everything in your to-do column. “If you’re willing to ignore it altogether, it doesn’t matter if you make it transparent,” she says.

The family abandoned the approach after three weeks.

Sarah Elk, pictured here with her family, has tested an agile management approach on her four oldest children.


Photograph by Jennifer Lawrence

Mr Herring, the consultant from Yarmouth, Mass., Relaxed a bit as the pandemic spread, notes his partner, Mr Holmes. Stand-up meetings often take place on the fly now, like while the couple is walking their Havanese mix, Louie. Calendar invitations always come in reminding Mr Holmes to do things like cancel a subscription service or take a trip to the landfill, but they’ve grown on him. Once irritated by the constant comments and reminders, the 41-year-old real estate agent now finds some of it useful, and the rest at least tolerable.

“I’m laughing a little bit now,” said Mr. Holmes. “Sometimes I just roll my eyes.”

Some say they have learned their lesson. Steve Goodrich, who admits to judging the efficiency or not of bartenders at preparing drinks, has nevertheless not shared his comments with family or friends in years. The Rockville, MD resident still remembers his son’s response when he tried to give advice on his high school football performance: “I already have a coach, thank you very much.”

“I have learned in my old age to hold my breath,” said the 65-year-old President and CEO of the Center of Organizational Excellence. “You have to know when just, you know, to step back.”

“My kids couldn’t afford my billing rate anyway,” he adds.

Write to Rachel Feintzeig at [email protected]

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Mary H. Martino