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Working Remote: How to Stay Productive While Sheltering in Place

Apr 12, 2020

In my previous article Working Remote: Eight Tips for Success, we discussed several strategies for maintaining your sanity—and your productivity—while working remotely. Some of these tips included making use of public spaces such as coffee shops and libraries. But now that many states have enacted “shelter in place” and “stay at home” orders, more people than ever are working from home, sometimes for the first time. So how do we adjust to this new normal?


Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19

The most obvious place to start: why are so many of us working remotely in the first place? To help slow the spread of COVID-19 (the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and other health authorities have recommended a number of preventive measures. Chief among them is “social distancing,” which for many people means working from home.


Let’s review some of the other do’s and don’ts of our current circumstances:

  • Don’t panic. When you do, all logic goes out the window.
  • Do consider others at this time (#NotAboutYou). Elderly people and those with underlying health conditions are at much higher risk. It’s up to the rest of us to help protect them.
  • Do stay inside and if you have to venture out, use caution and do your best to keep a distance of at least six feet from other people.
  • Don’t gather in large groups.
  • Don’t forget that grocery stores, restaurants, banks and gas stations all fall into the category of “essential businesses” and will remain open. Some may be modifying their operating hours, though, so it’s best to check before you go.
  • Do plan limited trips for essential items carefully.Think hard about what you really need, and be strategic about where you go and when.
  • Do use streaming video tools like FaceTime, Zoom or Facebook to socialize and collaborate.
  • And finally, we can’t stress this enough: Do wash your hands. For pro tips on handwashing, watch this video.


This list isn’t an exhaustive one, just some essentials. If you’re interested in more information on COVID-19—and how to protect yourself and your loved ones—see our references below.


Feeling stir crazy?

If so, you’re not alone. For most, being at home all day is a challenge. Humans are social beings, and we enjoy going out to movies, restaurants, bars, dance clubs, concerts, and even work-related events. You may have children who are home due to school closures and are likely to be more antsy than usual. All of these factors can add up to a serious case of cabin fever. Here are a few creative solutions to help fend it off:

  • Go for walks, runs or bike rides in your free time (if your state’s orders allow it), being sure to respect the six-feet-apart safety rule.
  • Maintain your—and your household’s—existing daily schedule as much as possible.
  • Stick to your morning routine. Whatever you did to get ready for the office before, keep it up.
  • “Suit-up.” Dress the same for workdays at home as you would if you were heading into the office. And if for you “suiting up” means from the waist up (for video calls), we won’t judge.
  • Block off time on your calendar to take lunch and regular breaks away from your desk.
  • Use a busy-body tool or activity to help you relieve stress. For example, keep a fidget spinner on hand, or set up a yoga mat where you can do a few quick stretches to clear your mind.
  • Practice “distant socializing” through video conferencing, FaceTime, Google Hangouts and other digital tools (and turn on your camera!). A couple of ideas:
    • Host a virtual happy hour or coffee break with friends or coworkers.
    • Play video games using apps like QuizUp or Uno.
    • Set up video playdates for your kids.


Finding focus

Between barking dogs, noisy neighbors, restless children and package deliveries (thank you, Amazon), protecting your productivity at home can be a challenge. To remain effective, it’s important to carve out time and space where you can truly focus. Here are a few ways to cut through the chaos and actually get some work done:

  • Give your kids a project to work on, such as artwork, yardwork or homework—while you get down to your work. And no, there’s nothing wrong with letting them watch a little Disney+ or Netflix. These are trying times.
  • If your children’s school hasn’t moved to online learning, ask them what they’d like to learn and look for options. Streaming documentaries, YouTube videos and learning apps are all fantastic educational resources. You can also find great homeschooling work for all ages on sites like ABC Mouse, 1234 Homeschool 4 Me and Khan Academy.
  • Create boundaries between your workspace and the areas in your home where you relax or sleep, to keep leisure time from intruding on work time—and vice versa.
  • Ask household members not to interrupt your work. Suggest that instead, they make a list of items to discuss (non-urgent, of course) when you take a break. This strategy could end up being one you keep up in the future.
  • Turn off your phone unless you need it for work. Even if you have to keep your ringer on, you can mute notifications, so apps and texts don’t distract you.
  • Put on headphones and play some motivational or relaxing music.
  • Take a “brain break.” Sometimes, you just need to take a moment and allow yourself to re-focus. Meditate, exercise, do some yoga or breathing exercises, or simply step away from your desk for a few minutes to clear your mind.
  • Try to accept that interruptions are going to happen, and that’s OK. We’re all in the same boat, we’re all doing our best and down the road, we’ll all have great stories to share.


At the end of the day

Let’s face it. When the workday is over, we’re still basically stuck at home. But that doesn’t mean we have to go back to feeling stir crazy. There are many ways to enjoy an evening or weekend indoors. But don’t just take my word for it. Below, I’ve collected some indoor entertainment ideas shared by friends and coworkers.

  • Learn to cook a new recipe.
  • Rent a movie on Amazon Video, YouTube, Hulu, Vudu or iTunes. And don’t forget the popcorn!
  • Binge watch a new (or old) show.
  • Learn to play an instrument (even a free online drum machine).
  • Play a board or card game.
  • Listen to a new audiobook or podcast. Heck, you can even throw one on while you’re cooking or cleaning the house.
  • FaceTime or video conference with friends, grandparents and other relatives—especially those who live alone and may be feeling particularly isolated. Some tips:
    • For hands-free video calls longer than a few minutes, a laptop is a much more comfortable option than a mobile phone.
    • Zoom offers free accounts and up to 45 minutes of basic video conferencing per call.
  • Read a book or article. Virtual book club, anyone?
  • Teach yourself a new skill or hobby, such as playing a new instrument, knitting, or even trying a new recipe in the kitchen. It doesn’t have to be useful, just fun. Or, if you want to get more ambitious, Master Class offers courses ranging from cooking with Gordon Ramsay all the way to scientific thinking with Neil deGrasse Tyson.
  • Many health and fitness brands and experts are offering free streaming workouts. These can be an excellent option if you miss your weekly Pilates class or want to try something new.


I’m sure you’ve already come up with plenty of creative ideas of your own. If nothing else, this situation has forced us all to become more resourceful in our work and personal lives. And when we come out the other side—which indeed we will—I like to think that perhaps, all of this distancing will have brought us a little closer.


Stay safe, stay healthy and please, help keep the rest of us healthy, too.


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