Executive Education

Survival Tips for Working from Home

In life before the coronavirus, “sheltering in place” tended to mean staying put for a brief event, like weathering a storm or evading a madman on the loose. Now, major cities are requiring people to shelter in place for untold weeks at a time, with not even the relief of any social gatherings to mitigate the pain.

This means all but the most essential employees are forced to work from home. No more interacting with coworkers, meeting with clients, or working in coffee shops. Instead, those lucky enough to still have work are hunkered down in their homes or apartments trying to be productive on their own.

At the same time, we’re distracted by the chaos happening out in the world. Rising death tolls, the crashing economy, and the health of family and friends — not to mention our own health — has us in a perpetual state of worry and near panic. Politicians give up daily briefings, which, while beneficial, keep the sense of panic at the forefront of our thoughts.

We long for the distraction of work to keep our minds off the pandemic. But the horrific news each day is a distraction. To carry on through these chaotic times and stay focused on doing your work, try the following survival tips.

  1. Maintain your work schedule.
    True, no one is likely monitoring your work hours, but instead of turning off your alarm clock and pulling the covers over your head, make yourself stick to your regular start and end times in your workday. It will help give you a sense of normalcy in these abnormal times.
  2. Stay in contact.
    Beware of taking isolation to an extreme. If you normally check in with staff at your workplace, do so remotely by phone or email. If you’ve had to cancel appointments, reach out to re-schedule for early fall or set up virtual appointments. The age of online communicating allows us to meet through teleconferencing and other easy-to-use platforms, such as Zoom. Use them to your advantage so you can (almost) conduct business as usual.
  3. Force yourself to stay focused.
    With new press conferences and health updates continuously pouring in, it’s easy to become fixated on news streams and social media. We’re also tempted to check in with loved ones multiple times during the day to gauge everyone’s health — physically and mentally. Try to limit your news and check-in breaks to one or two a day. Make sure to finish a project or assignment — or come to a natural stopping place — before making that personal call or logging into that news feed. Such interruptions will zap your focus and quash your productivity.
  4. Fend off boredom.
    When you’re used to full freedom of movement and regular human interaction, all this seclusion can start to get monotonous. Look for ways to infuse humor or creativity into your work-from-home days. For example, ask employees for entries into a contest to draft the most clever customer email update.
  5. Broaden your cultural horizons.
    Many museums are offering virtual tours of their exhibits. Netflix and other entertainment streaming services offer countless ways to take your mind off of COVID-19. When you’re done with your workday, now is the time to catch up on any TV series you vowed you’d watch at some point. Comedies, sit-coms, and TV musical shows add a pleasant respite from these grim times.
  6. Practice self-care.
    After days of imposed confinement, if the walls begin to close in on you, it’s time to make a change. Find another workspace in you home, ideally one where you can stand to take a break from nonstop sitting. Step out on your balcony or porch and commune with the natural world. Eat healthy foods. Impose a workout or stretching routine. Exercising your body will help you sleep better, which will keep your mind sharp and your mood elevated.

It may sound cliché, but it is important to stay positive. Realize that by self-isolating, you are doing an important service to your country and your fellow man and woman. This too will pass, and once it does, chances are you will feel more fulfilled if you took this opportunity to get some work done.


Written by Vicky Oliver.
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Vicky Oliver
Based in New York, Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-bestselling author of five books, including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks 2005), named in the top 10 list of “Best Books for HR Interview Prep,” 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions (Skyhorse 2010) and Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots (Sourcebooks 2008). She is a sought-after speaker and seminar presenter and a popular media source, having made over 901 appearances in broadcast, print and online outlets. Vicky Oliver is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.