Tips for Staying Sane While Working From Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak

My company, along with many others, will be adding professional distancing to our social distancing regiment by transitioning to a remote workforce next week. As a software company, we consider ourselves fortunate to have numerous tools available to us, including our own product (insert shameless plug), to help us continue running the business without a hitch. But the decision wasn’t made lightly, and our department made sure to communicate expectations and concerns with each other before breaking for the weekend.

I worked remotely for a few years, and while I’m no expert, I got by with no budget (nor the extra room) for a home office renovation. I hope these tips will help you prepare and keep your sanity if you find yourself forced into a temporary work-from-home situation. It might not be the ideal home office of your dreams, but we’ll get through it!

Over Communicate

Let people know when it’s not working.
This tip comes from a coworker of mine who works remotely full time, while the majority of our team is in office. If something isn’t working, he always speaks up. And do it soon, rather than wasting time being polite while you can only hear every fifth word. He also reminded me that, “What you send isn’t always what is received,” which brings me to my next point.

Use emojis and GIFs to clarify tone.
If you tend to send short messages with no punctuation, your teammates might think you’re mad at them. Lighten it up 😊. Life-changing keyboard shortcut: on a Mac, use command-control-spacebar to pull up the emoji library!

Use communication tools. When in doubt, pick up the phone or turn on the camera.
We’re working remotely, but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to spend the next few weeks emailing. Get comfortable being on the phone or in Google Hangouts with your teammates if you’re collaborating. Align your team with tools, and communicate expectations on how to use the tools.

Be on the lookout for software companies offering discounted access to their product during the Coronavirus outbreak, such as Loom for sending quick videos and screen recording.

Messaging apps: Slack, Flowdock, Whatsapp, and Facebook Workplace

Prepare for Video Conferencing

Test your internet and equipment.
Run a video conference test with coworkers before any important client or partner meetings. If you don’t have anyone to test with, just make sure to clear the air with the other person and ask them if they can see and hear you. Chances are, they’re working from home too, so use that to break the ice. Let them know if your dog might interrupt you, and have your mouse cursor on the mute button if that’s likely to happen.

Get familiar with your video conferencing tool’s settings. For example, if you use Zoom, you choose to automatically start with video off—that way no one’s caught pantsless! Another coworker shared these ground rules, which are a fantastic example of adapting communication for virtual spaces.

Get camera-ready.
My favorite trick is to open up the Photo Booth app before getting on a call, so I can see how the room looks behind me and clean up before starting the call. You aren’t the only one being thrust into a work-from-home situation, so there’s no reason to be embarrassed, but try to avoid a distracting background. You’re also going to be seeing your own face while you talk, which might take getting used to. I’ve noticed that I have a bad habit of messing with my hair when I see it on camera, so I try to get it behaving before the call.

Video conferencing tools: Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans

Be Your Own Snack Captain

If you’re lucky enough to be in an office with a well-stocked kitchen, you might find yourself cranky this week. So when you make your next grocery run, consider adding easy snacks and sandwich stuff to your cart. Prepare salads or sandwiches ahead of time, or go buy lunch if you feel healthy and comfortable doing so. Too many times, I skipped lunch because I didn’t have anything easy to make and felt too stressed to go out.

Food delivery services: Baltimore-based Hungry Harvest delivers recovered produce and pantry staples that would otherwise go to waste.

Set Boundaries

Get dressed.
Okay, wear sweatpants on the first day because you deserve it. But full-time work-from-home-ers agree that it makes a huge difference to act the same as you would if you were actually going to work. Shower, shave, and put on fresh clothes. Doing all of that will also help when you want to run out for lunch in the afternoon and realize you need to face the public.

When work is over, shut down the computer.
You’re saving time in your day by avoiding the commute, but that doesn’t mean you need to keep working all night. It’s Spring! Why not cap off your workday with a walk? Literally shutting down your computer will help prevent you from “just doing one last thing that will only take five seconds,” which we know always ends in you surfacing hours later. After all, sleep is crucial for maintaining good health, and your computer needs to rest and reboot too.

Go Outside

I’m serious. Try starting your day with a coffee on the porch or a stroll around the block. We may be quarantined, but the weather forecast is looking inviting and may be the best thing to quell Coronavirus anxieties. Also, you can’t always wait for a nice, natural break in your workflow. Sometimes you just need to drop it and step outside, even for a minute.

Support Local Businesses (if you can)

Stay sane, maintain your humanity, and support your local businesses and service industry workers. They are taking extra precautions, so if you’re healthy and comfortable, consider taking your laptop and hand sanitizer to the coffee shop for an hour. I visited the new Sizka sushi in O’Donnell Square today and noticed the WiFi password was prominently displayed in the spacious, clean, quiet restaurant. In Fells Point, Cafe Latte’Da even has a printer available.

That being said, the situation with COVID-19 is developing as we speak, so be informed and consider carrying a pack of tissues wherever you go to avoid touching door handles.

Connect Online

Tap into online communities such as the Baltimore Graphic Designers Facebook group, Baltimore Womxn in Tech (BWiT), Elevate and Cultivate Design Collaborative or Monument Women’s Creative Alliance (MWCA) to stay connected, get feedback on your work, and exchange knowledge.

Get a Puzzle

Okay, not entirely relevant, but have you done a puzzle lately? If you need something to distract you from work and COVID-19 tweets and keep you off your phone, this is it. They’re my new favorite winter activity, and it might be worth pulling one out if you’ll be practicing social distancing for an extended time.

Want more? I enjoyed this Instagram post by Post Typography co-founder and full-time work-from-home-er Nolen Strals:

Feature image by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
unsplash-logoGlenn Carstens-Peters

By Frances Miller
Published March 13, 2020