Tips on how to stay sane and productive from a virtual company in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic

Based on a figure from flexjobs.com, between 2005 to 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work. In 2015, 3.9 million U.S. workers were working remotely. In mid-February 2020, that number was at 4.7 million (3.4% of the population) but now, in these times of the COVID-19 virus, just about everyone who isn’t considered essential (healthcare, first responders, law enforcement, some government, grocery, and pharmacy employees) have been told to limit social interaction and work from home or has been laid off–some temporarily and others indefinitely.

A desk with a computer on a table

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Elena’s set up: Lots of water for the day, a bit of ambiance

It goes without saying that we are living in times that we couldn’t have imagined just a few months ago. Many states of have closed all schools until early to mid-April or beyond, and parents are now finding themselves having to continue with business as usual as best as possible while balancing homeschooling and childcare.

To many who have found themselves in a situation they are not used to, especially for an extended amount of time, we are faced with the challenges and joys of blending our homes with our offices. This entails a pretty major shift of schedule, structure, process…and the list goes on.

My first-grade twins interacting with their virtual classroom at lunch

I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of ups and downs. I stopped by a friend’s house on day one of no school (3/16/20) who does not typically work from home and she looked at me wide-eyed and demanded to know how I do this every day. As a full-time, work-from-home employee (and mom) since 2013 who sometimes had to juggle kids in my office space, I, and the rest of my virtual team, can offer some tips to help you out in these unique times.

First, here are some quick tips on productivity and mental resilience. We’ll expand on and add to this topic in subsequent blog posts, but to start, here are our top tips. You never know, you might just realize how much more productive you are able to be when left to (almost) your own devices:


Set up for success using the OPA! Method

Organize, Prioritize, Ambiance

ORGANIZE: First, celebrate the fact that you no longer have a commute, nor do you have to take time to do your hair and makeup if that’s your thing. And the best part—working in your pajamas! Use that time you’d otherwise spend getting pretty to get organized right away.

Snack trove
  • Have easy/healthy snacks prepared in the morning or at the ready because you will find a lot of time can be wasted on food prep. Of course, you need to take time for meals and set rules on the number of snacks, but this will reduce the potential arguments with kids on what they should or shouldn’t eat.
  • Prepare large bottles of water at your work area that don’t need refilling constantly. In the morning, hopefully, after some exercise if you can get it in (more on that later), make a schedule for the day for you and your kids. Some days will differ here and there but maintaining a relatively similar routine every day will fulfill their need for the structure they are used to having in school. Here’s our collaborative schedule:

PRIORITIZE: Make a list of 3-5 big tasks or goals and a handful of lower-level tasks you want to accomplish daily and list them in priority of deadlines. Start with the most challenging one first. Instead of letting the challenge overwhelm you, take baby steps. Usually, you find even just initiating it relieves the anxiety you might feel about it. My Mantra when it comes to the stuff I’ve been back-burning for too long:

“Do it. Do it right. Do it right now.”

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A simple lab desk is a great alternative when you need a change of scenery. Yes, those are stickers.

AMBIANCE is important. Find two non-messy places where you can focus and flow without distractions. Two because you will need a change of scenery at some point. Also, if you don’t have a proper desk chair at home, you might need a short-term jerry-rig solution to avoid lower back pain. Use a pillow for support. Those mobile desks are great and cheap. I use a super basic one if I need to get away from my desk. Depending on your home, this might be the most difficult part if you have young children and your partner is also working from home. Screen time limitations for young ones might go out the window over these next few weeks and that’s okay. Routines will get disrupted—being flexible and creative; patient and understanding with your colleagues and trying to stay positive will get you through. That and a lot of deep breathing.

Here’s one of our team members’ schedules during this time of COVID-19:

Kelly says “I schedule my day in blocks” 

5-6:45: Wake- Up block:
Wake, coffee, breakfast, exercise, unload dishwasher, start some laundry, etc. (quick household chore started) shower, get dressed, read social media, this is my time before the “day starts.”

6:45- 7:45: Get kids up and ready for the day. 
Normally get ready and send to school- but now… Give them a list of activities to choose from: reading, craft, movie, outside activity, etc.  (IF they are quiet and they can do activity in same room.  Sometimes the kids just want to be “near” you.  Reading, simple craft etc. is allowed in same room. Toys, etc. must be in a different room than I am working.)

7:45- 11:45: Work block 1
I take a 15 min. snack break during this time.  (Kids too)

11:45 to 12:30:
Eat lunch, check personal email and voice messages, return personal calls, move laundry, quick tidy up from lunch 

12:30-4:00: Work block 2
Kids can continue with choice activities. 

4:00-7:30: Family block
Family activity, dinner prep and clean up

7:30-8:00: Work block 3
I review work the day, organize and prioritize work for the next day.   I TRY not to look at work email at this time.  This is my time to organize and feel good about ending all work for the day

8:00: Assemble optional  “activities” for kids for the next day.   Get out books, toys, craft supplies,  etc.   
One parent does Quick pick up around the house, vacuum, etc.
Other parent helps get kids ready for bed
Everyone plays a family game or reads together, etc .

Take a deep breath and turn off the news. You’ve got this.

Now that we’ve had a few days of this so far, how are you managing? What challenges have you had? Tell us and let us know what questions you have in the comments.

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