Healthcare writer - Daniella Koren
By Daniella Koren
Columnist, April 2, 2020

This is the first post in a series about virtual work culture.

Although my company has been 100% virtual for the past three years

I’ve had new ideas about how to stay focused and feel calm during shelter in place. I’d like to share a series of ideas that include new and old practices for virtual work life. This post is focused on you first, and in the next articles I’ll include more best practices for virtual work teams, and likely more tips for you.

To be part of or lead a productive virtual team, you'll need to first feel good (or at least try to) about working virtually full time. Most people are looking at their homes with a new eye because now your family dynamic and schedules are totally different than they were pre-COVID-19. In my case, we moved out of our apartment in NYC and went to the country where I typically spend weekends, but am less used to working from during the week. I realize it’s a privilege to have left the big city, and it sounds ideal, however this has been a major adjustment period for me and my family as well.

Here are some things I did to find acceptance and productivity in my new work environment, and whether you’re staying put or going elsewhere, I think they still apply.

Avoid using common areas for work.

For our family, we decided that general areas such as the kitchen and dining area would NOT be used as a daily work space by anyone. The reason is simply that we all have different schedules and those who have breaks in the day want to be able to make food, listen to music, watch TV or play with the dogs freely without tip toeing around video conference calls. In my years of working from home, the less distracted I am by everyday life, such as the dishwasher beeping, or the mail being delivered, the more productive I have been.

Claim a space as yours.

Because I don’t typically work where I’m staying now, I had to figure out where to be. I like the feeling of “going” to a separate space so I claimed a room off of our garage as my workspace, but it wasn’t ideally set up to be an office at first. It’s a semi-finished room/shed but there’s no heat (and it’s cold right now!). The room is used primarily for workouts/yoga and the occasional hang out in summer time. But the sunlight from the windows made me feel positive and the room is quiet and separate from the main house. Another plus is that I don’t have to deal with two dogs who occasionally bark and are constantly on the lookout for petting and treats.

Get the right tools.

The “garage room” as we call it wasn’t WiFi enabled, so that was the first thing we took care of. A tp-link extender was installed in the house and after a bit of trial and error there’s WiFi that actually enables clear Zoom calls! (We had the extender for years but never bothered hooking it up.) I also brought a space heater out to warm up the room, and then to make sure my power cords were easily accessible, I shifted my desk around. I don’t need to use headphones in the garage room, but that’s a critical tool for my husband who has claimed our bedroom as his working space. I also put a floor lamp next to my desk for evenings or early mornings since the overhead lighting isn’t very bright.

Surround yourself with comfort and positivity.

Environments impact my mood, and I want to feel good every morning about going to my new virtual work space. Here are some things I brought out to my garage room (or ordered from Amazon) that make me feel positive and calm:

  • Succulents/plants - spring is in motion despite the world being shut down. I had one small succulent and a few days ago I saw a small yellow flower emerging. It made me so happy! I immediately ordered a pack of 10 tiny succulents from Amazon ($3/each!) and plan to put them around my work area and the house.
  • Candles - when I’m stressed I light a candle. Perhaps it’s the smell (I like vanilla) or the warmth, but it’s a trigger for me to go to a more calm place. Since I didn’t have any candles on hand, I ordered this one and light it every morning before I open my laptop.
  • Comfortable chair/blanket - the chair I’m using isn’t ergonomically ideal - it’s actually a small wooden chair from my childhood. The seat doesn’t have padding, so I found a comfy wool throw that I like and sit on that to make it more comfortable. And when it gets chilly I put the blanket around my shoulders. Not ideal seating, but buying an office chair isn’t something I want to invest in at the moment.
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