Working From Home during the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing how people work. I have some tips based on my experiences of working from home and sharing a home office with my husband.

I normally plan out the topics for my blog a month or two ahead of time. According to my plan, this week should be an update of one of my old posts. But right now, nothing is really going according to plan. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown off everyone’s normal schedule. How people work is changing. I’ve got some tips based on my experiences working from home.

Working from Home during the Pandemic

Social distancing

As I write this, it’s Thursday, 3/19/20. My family has been doing social distancing since Saturday. If you’re still mostly doing your normal routine, please stay home if possible. Self-isolation now will flatten the curve to reduce the strain on the health care system.

In many respects, this isn’t as much of a change for us as for many others. I’ve been working completely from home for over 8 years. Additionally, I’ve been working at least part time remotely since 2006. My husband also works remotely.

The big change for us is that our daughter is now home full time. That means that, like many of you, we’re doing homeschooling while trying to manage to be productive.

Sharing a home office

Can you have separate spaces?

My husband and I have shared a home office for almost 7 years. I know that’s a challenge for many of you; you’re suddenly sharing a space. If you can set up separate spaces, that may be the easiest solution for maintaining sanity.

In our case, it wasn’t practical to have two separate home offices. We don’t have the space. My husband and I both have our desks set facing walls rather than each other. That makes it easier for us to tune each other out when we need to focus. We both have headphones so we can listen to our own music (and tune out each other’s work).

Be patient

When we started sharing the home office, it took a few months to figure out how to do so without annoying the crap out of each other. If you’re in that position, be patient with each other and with yourselves as you navigate this new reality.

Set expectations and plan for conflicts

Communicate with each other to set expectations. My husband and I talk at the beginning of the day to find out when we have calls. If we have calls at the same time, one of us will plan to be in another room temporarily. Knowing that at the beginning of the day is a lot less stressful than realizing we have a conflict 2 minutes before logging into Zoom.

Reduce interruptions

Interruptions were one of my least favorite things about working in a cubicle farm. Working from home is no different. When my husband and I need to talk to each other, we look at the other person’s computer to see if they’re in the middle of focused work or taking a break. If I see that he’s in the middle of an email or analysis, I send him a message rather than speaking. That way, I’m not breaking his train of thought (and vice versa). We know the messages aren’t urgent, and that we can finish our current task before responding.

More tips

I wrote 6 tips for staying productive while working remotely two years ago. While two of those tips talk about leaving the house and getting face-to-face interaction (two things we can’t do now), the others are still helpful.

  1. Set a schedule
  2. Get dressed
  3. Pay attention to your natural rhythms
  4. Keep a To Do list

Homeschooling while working

While I have lots of experience sharing a space with another adult, homeschooling is a whole other thing. So far, I feel like I’m doing OK at keeping my child learning, but not so well at continuing to work. I’m averaging around 4 hours of work a day this week, and most of that has been at lower productivity than usual.

I’ve been creating a tentative schedule, and we’ve been somewhat holding to it. My daughter is mostly doing her work in the mornings, with more free time in the afternoon. She really likes the math workbook from EdSurge. She also does educational apps (Dreambox, Raz Kids, PBS Kids, and Letterland). She spends some time in the backyard or on her scooter every day.

The daily lunch doodles with Mo Willems have been a big hit too.

The Pigeon and Piggie (from Mo Willems' books, as drawn by my daughter)

My daughter has also been doing video calls with her friends (in fact, that’s what she’s been doing while I write this). We’re still trying to find ways for her to stay connected with her friends, but video calls will be part of the solution.

Officially, the schools in North Carolina have only been closed until the end of March, but it’s clearly going to be much longer than that. The teachers have been working on some remote learning options. I will be very grateful once I have some additional resources and plans from them, rather than planning it all myself.

We have it relatively easy

I recognize that my family is in a position of significant privilege. We were already doing most of the things we need be doing. We have fiber internet a solid home wifi (good enough for video calls anywhere in the house). Our home office is already set up, and our daughter has a spare tablet to use. I taught K12 before becoming an ID, and I know how to find good online resources and plan daily lessons. We have a big, fenced yard where we can be outside without interacting with others.

We’re luckier than many: the health care, pharmacy, and grocery workers who have to work; the retail and restaurant staff who have had their hours drastically cut; the folks who lack access to the internet or struggle with food insecurity. Even so, I’m feeling off kilter with the changes to my routine, and anxious about the world in general.

How are you doing?

How are you holding up during the pandemic? Are you struggling with some of the same issues as I am? Have you figured out some great solutions to make life a little easier during this time? Leave me a comment (or reply to this email) and let me know. We’re all going to need to help each other out and be compassionate to get through this.

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