Blog: Working from Home During COVID-19 “Shelter-in-Place” Order

A senior associate with RHP Risk Management, Shelley Hawkins has nearly 15 years of environmental consulting experience. She regularly works out of her home office but is finding out that adapting to California’s COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” order is more difficult than anticipated.

Shelley Hawkins

As someone who has been working remotely for RHP for around the last six years, you would think that I would have some handy tips to ease the transition to working from home for those who are now adapting to what is a new WFH reality for an undetermined period, and I do have a few. But, despite years of WFH experience, with the emergence of COVID-19 and the associated response, the balance I thought I had struck with working at home began to falter. On March 16, seven counties in the Greater Bay Area, CA, were ordered to shelter-in-place. At the time it was the first such order, and the nation’s most stringent public health measure from state and local governments regarding the coronavirus. I live in one of these counties, so have been under the shelter-in-place directive since that time. All of California was shortly thereafter ordered to shelter-in-place, and businesses deemed non-essential were instructed to close. We were told to leave our homes only for certain necessary purposes, such as obtaining medical care, medications, or food, although it is permissible to go outside for activities like hiking or walking, as long as social distancing is observed. Similar shelter-in-place measures have since been implemented on state and local levels elsewhere in the country.

Before the shelter-in-place order, I would have given the following advice to those transitioning to WFH:

* I cannot stress this enough: do get dressed in some fashion.

* When you have a chance, and if you have a place to do so, carve out a space that is solely dedicated to work and consider that your office. When you leave this space for lunch or a break, act as you would if you had left the office.  Otherwise, the boundaries between what is work and what is your home can become very blurred.

* Although time may now seem to have little meaning, try to maintain a regular schedule so you aren’t working all hours.

20-pound furry office assistant

* Accept that your pets/children will be very confused and will attempt to “help” you in very unhelpful ways, as demonstrated by the 20-pound keyboard hog and screen-blocker pictured. Be patient with them as they, too, adjust. On the plus side, your coworkers may enjoy seeing said pets/children on video conference.

* Consider getting a headset, headphones or other aid for conference calls that can help mitigate the ambient or sometimes not so ambient sound of “help” from pets and children.

* Be prepared with extra easy-to-grab snacks and lunches that you may not have needed if you previously ate out at lunch. Also be prepared to go through more items like toilet paper and hand soap now that you are at home most of the time.

* Connect frequently with coworkers through the phone, Teams, WebEx, or other such methods.

* Try to take a walk, do a workout, or do something else that takes you away from your home/office every day.

Much of this still holds true, although is harder to implement with new realities such as children out of school, others in the household also working remotely in the same space, gyms being closed and food and cleaning supply availability being fraught. While much of my day-to-day at work did not change with the shelter-in-place order, the psychic toll of the continuing barrage of new and different bad world news was unnerving and distracting. As well, until I was unable to follow it, I had not realized how much of my day was built around my gym routine. Trying to replicate that somehow in my small living room, dodging weaving cats and my housemate who is also working from home and taking client calls; or struggling to maintain motivation while peering at a tiny video of a workout on my phone in my backyard, is not remotely the same as having a coach and classmates to keep me motivated. I also just miss the routine of my usual day, including actually leaving my house, seeing my coach and people in my gym classes, and good-naturedly complaining about the workout after completing it.

I am someone who normally can be happily entertained in my own home and yard with crafts, projects and gardening. I never thought I’d miss things like going to the grocery store. Switching to home delivery as much as possible has meant entering the cut-throat world of attempting to schedule delivery times, the struggle of forgetting items because I’m not in the store walking past that aisle (how did I forget the half and half AGAIN?), and of course finding out that many of the items I ordered became out of stock before they were picked. (Why on earth is there a tofu shortage? What is going on?)

While working from home generally, as well as specifically during this time, has challenges, I have been largely fortunate. It has been beautiful spring weather and my California native plant garden is in full bloom. My dogs are very happy that we’ve been going on more walks, even if their behavior has not always been pleasing on said walks. The adoption of the shelter-in-place model in other areas has led to reconnecting with many geographically far-flung friends through the magic of video chats, online hangouts, and virtual watch parties where we have been able to share our lives and projects. Neighbors have been checking in from a safe distance, and local friends have been messaging about where they have found toilet paper or supplies. Friends are rallying resources to videotape themselves reading books for children, to virtually walk in fundraisers that have been physically canceled, to support Food Banks and find other ways to be of assistance to others during this time. As the beloved Mr. Rogers advised parents as part of a holistic approach to manage children’s worry during a crisis: turn off the television, maintain regular routines, and offer physical affection. He also said, look for the helpers. This seems like sound advice for us all, but as we are the adults in this scenario, this is our chance to rise to the occasion and be the helpers.