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Lifestyle

8 expert tips for setting up a home office that *actually* works for you

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COVID-19 has changed the landscape of working from home, but to be honest, it was becoming an increasingly popular choice for the modern workforce for some time. It's also a convenient option for a variety of reasons, from being available for school drop offs and pickups, to caring for young children and avoiding spreading an illness if you're not feeling your best.

Traditional offices are designed to give employees the resources needed to effectively do their jobs, and when you work from home, you should try to create a similar environment.

Here are a few steps to remember when setting up a remote working environment:

1. Make your working space comfortable

It's not about spending extra money to get the perfect setup, it's about identifying the space and the items you already have in your home that can make you the most comfortable and put you in the best frame of mind. "Even more than the physical items, like a chair and a desk, it's about the location in your home that you choose," says Leonard Callejo, director of Cisco Webex. "For example, a space in the middle of your kid's playroom, is not the best place to set up your remote working environment. We recognize that as parents with children in the home, there probably isn't a place that is completely quiet. However, some places will be better than others (think: kitchen table) and that goes a long way in improving focus and productivity while you work."

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2. Build a schedule that works for you

No matter where you work, you'll need to hit deadlines and attend important meetings at scheduled times. "But, you can take advantage of less-structured periods during the work day by setting aside your lunch hour to go over your child's lesson plan, or simply take a walk in your neighborhood together," says Callejo. "If you have little ones that take a nap at noon, then try to move your work schedule to accommodate that. The point is to create a schedule that works for you and your family—not everyone else's."

3. Surround yourself with light

A light, bright space that is devoid of clutter will help you to focus. "We might not all have such a space in our home, but even if you are working in your basement or attic make sure that you have enough light so you don't feel like you're in a cave," says Michelle Lisac, founder and principal designer of Michelle Lisac Interior Design. "Clearing that space of all visual (and actual) clutter will help you stay on task, too."

4. Burn a candle

Candles are so relaxing and can be beneficial when you're feeling stressed. "Having a candle burning nearby will help create a relaxed work environment, especially if you're trying to work with kiddos around," says Ashley Moore, founder of Moore House Interiors.

5. Keep personal items visible

Just because it's your home office space doesn't mean you shouldn't have some personal, homey items on display. "I like to keep a small plant on my desk or reminders and memories of your loved ones are a great touch," says Sybille Zimmermann, founder and interior architect of Studio Zimmermann. "I keep a small picture frame with my daughter on my desk, and everytime I look up it makes me smile."

6. Create + follow a routine

As mamas, we understand that the notion of a routine goes out the window, especially if you are forced to juggle both work and kids at home, at the same time. "Luckily, parents are the world's best multi-taskers," says Callejo. "This is going to come in handy when you are forced to switch your mind back and forth throughout the day, as these two worlds collide. We recommend either the night before or the morning of, make a list of your must-dos for the day." Also, having a plan to concretely end the workday helps you keep your home and work life separate, even though you're in the same physical space.

7. Be creative with storage

Proper storage for your home office is essential—the last thing you need is for your home office to feel cluttered with paperwork, pens, etc. "I like to use beautiful vases or mugs to hold my pens and pencils and decorative baskets or boxes to store files and office supplies," says Zimmermann.

8. Leverage modern technology

Working from home means there's physical distance between you, your colleagues and your managers. Luckily, there are effective systems available to bridge that gap and ensure you remain connected to the heart of your company's operations.

Consider having these three core tools at your disposal to make sure you do not skip a beat when working from home:

  • Video conferencing app:

"Virtual meetings with video create the ability to see who you are engaging with, no matter where they are," says Callejo. "Looking someone in the eye always establishes better rapport and a stronger inter-personal connection. Plus, these apps enable you to share your computer screen so you can virtually work side-by-side with your colleagues." We like CISCO Webex and Zoom.

  • Team messaging app:

Messaging apps allow for timely, off-the-cuff conversations with attachments and key information that can be saved in a thread for later use. "Messages can be posted anytime of the day, allowing discussions and the exchange of ideas to occur in real-time," says Callejo. "There can be 1:1 or group messages aligned around teams or projects. This helps keep everyone connected and information can be collected and disseminated quicker than it would have been over text or phone." We like Slack.

  • Document sharing + collaboration platform:

Taking messaging a step further, document sharing via a collaboration platform allows documents to be shared and edited together, in real-time. Try Google Doc to create, edit and collaborate with others.

Most importantly, just remember not to stress. You're doing the best you can, mama. Of course, some days will be better than others, but be kind to yourself. We're all in this together!

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Our Partners

Dear Baby,

In a few weeks you'll be a 1-year-old. While it seems like just yesterday you were born, this year has also seemed to last forever. Honestly, the month of March alone could've been a year of our lives.

We'll never forget this first birthday, dear baby. Our memories of this special time will be stamped with the historic stain that is the COVID-19 global pandemic.

I remember planning for your older brother's birthday party a couple years ago. I had many concerns back then, which all seem so trivial now. What theme will we choose? Did I make festive enough decorations? What's the protocol—do we serve alcohol to the adults? How many cupcakes will we need?

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None of that matters this time around. Actually, it probably never mattered then either. Your brother doesn't remember that party any more than you'll remember this one. Now my concerns take a different shape.

Have I stocked our pantry with enough food for our family? When will you get to see your grandparents again? How are our friends doing? Will Daddy lose his job once the economic ramifications of this virus catches up? How do I make a mask using scrap fabric and hair ties? What if one of you gets sick?

This is what occupies my mind in place of streamers and birthday cakes.

But regardless of the toll this pandemic has and will continue to bring to the world, you deserve to be celebrated. You've been a bright ray of sunshine in the storm of uncertainty.

You've reminded us to pause and soak up the small moments of pure joy. You've grown tremendously and developed quite a personality all your own. Your dad and I like to joke around about what a cute troublemaker you're shaping up to become. We love you abundantly, and can't wait to watch you grow up.

When this milestone birthday comes around, I promise you'll be surrounded by love. Physically, you'll have Mommy, Daddy and your big brother's presence to help you celebrate. The other love will be from afar, yes, but that doesn't make it any less strong.

Your grandparents, aunt, uncles, cousins—they're eagerly awaiting the day they can hug you and hold you tightly. They're grieving the fact they can't wish you a happy birthday in person. And I'm grieving right along with them.

I've come to realize that a child's first birthday party is much more for the adults than the child, but I don't think that's a negative thing. It's a gathering of loved ones celebrating how much their lives have been positively changed by a special kiddo. And this time, we were looking forward to celebrating you, my baby.

For the sake of being safe and responsible, that won't be happening in a traditional way. Not this spring, anyway. I promise to make this up to you. (And—in a way—to myself, too.)

But we will still celebrate, little one. Your first birthday is not canceled. We will still laugh and play and marvel at your being. And so, my baby for not much longer, happy birthday.

We'll make sure you have everything you need in the comfort of our home. Your birthday will be spent in footie pajamas cuddled on the couch, us laughing at your adorable antics. We'll FaceTime our extended family and if there aren't too many substitutions on my online grocery order, I'll bake you a cake. I'll sing off-key and your brother will blow out your candle in the true and messy fashion of a toddler giving the weather instead of the news.

And when you're older, we'll laugh and reminisce about you turning one while the world was quarantined. It'll certainly be one for the baby book.

It'll certainly be one we will always remember.

We love you.

Love,

Mommy and Daddy

Life

Right now, we're all facing financial uncertainty that we've likely never navigated before. If your family is rethinking your strategy for spending and saving money, or if you're suddenly facing debt or financial hardship you didn't anticipate, you're not alone.

We do know people are looking for a plan forward for their finances. And as bills begin to pile up and as people begin to dip into their savings, families are looking for ways to avoid financial distress.

Here are some steps you can take to get yourself back on track if you find yourself unable to pay your bills.

1. Audit yourself to see where you stand

As a first step, and in order to get the full picture of your finances, take an inventory of all your expenses, like groceries or utilities, and any money you currently owe, like credit card bills.

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Identify any unnecessary expenses that you can cut back on for the time being, such as any subscriptions being paid automatically.

Knowing everything you owe, plus your projected expenses for the coming months will help you see where you stand, and will allow you to make a realistic plan for yourself.

2. Make a budget and prioritize only what is necessary

Now more than ever, Americans need to be extremely diligent with their money, prioritizing what matters most, like rent and other necessities. Every family's financial situation is different so it's important to make a realistic plan for your money.

To help you get back on track, create a budget for your family that you're willing to stick to. This should only include necessary expenses at this point, like rent and groceries. In order to help stabilize your finances over the long term, map out your projected expenses over the next three, six and nine months, since there's uncertainty around how long the effects of the global pandemic will be felt.

Planning for the worst is the way to stay ahead of financial problems.

3. Know every relief option available to you

Be proactive about understanding your options and take action when possible. Depending on your family's situation and expenses, there may be forms of relief available to you, so it's worth doing a bit of research to understand how you can get your debts under control. Here are some debt and financial hardship relief options to know about:

  • Your bank or credit union may be offering consumer protections and relief, including fee waivers, deferred payments for credit cards, auto loans and mortgages, loan modifications, low-rate and zero-rate loans and other accommodations. See what your bank is offering by checking this list or your bank's website, or consult this list of credit unions offering consumer financial support.
  • Call your credit card issuer. Numerous credit card companies are offering some kind of debt relief, such as waived fees or deferred payments.
  • If you're a homeowner and you're worried about making a payment, reach out to your mortgage lender. Many offer programs like mortgage forbearances that allow you to either temporarily stop making payments or temporarily lower your payments. (Again, always be sure to read the fine print so you know what you're getting yourself into, as there may be penalties to some options down the line.) Under the CARES Act, your family may be eligible for mortgage forbearance options for coronavirus related financial hardship. And because mortgage rates are low right now, refinancing might free up some financial flexibility, although the process takes time.
  • If you're a renter, speak to your landlord about your options. If your landlord's mortgage is from a federal lender, you cannot be evicted for nonpayment due to coronavirus-related hardship. This eviction forbearance, part of the CARES Act, is currently in effect through July.
  • Under the CARES Act, all federal student loans are in a state of administrative forbearance, which means you can temporarily stop making payments through the end of September, with no accrued interest. Sallie Mae, Navient and Wells Fargo are also offering temporary loan forbearance for student loans—contact your lender.
  • A number of internet companies have "pledged" not to terminate service for customers due to nonpayment caused by coronavirus-related financial hardship. Check to see if your utility companies are on this list, which includes AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon.
  • Utility companies in some areas have also announced that they will temporarily suspend service terminations for nonpayment—check your utility providers' websites or call them.
  • Unemployment insurance is available at higher rates for a longer period, and more people qualify under the CARES act, including part-time workers, freelancers, people on furlough and people who were recently laid off. If you are unable to work because your child's daycare or school was closed, for example, you are eligible for unemployment under the new provisions. And if you have been forced to accept reduced hours, you're eligible, too.

4. Keep your credit accounts current, if possible

On-time payments are one of the key pieces factored into a credit score so I'd encourage you to avoid letting bills go unpaid entirely, if you can. Instead, do some research and find out what the minimum payment is for each of your bills, and pay that, if possible. If you're unable to pay at all, call to see if there's a way to defer payments temporarily.Paying the minimum payments on your monthly bills will help you keep your credit accounts current.

5. Avoid payday loans or maxing out credit cards

Payday lenders tend to prey on those in desperate circumstances, and these loans can be the beginning of a long cycle of debt with high fees and interest rates.

Likewise, you can quickly rack up interest and fees with credit cards if you're putting more money on them that you can pay back.

Instead, if necessary, look into other options available to you such as an emergency or personal loan, which often have lower interest rates. Always read the fine print before signing anything so you understand the terms and implications.

Overall, navigating your finances during this time of uncertainty can seem daunting and overwhelming. But it isn't impossible. The key is to take the first step. Now is the time to advocate for yourself and finances.

Work + Money

Parenthood is a crash course in expecting the unexpected. But—come on. Who else has lost count of how many times the word "unprecedented" has been thrown around to describe this coronavirus pandemic?

In the span of just a few weeks, our lives have been completely shaken up and our sense of what is normal has been turned upside down...

It's unprecedented to distance ourselves from extended family members.

It's unprecedented to save grocery shopping trips for once every week or two and hope there is toilet paper still on the shelves.

It's unprecedented to have schools, workplaces, restaurants and more shuttered indefinitely.

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Yet here we are—even as mamas who are naturally experienced with rising to the challenge, this is a hard one. As we stand here today facing the enormity of the challenge ahead, it's okay if you can't help but feel overwhelmed. That's normal.

Right now, you may not be able to imagine how you will balance "non-essential" work with the very pressing responsibilities of parenting.

Right now, you may not be able to imagine how you will cope with long afternoons without your go-to outings.

Right now, you may not be able to imagine how you will answer your children's questions about why they can't see friends or family when that's all you really want, too.

Right now, you may not be able to imagine how your marriage will stay "light and exciting" as the world feels so heavy and sad.

Right now, you may not be able to imagine how you will create meaningful space for your own self-care with your physical space so confined.

Right now, you may not be able to imagine how you will fill your children's time in ways that are at once educational, creativity-boosting, stimulating and fun.

Right now, you may not be able to imagine how you will overcome the sense of isolation with interactions limited to FaceTime calls or Zoom hangouts.

But we soon will know.

Whether the shelter in place mandate is lifted by the currently scheduled date in your area or if it stretches on to a later point in time, I believe our strength will be revealed to us day by day, low point by low point and high point by high point—and there will come a day when this trial ends.

Just like past generations were called to face their own great and "unprecedented" challenges, this is ours. And although we didn't ask for it and may not have any other option but to deal with it, we still stand to learn and grow from this experience. For the rest of our lives, this is a defining moment we will look back on when we need evidence of our strength.

Because, remember this, mama: Today, we may be looking ahead and bracing ourselves. But there will just as surely come a day when we stand on the other side of this—and on that day, our anxiety will surely be replaced with accomplishment. There is light on the other side.

Life

Across the nation families are wondering how to connect with others and move with purpose during these isolated days. The urge to make a difference is powerful. Especially as we watch the impacts of this global crisis fall heavier on some than others.

Now more than ever we know that action feels better than anxiety.

Scroll down for a list of ways your family can share kindness, volunteer, donate and learn together, even as you stay home together to slow the spread of the pandemic.

Share kindness

Lift spirits, warm hearts, and teach compassion.

  1. Check on neighbors with apps like Next Door. We're hearing wonderful stories of neighbors offering to share their abundance with others who are struggling in their own community.
  2. Start a neighborhood scavenger hunt by putting hearts on your front door, teddy bears in your windows, or decorative Easter egg pictures in public spaces. When other families are out for a (socially distanced) walk, they can watch for these surprises.
  3. Chalk your walk, leaving uplifting sidewalk chalk messages like "We're All In This Together."
  4. Thank delivery providers with a gift of hand sanitizer, an encouraging note like this one or just an extra tip.
  5. Mail friendship bracelets to cheer up friends and family members.
  6. Create awards to celebrate the everyday heroes in your community, from grocery store clerks to medical staff to your mail carrier.
  7. Share your art through the mail or take pictures and share digitally. Write pandemic-themed haiku or other poetry, draw, paint, color, fold origami or explore other creative passions. Then share your creations, along with an uplifting note, with folks in need of support.
  8. Send art to Color-a-Smile and they'll send it on to seniors, soldiers overseas and anyone in need of a smile.
  9. Set up a Magic Mail Station, inviting kids to create cards for those who need it most. Share your creations with seniors in isolated nursing homes, essential employees on the front lines of fighting this virus or anyone you know in need of extra support.
  10. Reach out to the elderly with Letters of Love. The mission of Letters of Love is to bring the joy of thoughtful letters and cards into the lives of the elderly in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospices and senior centers around the world.
  11. Start a Grandparent Journal, mailing a notebook back and forth to grandparents, exploring questions and sharing encouragement.
  12. Decorate lunchbags to brighten up Meals on Wheels deliveries.
  13. Fill "Buckets" at home with these free resources (coloring pages, puzzles, book videos, lessons) from our good friend Carol McCloud, author of Have you Filled a Bucket Today? and many other awesome kindness books for kids.

Volunteer

Meet tangible community needs.

  1. Set up a Little Free Pantry, sharing extra groceries with neighbors and workers in your area. One big-hearted family we work with has been sharing staples in their driveway. Some neighbors are pitching in too! And at the end of every day, the table is nearly empty, as folks took what they needed.
  2. Support citizen science with three timely crowd-sourced science projects brought to you by Science Friday and SciStarter. Your family can help scientists track the spread of COVID, monitor changes in weather and identify drinking water quality all from your home. The following projects are particularly interesting right now:
  3. Covid Near You: Take 5 minutes each week to check in with researchers at Harvard and Boston Children's Hospital monitoring the spread of the virus.
  4. Participate in Citizen Science Month in April: SciStarter.com is celebrating all things citizen science with daily challenges. Pick your families favorite and get started today!
  5. Become an iNaturalist: Download the iNaturalist app from National Geographic and California Academy of Sciences. Join a project—which they define as a collection of observations with a common purpose. And begin your citizen science observations about the natural world!
  6. Sign Up for Nature's Notebook: This National Phenology Network project invites you to help scientists take the pulse of our planet by observing and then sharing seasonal changes in plants and animals. You may also want to explore their nature lessons to become a family of certified Nature's Notebook Observers.
  7. Spring clean yards for homebound neighbors. Some spring chores still beg to be completed. Offer help for older folks in your neighborhood.
  8. Clean up your neighborhood on your next walk outside. Grab plastic bags and garden gloves and clear up the winter refuse that may have accumulated.
  9. Go on a nature scavenger hunt with our free printable. We've gathered our favorite clues for a scavenger hunt to liven up your next walk in the woods. When children learn to appreciate and enjoy nature, they are more likely to grow into adults who value and protect our environment.
  10. Foster pets! It's puppy and kitten season, and though many shelters are closed to the public, many are still looking for foster families.

Donate

Share your abundance and teach the importance of charitable giving.

  1. Spring clean in anticipation of being able to donate gently used clothes, toys, and books to a shelter at some future date.
  2. Create a giving jar to help your child participate in your family's charitable giving. Organizations you may want to support include Family-to-Family, No Kid Hungry, UNICEF, or your local food bank.
  3. Start a garden in anticipation of donating some of the produce to your local food pantry.
  4. Host a food drive social-distance-style. Set up a drop off station in your driveway or other public space. Inform friends and neighbors of your event. Be sure to remind folks to keep their distance as they bring over their donations. Then drop off your collection at the food shelf and thank everyone for participating!
  5. Create activity kits to donate to food pantries and shelters engaging kids with extra time off.
  6. Make room for the hungry with a calendar-based fundraiser. Each day (for 30 days) count something different in your home with this simple printable. Place that many coins in a bowl or jar. At the end of the month, donate this money to a hunger relief organization.

Advocate

Raise your voice for peace, justice, and social action.

  1. Speak up for the vulnerable. Reach out to your elected official and let them know you expect them to support people who are experiencing homelessness or food insecurity at this time. These printable advocacy templates help you express support for environmental justice, helping the hungry, and more.
  2. Sign petitions to correct injustices and support people struggling through the crisis.

Learn + discuss

Start big-hearted conversations and explore big ideas.

  1. Keep a journal by recording your experience during this historic moment. You may also want to write a reflection question in your journal each day and invite each family member to record a response.
  2. Play Free Rice, an online quiz game from the World Food Program. Players match words with their meanings to earn donations of rice for those in need, now featuring a cornoavirus category.

A version of this post was originally published on Doing Good Together; it has been reposted with permission.

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Learn + Play
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