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Making work-at-home work: A little more help

April 28, 2020 By Käri Knutson

Listen to salsa music.

MacGyver your work area.

Take solace in the outdoors.

Those were just a few of the tips and tricks your UW–Madison colleagues offered for adjusting to changes in work and home life.

But wait — there’s more. This new normal still doesn’t feel all that normal but hopefully some of these ideas can help or remind you that we’re all still figuring it out.

Feel gratitude and the fresh air

Mouse pad with drawing of blue dog

Her mousepad was hand-made by her stepson. Desi Gargano

Working on campus, I always felt the excitement of spring weather to finally take a scenic walk during breaks. Creating a simple space at home for exercise or yoga to step away from the surreal day can help productiveness. My walks throughout our neighborhood and our at-home “mini gym” my husband put together support a reset button throughout the day.

Also, gratitude. Check in on your colleagues through email or virtually within your department to reconnect and chat about a topic or two other than work as a reminder of us all being in this together and to reminisce the normal days.

If you have one song (or many) you love to sing your heart out to, play it over and over. “Africa” by Toto came on. My stepchildren and I started singing at the top of our lungs. Instantly, it cured all of our fear and we had forgotten about (Corona who?) for those four minutes and thirty seconds.

Desi Gargano
Senior Financial Specialist, Geography Department


While working from home, I have found having a proxy supervisor helps keeps me in line (I’ve made some proxy coworkers as well).

Homer Simpson figure posed at a keyboard with a mug that says Boss

Ever have the feeling you’re being watched? Melissa Viken

Humor is a great way to get through difficult times. I hope you’re staying safe and healthy!

Melissa Viken
Procurement Specialist, Purchasing Services

2 monitors and a keyboard sitting on stacks of books on a desk

Those heavy textbooks you haven’t opened in years can help form a makeshift standing desk. Daniela Robledo

Gray tabby cat lying in a leather chair

Get up and stretch once in a while, but don’t expect your seat back. Daniela Robledo

If you are like me and are prone to back or shoulder pain, give your chair up (maybe to a pet, if you have one) and try setting up your own version of a standing desk with old college textbooks. Some of my colleagues have used storage bins to set up their own standing desk at home. You can be creative in the way you want to set up your workstation. For me it’s important to have a visually pleasing art image and soft background music to keep me motivated. Fresh air and breathing exercises have helped reduce my cabin fever, so I do walking meditations or take jogs outside during my lunch breaks. Make sure you are keeping yourself hydrated as well!

Daniela Robledo
Regulatory Coordinator, UW Carbone Cancer Center, School of Medicine and Public Health

Furry friend

Dog sitting at the bottom of log stairway with rubber stair treads

That might just be a future mouse pad you’re treading on. Jennie Perry-Raymond

I was having issues with not having a mouse pad in my new home work space, so ended up using one of the left-over stair treads to get by… works great!

Also have a furry work buddy who keeps me company daily. I have two others as well, but this one Jasper is like Velcro. We start our day early, then take a mid-morning break for a quick workout. Then I try and get away for lunch in another room of the house so I’m not working at the computer. The pups and I then take a mid-afternoon break for a quick ball throwing session outside.

Dog sitting on chair next to desk with computer on it

Forced breaks can be a good thing. Jennie Perry-Raymon

Getting out of the house is so important and with the warmer weather (hopefully) upon us, it’s nice to get some fresh air. With the dogs at home they don’t let you sit at the computer for hours on end so that is very helpful. Nice to take a few breaks in the work day.

Jennie Perry-Raymon
Clinical Eye Research Unit (CERU) Administrator

Dog standing in chair

Sedona and Amanda have become inseparable. Amanda L. Rasmussen

My 10-year-old puggle Sedona has been my constant co-worker since working from home. We have our workplace set up downstairs and she sits in the chair next to me and sleeps while I work. Usually we will take a break and go for a morning walk if the weather is good and she always reminds me to take a break from work so she gets her exercise in.

Amanda L. Rasmussen
Executive Assistant to Richard Moss, Senior Associate Dean of the Office of Basic Research, Biotechnology and Graduate Studies

Embrace creativity

Class schedule written on an Etch A Sketch

No pen? No problem! Katie Freeman

I was advising a student about her fall schedule and I realized I didn’t have a pen and notepad nearby, so I grabbed my son’s Etch A Sketch drawing device!

Katie Freeman
Program Manager, Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health

Mom at work

While working remotely is something that I am accustomed to, working at home alongside my husband and our four children (ages 14, 14, 12 and 8) has been a unique challenge.

Woman sitting in chair wearing green neon safety vest

A neon vest sends a message to the family that this isn’t a good time to interrupt Mom. Elizabeth O'Callaghan

Early on I realized that I needed a way to communicate with my family that I am “on duty” and working. Being in another room, or behind a closed door, was not cutting it. Home is a space where we are usually all together and trying to find ways for us all to separate has not been easy. I belong to a professional organization that produced a webinar titled, “Working virtually through disruption,” and I got a fantastic tip: use a visual cue. Ever since then I have been wearing a bright green visibility vest around the house to indicate “Mom is working and non-emergency interruptions need to wait.”

For the most part it has worked. I get lots of post-it notes on my door or next to my laptop with requests from the kids: “Can I make chocolate chip cookies now?” or “When are you going to be done?” But I have been able to find small pockets of time to focus and be productive.

Elizabeth O’Callaghan
Editor, Wisconsin Collaborative Education Research Network (The Network), School of Education

Works for me!

Some at-home office tips and tricks to share:

  • Two people working from home? Using two separate rooms. I’m in the workout room. I put two small tables together and have used a TV as a second monitor.
  • Pet problems? Using a baby gate, large cooler, or boxes to prevent them from going into certain rooms. For cats: putting a box, blanket or bed near your computer or desk can help deter them from walking or sleeping on the keyboard.

I don’t have a ton of tips or tricks but that’s working for my spouse and I. Sometimes we’ll stop off for coffee at the same time or grab each other water.

Shannon Johnson-Windsor
Water Microbiologist

Keeping connected

Four people wearing hats in a video chat

It is possible to take work seriously while still having some fun. Kristine Schultz

We have a daily Teams video chat including our undergrad coordinator, Erika Petrie; grad coordinator Hannah Shilts; financial specialist Kyle Speth; curator Liz Leith; department chair Sissel Schroeder; and me, department administrator Kris Schultz. We use this time to check in, ask questions, share news, announcements, ideas, best practices, and progress on projects.

8 chicks standing in birdseed and bedding

They’re hatched — it’s safe to count them now. Kristine Schultz

We also have a little fun with it — what we like to call “For the Good of the Order” activities. We have had “count your chickens after they’re hatched” featuring a daily introduction to baby chicks like “Hairy L’Eggs Harriet,” regular take your kids/pets to work day where we welcome everyone’s kids and pets for introductions, and “In Your Easter Bonnet”/aka (c)hat day.

Though we work hard and take ourselves seriously, we’ve learned the joy and importance of balancing work with some fun – especially at this “we’re all in this together” time.

Kristine Schultz
Department Administrator, Department of Anthropology