Working from home has suddenly become a reality for people who haven't chosen it. Countries the world over are mobilizing to slow the spread of COVID-19, and companies, including Amazon, have asked employees whose jobs can be done remotely to do their work from home. This new reality—coupled with closed schools, canceled activities, and social distancing—makes life hard to balance.
Michelle Overturf knows the pitfalls of working remotely. "Your job and your home life all start to blend together," she said. "So you need to find ways to keep them separate."
A mother of two, Overturf started working from home as part of Amazon's Virtual Customer Service (VCS) program in 2014. Her husband was a military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, and the family had just transferred from Fort Bragg, NC, to Northern Virginia. To keep up with the higher cost of living, Overturf became one of the voices you hear when calling Amazon customer support. She now manages a team of 20.
"To be home means I can be present with my kids, especially when my husband was deployed," said Overturf.
Overturf has a few words of wisdom for those thrust into a lifestyle she’s perfected over the last six years. First, it's important to identify the best parts of your normal workday and try to mimic some of those virtually. The people you would normally vent to or meet for lunch, "make time to connect with them daily," she said. For her team, she schedules small group meetings over video conference. "There's no agenda, really. It's just to connect."
If possible, she recommends dedicating a place in your home for work. For her, it's a room off the garage that she converted into her office. An L-shaped desk faces a wall with her computer monitors. A window to her left provides natural light and a great view of her family’s current home—the town of Star, ID, just outside Boise. But it's the door to her office she considers the most important feature. "Being able to physically leave at the end of the work day and shut that door behind me makes a big difference." It's a mental shift that allows her to be more present for her two kids and other priorities outside of work. "I make sure that the office is only for work. And that's the only time I'm in there."
She knows not everyone can dedicate a room for their workspace. Whether it's putting your laptop in the closet at the end of the day or covering up your work area, keeping work out of sight helps keep it out of mind when you need to focus on the rest of life. "It makes a huge difference. Your computer isn't right in front of you, waiting for you to check your email."
Overturf’s advice to combat the stir crazy? Self-care. In addition to her career, she also helps her kids with school and runs the household when her husband is away. Doing something every day just for her is critical to her mental and physical well-being. For Overturf, that means taking her two 7-month-old dogs for a walk or painting. “It gets your blood flowing again and it gives you that time to re-group and focus on yourself, doing something you enjoy," she said.