In an America under quarantine, millions of people have found themselves forced to renegotiate the delicate equilibrium between their professional responsibilities and home lives. 

In recent weeks, the United States has become a global epicenter for the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting more cases than similar hotspots in China and Italy. The wildfire spread of the virus has prompted extreme public safety measures across the country. Over 160 million people nationwide have been ordered to stay home so far. In my home city of New York, schools have been closed, restaurants and entertainment venues shuttered, and all non-essential business offices firmly locked shut. 

By necessity, businesses have needed to follow workers into isolation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just under a third of Americans can take their work home with them. Rather than face furloughs or layoffs, these fortunate, tech-connected workers have the privilege to keep earning a living from the quarantined safety of their home offices. In these trying times, having the ability to work remotely is a gift — but it does come with its share of challenges. 

When we work in isolation, we no longer have the physical boundaries or routines that separate our working lives from our at-home environment. While we once might have prepared for work by picking up a cup of coffee on the way into the office, we now can roll out of bed and over to our desk in seconds. We can’t leave work stresses at the office because our home has become the office. One study published in a 2015 issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest found that these blurred boundaries can, over time, create greater stress, overwork, loneliness, and family strife.

That said, remote working isn’t always detrimental for employees; in fact, many prefer it! According to a survey from FlexJobs, 65 percent of surveyed workers say that they are more productive working from home, noting that they enjoy fewer interruptions, limited office politics, and reduced stress from commuting. These statistics show that it is possible to have a positive remote working experience — but you need to find a balance between your professional responsibilities and at-home life. Below, I’ve listed a few tips on how to renegotiate your home-work equilibrium. 

Create Artificial Boundaries

It might be tempting to stay under the covers and work from the comfort of your bed in the morning — but you would be better off avoiding the urge. To borrow a quote from the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Being More Productive, “Unless you are careful to maintain boundaries, you may start to feel like you’re always at work and losing a place to come home to.”

Having a threshold — a visible line that cordons your working space off from your relaxed, non-work environment — is a necessary part of maintaining a balance while working remotely. What that threshold might look like will depend on your home situation. If you live in a studio apartment in New York, you might not have a spare bedroom or home office to use as a designated work zone. However, you can strategically rearrange furniture or use a folding screen to separate one room into distinct zones. 

Self-isolation protocols may prevent you from leaving work behind by physically exiting an office building, but you still have the ability to shut a door or step away from your working space in a tangible way. 

Don’t Slouch into Bad Habits

When you work at home, adhering to corporate dress codes is optional. If you want to roll out of bed and trudge to your home office in pajamas, you can — but that doesn’t mean that you should. Getting dressed and following a regular morning routine empowers you to better oscillate between a professional and a relaxed mindset. Some research indicates that adhering to a daily routine could help fend off the depression and loneliness associated with extended periods of isolation. 

“Now that our interactions with the outer world seem poised to be put on hold, getting dressed takes on a kind of necessary transformative power,” journalist Rachel Tashjian wrote in a recent article for GQ. She has a point; in a time when every aspect of your life must take place in a single environment, having some way to distinguish them is a necessity. Sure, that distinguishing act might only be putting on business-casual attire during the day and switching back to sweatpants at 5:01 PM — but it still helps. 

Establish Clear Lines of Communication — At Work, and at Home

Make no mistake about it: working at home requires a different set of expectations. If you’re working from home while looking after children or a sick family member, you need to proactively tell your boss what you can and cannot get done during a remote workday. 

Similarly, you may need to have a discussion with your family and explain that you will need space and quiet during your working hours. In my home of New York City, children have been asked to attend school remotely. For those suddenly being asked to look after their children at home while simultaneously sticking to work responsibilities, it’s important to create a new daily schedule that lays out expectations for the family’s morning routine, daily tasks, and post-work family time. 

The coronavirus has thrown all of us off-balance. With quarantine in effect, we lack our comfortable routines and easy office-home separation — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t renegotiate a new work-life balance. With a little work and thought, we can bring some level of normalcy and equilibrium back into our daily lives. 


  • Debrah Lee Charatan

    Founder and President of BCB Property Management, Inc.

    Debrah Lee Charatan is a serial entrepreneur, dedicated philanthropist, and veteran real estate sales and investment expert. Charatan currently serves as the president and principal of BCB Property Management, a real estate firm that specializes in acquiring, renovating, and managing multifamily properties in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s most livable neighborhoods. The company has thrived under her leadership; since its establishment in 2008, Charatan and her team have acquired more than 1.6 million square feet of real estate in New York and New Jersey and grown the company’s portfolio by over 120 buildings and 1,800 apartments.    Charatan’s career spans over four decades working in New York City’s real estate landscape. Her career began in the 1970s, when she took a secretarial position at a real estate brokerage firm. Charatan would later pursue her passion for entrepreneurship by founding her first real estate investment firm, Bach Realty. The business earned considerable recognition both for its financial success and its capable, all-female sales team. In 1993, Charatan used her hard-gained experience and accomplishments in the sector to establish another real estate firm, Debrah Lee Charatan Realty.    Charatan became an active philanthropist and co-created the Charatan/Holm Family to support a wide range of cultural, humanitarian, and civic causes in New York City. Organizations that have benefitted from the foundation’s support include but are not limited to: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Selfhelp Community Services Foundation, Park East Synagogue, Chabad of Southampton, the Jewish Museum, the Central Park Conservancy, Chai Lifeline, and the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation.    Charatan also serves as the vice-chair of the board of trustees for the Selfhelp Community Services Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps Holocaust survivors and other at-risk senior residents find secure housing and care support. An avid supporter of the arts, Charatan is also a member of both the Women’s Leadership Council of the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Real Estate Council.    Debrah Lee Charatan’s accomplishments have earned coverage from several high-profile media publications, including but not limited to USA Today, the New York Daily News, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Inc., and Fortune. Her own writing has also been featured in outlets such as Entrepreneur, the Huffington Post, VentureBeat, SCORE NY, and CFO Magazine.    Outside of her entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family in New York City.