Your Chicago Work from Home Survival Guide

Let me start by acknowledging that I realize that being able to work from home puts me among the lucky ones right now.

The work we do at Propllr translates easily to home offices, and we’re all grateful that our lives and our clients’ lives have so far only been minimally disrupted by COVID-19.

If you, like us, are lucky enough to still be working and getting paid right now, and you're looking for ways to help those who aren’t so lucky, you’ve got options:

  • This COVID-19 response fund will distribute money to local nonprofits whose services are in higher demand because of the pandemic (and will likely see further demand surges in the coming weeks).
  • This guide to funds for service relief workers links to dozens of fundraisers that Chicago venues are hosting right now to continue paying their staff.
  • This NPR piece highlights ways to help in Chicago that include everything from donating blood to dropping off food to volunteering.

Still, though, mandatory work from home can be stressful and isolating, especially if you’re a routine fiend or prone to anxiety (writing from experience, folks). For general tips on making this lifestyle work, check out Basecamp’s book Remote, which is a quick (and comprehensive) guide to WFH.

More specifically to this unique time and the city of Chicago, though, we at Propllr have discovered a few things that work for right now. Here are our best takeaways, one week in.

Define the Rules of Engagement

Will you keep normal hours or start when your commute begins? Meet via phone or video call? Continue making small talk with the plants in your environment? Cover or flaunt the poop emoji puppet hanging right behind your home desk?

You don't have to social distance from plants

When everything about your work environment changes, you have DECISIONS about how to deal with those changes. We recommend making those decisions with your coworkers and giving any third parties a heads up (especially if you’ve got video chat plans – sorry to the person we surprise-video-chatted last week!!).

For inspo from folks who have their WFH lives together, take a look at the document local startup Narrative Science compiled to outline how the team will handle remote operations. We stan an organized organization!

No Working from Bed

Not everyone has a home office or spare room they can use as a work-only space. But if at all possible, set up an area that you only use for work. This will make it easier to switch in and out of work mode as you progress through your day (and, ideally, prevent you from having dreams in which you set an entire editorial calendar for a client only to wake up having to do it again – not that this has happened to me or anyone else okay it has).

Here are some work areas Propllrheads have set up in the last few days.

Image from iOS (1)Julia's setup, complete with friendly plant companion


Jillian's desk, featuring brie cheese & a scented candle

Image from iOS-1

Amy's desk, souped up thanks to her gamer boyfriend who is only allowed to use his secure work laptop and so can't use this sweet workstation himself

And some... uh... less-glamorous setups from Twitter. (A favorite of mine below.)


Wear Real Clothes

Yeah, a lot of Twitter freelancers talk about the importance of wearing house pants to work from home. But are you aiming to come out of this with more Twitter points or with your actual sanity intact?

Take it from me: get dressed in real clothes (I change out of my sweatpants NO LATER than 10:00 am). Sure, it’s a drag in the morning, but getting dressed also helps transition into the work mindset. Plus, when you log off at the end of the day, you can change into comfy clothes, which acts as a signal to your body and brain that you’re off the clock and it’s time to party*.

*make dinner

Get on the (Video) Horn

I’ll admit I was skeptical when Josh gave us the directive, a week ago, to video chat as much as possible. But boy, have I come around.

My team and I have daily 15-minute check-ins, I’ve been video-chatting with clients, and I’m basically using video chat to replace anything that would have been an in-person conversation at the office.

So far, I’ve noticed three major benefits:

  • I feel more connected with my colleagues.
  • I don’t have to be as articulate as I would on the phone or via Slack because people can see my facial expressions and (plentiful) hand gestures.
  • I have extra motivation to wear real clothes.

We’ve had luck with both Google Hangouts and Slack video chat, but there are plenty of options out there. (Including Zoom, which offers a Touch Up My Appearance feature – you’re welcome.)

Video chat = joy

Less Traffic, Cleaner Air: Get Outside

I run every morning, and I’ve kept it up. Julia runs and rides her bike (earlier this week, she pedaled to the Lincoln Park zoo and reported that the camels were unbothered – copy her!). Hunter recommends taking calls while walking outside when possible.

Getting fresh air is still officially allowed and is a great way to clear your head between screen-focused tasks.

Eat Local

Chicago restaurants are closed to dine-in meals, but many are open for delivery and takeout. For a nice midday break that also supports local businesses (and the people who work for them), consider getting lunch or coffee from a local spot that’s offering takeout or delivery.

At Propllr, we’re making every effort to have local lunches and snacks (thanks for sponsoring, Josh!). Featured below: Foxtrot, LuxBar, Hot Woks Cool Sushi, and Cozy Noodles.


If you want help finding places open near you, check out this Twitter thread or visit Tock, which has pivoted in the last few days to offer pickup and delivery options - you can even get margarita kits from Alinea. (Apparently it’s going pretty well so far!)

Bask in the Glory of the Shedd Penguins

Let’s face it. We all need breaks from COVID-19 news.

If you live in Chicago, you’ve probably already heard about how the Shedd Aquarium let its penguins roam the facility after closing to the public, but have you been keeping up with the fan art?

Check out this copycat over at the Musicbox Theatre.

And this sketch from local writer Juan Martinez.

Move Your Body!

Yes, gyms are closed. But staying active has all kinds of benefits for your physical and mental health. I mentioned running, walking, and biking, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Clay, who’s a gym regular, has started doing body-weight exercises at home, as well as running up the stairs of his high-rise apartment. (Note: my 90-year-old grandmother is also notorious for stair-running during Massachusetts snowstorms when she “wants to get her blood moving.” So don’t act like it’s out of your range.)

Another option: put some music on and get dancing. If you choose the right tracks, this could also offer a major mood boost.

Also, Chicago-based Cubii makes an under-desk elliptical that lets you get a workout in while you’re sitting down.

Another timely idea: instead of singing to yourself while washing your hands, consider doing some squats or lunges. (Sure, it’s a stretch. But these are unusual times, friends.)

And finally: upon hearing that California was on statewide lockdown yesterday, I panic-ordered a jump rope from Amazon, which I will deploy in the postage-stamp of back yard behind my building if need be. Because dang it, people, I need my morning endorphins.

Listen to Music & Support Musicians

You can’t go to live shows after work because they’re all canceled (as were the St. Patrick’s gigs my husband had lined up and his first weddings of the season).

Canceled gig = hunker down

But many venues are having fundraisers in lieu of events. The READER is keeping a running list here. Think about who you're listening to while you work and consider donating to a fundraiser being held in lieu of a concert they might have had. Lots of musicians who make most of their income from live gigs are hurting right now.

(And while I’m on the topic, the READER and other local reporting outlets could use your funds too – a lot of their ad revenue usually comes from the kinds of businesses that are now temporarily closed.)

Buy Yourself Some Dang Flowers

The grocery store is one of the few places it's still okay to visit. When you do, grab yourself a bouquet of fresh flowers, as Erica did yesterday. See how nice they look? You need this kind of beauty in your life.

FreshFlowersHot tip: as long as we're on the topic of grocery stores, may I suggest visiting Asian groceries for all your tofu and soy milk needs? I haven't been able to find these products anywhere else since Friday, but they're in plentiful supply at places like Joong Boo Market on Kimball.

Fold Your Laptop. Flip Your Phone. Walk Away.

For a lot of us, screens are the default all day: computers at work, phones or tablets on the commute, TVs at night. When you're in the same physical location all day, that can be draining – plus, you may feel like you can’t get away from the barrage of news and to-dos.

Now’s a great time to catch up on reading (though with most public library locations now closed, you may have to rely on an e-reader), try some stress baking, learn to tie knots (my husband is actually doing this), write some letters, look out the window and day dream, and generally do the stuff you usually don’t have time for.

We’re All in This Together

If nothing on this list sounds feasible to you, my best advice is to find ways to stay connected even if you can’t be physically near the people you care about (Erica recommends video chatting friends, family, and neighbors).

Even the most introverted among us (including yours truly) need social connections to stay emotionally and mentally healthy. So make the effort. Put on that button-up shirt and make a video call. You won’t regret it.

Note: I apologize that I don’t have any tips for working from home with children. Most of us at Propllr don’t have any experience with that, so we didn’t have any insight to offer.