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What Are The Must-Haves for Pandemic Remote Work?

Laptops, yoga pants and pets are among essential features of remote work spaces and routines

People sitting in a chair, wearing sweatshirts, a dog sleeping, a people at their desks.
Clockwise from top left: Belinda Wisdom in her red chair, Deborah Gornto in her comfortable remote work clothes, Jennifer Chamberlain's greyhound Spice, Stan Paskoff at his home office and LeAnn Fulton with her work set-up. Submitted photos.

While LeAnn Fulton’s workdays unfold in her Hillsborough home instead of her office in downtown Durham’s Morris Building, one essential element of her workday hasn’t changed. 

Her trusty Lenovo ThinkPad laptop.

LeAnn Fulton and her home workspace.Much like she did before working remotely due to the pandemic, Fulton, a clinical research associate with Duke Clinical Research Institute, uses the laptop and her Apple iPhone to stay in touch with colleagues and sponsors to get work done.

“For my job, it doesn’t matter where I sit as long as I have my laptop and my phone,” Fulton said.

Since last March, thousands of Duke employees have worked from home because of the threat posed by the COVID-19 virus. As they adjusted to new work settings, they discovered treasures that have become indispensable to work, or essential to their happiness.

Noga Zerubavel, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said that during difficult times, finding and appreciating objects or activities that spark tiny moments of joy is a helpful way to build resilience.

“People can increase the intensity of positive emotions and the duration of positive emotions through identifying these little things and coming back to them again and again,” Zerubavel said. “And I would emphasize that they can be really little things. It doesn’t need to be something splashy.”

While Fulton’s home office, with its computer monitors and organized space, is where much of her work gets done, Fulton often carries her laptop and around her house to keep things fresh.

“When it’s nice outside, I can take my laptop out to my back deck and sit out there,” Fulton said. “I can go upstairs if I want to change my surroundings and take a little break. I can get stuff done no matter where I’m sitting.”

Take a look at some of the things Duke colleagues have come to appreciate as must-have items for remote work.

Four-Legged Colleague

Each morning, when Duke University School of Nursing Financial Analyst Jennifer Chamberlain logs on to her computer to start her work day, her 11-year old greyhound Spice, usually curls up in the dog bed a few feet away.

Jennifer Chamberlain's dog Spice.Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chamberlain worked on campus, most days encountering dozens of colleagues. But since March, she’s worked from home, where Spice has happily filled the void of social interaction.

“He’s got such a strong personality, so having him here has really brightened my day,” Chamberlain said. “He’ll come over and nudge me from time to time, often when I’m on a Zoom call. Sometimes he’ll come over, and it will seem like he wants to help me with my spreadsheets.”

Chamberlain jokingly calls Spice her “on-site supervisor,” because of how attentive he is to her while at work. But he’s also played a helpful role in making sure she doesn’t work too hard.

“It’s almost like he knows when I need a break, so he’ll come and nudge me, and we’ll go outside for a little walk,” Chamberlain said.

A Different View

Prior to the pandemic, Stan Paskoff, the manager for desktop support services for the Sanford School of Public Policy, shared a ground-floor office with windows that are so high up he can only see the treetops while sitting at his desk. Since March, Paskoff has worked at a desk just off the kitchen in his Durham home.

Stan Paskoff in his home workspace.From his perch, he looks out a large window into his side yard.

“It’s really nice because the sunshine hits my desk,” Paskoff said.

That window has become a welcome addition to his remote workspace because of the natural light and the view of his yard. 

One of Paskoff’s favorite ways to unwind after work is to do yard work while listening to science-fiction audio books. In the spring, he rebuilt raised beds and spread out gravel and mulch to make the yard nice for his daughter’s small wedding. Ever since, he’s transformed his yard with other projects such as rebuilding walkways.

By looking out his window, he is reminded of the projects that he can dive into once his workday is done.

“I love my job, but it’s nice to know I have other challenging things I enjoy doing, too,” Paskoff said.

Getting Comfortable

Deborah Gornto misses interactions with her colleagues at Duke’s Office of Licensing and Ventures and the steps she tallied while walking from her parking spot to her office in Erwin Terrace.

Deborah Gornto at home.But one thing she has come to appreciate about working from home is her comfortable day-to-day wardrobe. Instead of wearing business casual attire such as slacks, blouses and clogs to the office, Gornto wears sweatshirts and tennis shoes unless a meeting calls for more formal attire.

“At home, you can just wear a fleece, tennis shoes, sweatshirts or hoodies, just way more comfortable clothing,” said Gornto, a financial analyst. “I really like yoga pants because they’re stretchy, comfortable and soft.”

While working from home has Gornto feeling slightly less connected to campus life, she can still show her Duke pride with her remote work attire.

“I’m a huge Duke basketball fan, so I have a lot of Duke basketball T-shirts,” Gornto said.

Finding the Right Spot

Belinda Wisdom spent months searching for the perfect chair to go in a corner of her office at her Knightdale home. She knew it had to be comfortable, not took big and bulky and – most importantly – it had to be red. She envisioned the chair being the vibrant pop of color that would play off of the neutral grays elsewhere in the room.

Belinda Wisdom in her red chair.In November, at a furniture store in Raleigh, Wisdom found that chair. And already, the chair has become the cozy starting point of the Duke Divinity School faculty affairs administrator’s remote workdays.

“When I turn on the computer, the first thing I do is go through emails,” Wisdom said. “Now I do that while sipping coffee in my red chair.”

Wisdom has enjoyed working from home, especially not having a commute that, on bad days, could take nearly two hours. And while she’s appreciative of the laptop, computer monitor and comfortable swiveling chair in her home office, it’s the mornings in her red chair that have quickly become an essential piece of her routine.

“Having that time to check emails while relaxing in that chair just sets the tone for the rest of the day,” Wisdom said.

Do you have an item essential to your remote work routine? We want to hear about it. Share your pandemic must-haves in our Facebook story below.


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