How do you survive the pandemic on your own? Both Alex Demers, a Golin media relations director, and Kelsie Axelrod, a Shift Communications senior account manager, are working from home alone while Olivia Ludington is running a solo PR business in Brooklyn.
Describe your situation.
AD: I’ve lived in a one-bedroom condo in downtown Chicago for seven years. I’ve been working from home since Friday, March 13.
KA: I have lived in a rather large studio apartment in Oakland, [California,] for the past 2.5 years. I’ve been work-from-home since March 6.
OL: I live in an apartment with a good friend about 15 minutes outside Manhattan. I’ve worked from home full-time since early 2019 when I started the business. I’ve been in lockdown since early March.
AD: I only have a few houseplants!
OL I have a 10-year-old adopted Malipoo named Leah.
KA: I actually ended up adopting a dog during quarantine. I initially took her in as a foster, had her for a week and then decided to adopt. Izzie is a little poodle mix.
Kelsie and Alex, what’s it like living alone during this?
KA: I’ve actually felt pretty grateful that I live alone. It was a lot to process, and it was helpful to have my own space to watch reality TV or cook elaborate meals. Then, I definitely felt a shift and decided to get a pet.
AD: At first, it felt like it was only going to be for a few weeks. I work on a large team, and we got in a groove. By week two of working from home, the reality started to settle in that this was not temporary and I'd be working from home and alone for a while. I think I went through the stages of grief about the realities of our new situation early in the process. I missed the human interaction, water cooler talk and just the energy of being with my coworkers.
Olivia, what about working from home as a solo practitioner?
OL: My primary client base is venture capitalists, startups and other tech brands, so I'm used to going to events, etc. I also used to go to a coworking space to meet with reporters, etc. for clients that are more used to the PR process. When you need to pitch a client cold and they're not used to the PR process, it can be tougher to connect without a face-to-face handshake.
Do you get the same sense of accomplishment from remote work?
OL: I still do. Even though I haven't had a 'set office' in more than a year, I'm still an extrovert. To compensate, I'm a part of other freelance PR Slack groups, Facebook groups and LinkedIn groups where we can share resources and connect.
Does working from home mean you’re always working?
OL: I think quarantine has certainly amplified the 'always in work mode' feeling. One thing you have to master is physically distancing yourself from a set work area. I never work from my bed for example. You have to give yourself set hours and time off on weekends.
AD: At the beginning, yes. It felt weird to end my day, close my computer and leave my dining room table. I didn't have the external time checks of things like workout classes, dinner with friends or to run an errand. I was wondering where the day went!
KA: There was definitely a transition for me at first to understand when to shut off work mode, especially without the physical distancing from the office. Shift has been really supportive. Our CEO reminds us that our health is what is most important and encourages us all to take breaks throughout the day. I think that really helped.
AD: I never have worked from the couch or bed! One thing I invested in about a month ago was a real office chair. Game changer!
KA: Yes! An office chair and actual desk made a huge difference in my balance, too.
AD: I also felt guilty that I didn't have kids, etc, to tend to so I would keep working.
Olivia, did being a solo practitioner prepare you for this?
OL: Totally, I've had a lot of friends come to me saying, "How did you do this full-time before all this?" It's just a bit of a lifestyle change, but in a sense, it's a huge opportunity as well.
Kelsie, you decided to get a dog during lockdown?
KA: Yes! I’ve always wanted a dog, but prior to WFH, my lifestyle wasn’t too conducive. A lot of my friends and family started taking in foster animals, and I saw how happy they were with their new buddies. It was like a happy switch went on. I was definitely starting to feel the effects of isolation and the day-after-day grind, so I went for it! Adopting Izzie has made me more present and she’s a buddy. Training her is also a ton of work, which is another hobby. I have an “Izzie update” on every agency call.
Olivia, do you hold virtual social events with clients?
OL: Instead of structured virtual social events, I've found them more open to texting or hopping on the phone to chat about Tiger King. I've actually built a very strong rapport with a lot of new clients over non-work items more than I think I would have in the past.
KA: We had virtual meetings about Tiger King, too!
What will you do differently when the lockdown is over, socially and professionally?
OL: I feel much more grateful for face-to-face time with friends and family. Before, a happy hour networking event in Midtown sounded like a drag, but right now I think I'd enjoy it much more.
KA: I could see myself getting into a 50/50 work-from-office and work-from-home schedule. Client relationships and coworkers have become more casual for me. I did a pitch where my dog suddenly started barking on slide three, but everyone on the call was very understanding.
OL: It's like you see another side of a potential client in a virtual new business pitch because they're at home, even just by seeing their living room paintings behind them.
AD: I think that it will take time before everyone feels comfortable being together again, but I plan to go back into the office.
KA: I have started working with a lot more team members in NYC and Boston. I think that will continue.
AD: I'm also pleased people are now realizing why I ran to the gym over lunch. More people are taking that break during the day and I'm happy that I won't be the odd-ball who liked to do StairMaster at lunch.
Share one thing you have learned about yourself.
KA: Every morning, I take at least 20 minutes to sit and drink coffee and practice staying present. This experience has really made me slow down!
OL: The friend I live with has started teaching me how to play the ukulele.
AD: I've taken up running. I was never a runner and it's challenging me and I'm enjoying it!