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Staying Motivated During the Virtual Workday

City Year Philly staff and AmeriCorps members Egypt Worthy (top left), Grant Draughn (top right), Kylie Brazil (bottom left), and Sarah Richman (bottom right) share their tips for surviving the virtual workday.


Since the COVID-19 lockdowns began in March, many of us have had to take our livelihoods partly or even entirely virtual: virtual conferences, virtual classrooms and virtual meetings, all from the comfort of our own homes. In many ways, it makes things easier — no more waking up early, no more commuting, no more work clothes (see ya, khakis, hello sweatpants!).  

But after almost a full year of virtual work environments, and many Philadelphia restrictions still in placeworking from home can go from feeling comfortable to cooped-up and confining. Sometimes we need to break up the monotony of sitting at our computers for hours and give ourselves a little mental (and physical!) health boost. Here are some of the tips and tricks that City Year staff and AmeriCorps members (ACMs) have been using to add some variety to their day to stay motivated while promoting education equity and serving Philly schools virtually. 


Tip #1: Establish a Routine 

To start, we talked to City Year Impact Managers Egypt Worthy and Sarah Richman about how they manage their workdaySomething that was a big help to both was sticking to normal routines.  

“When I actually get up and do my full morning routine it’s much better than the temptation of getting up at 7:55 when [work starts] at 8,” Richman said. “So, trying to get up a little earlier, have my tea, get washed up, have breakfast so I’m actually ready for the day.” Worthy agreed, again noting the importance of maintaining a schedule. “I wake up every day at the same time, I try to end my day by 5. I told my team, ‘listen, that’s my cut-off… 5 o’clock is when I’m done,’” she explained. 


Tip #2: Take a Break 

According to Worthy, another trick for taking a break from the screens is just putting her laptop down and doing something elseGoing for a walk outside, or even just sitting on the couch and listening to music can help put yourself in a different mindset. Richman also believed that maintaining boundaries between work and breaks was important, and that going for walks or working out immediately after the workday could help maintain that balance.  

Both Richman and Worthy also found that just calling and talking to friends and co-workers was a great way to take a break from working virtually. “Sometimes it’s so isolating,” Richman explained. “I just need someone to have a quick laugh with, or vent or whatever.” Reaching out to people for fun outside of meetings can help provide social interaction in a time when communicating with friends or co-workers in a non-work environment can be difficult. 

For Richman, being in tune with your emotions and needs is also very important to maintaining your sanity while working virtually. Unless she has a prior engagement, like a meeting, if she starts to feel like she’s losing focus, she takes a short break. “I know I’m not going to get work done if I’m not focused,” Richman said. “I’d rather take a little break and then try again rather than force myself.” Worthy agreed that knowing when to take breaks is important, for her especially when she has a lot of meetings back-to-back. “Sometimes I just need to cut everything off… just need a moment to sit on the couch and fall out, just lay there for a couple minutes,” she explained, laughing.  


Tip #3: Adding Variety to the Virtual Workday 

Next, we had a chance to talk with some of our AmeriCorps members about some of their strategies for spicing up their day while working virtually. One ACM who works with the Civic Engagement Team, Grant Draughn, has found that having regular check-ins with his team as well as team-building activities has helped as a temporary stand-in for the “small talk and chit-chat” typically enjoyed in the office environment.  

Outside of work-related strategies, Draughn keeps himself grounded by meditating every day and by making to-do lists to keep himself on track. “I also take a short break each hour for 5-10 minutes,” he added. “I get up and walk around and stretch for a bit... occasionally on those breaks I’ll play with my cat or pet the little guy.” Draughn will also stream TV shows or movies when he’s off work and makes sure to go outside for at least a little bit every day to get some sunlight.  

Kylie Brazil, another ACM on the Civic Engagement Team, also tries to get outside and away from the computer when she can, particularly during lunch. Staring at a screen all day can be overwhelming, so she likes going for walks with her dog to a park near her home. “It’s nice because there’s usually people there, so you actually get to see physical people,” Brazil said.  

Brazil also tries to make work more fun during her team’s morning meetings. Her team will pick one person each day to lead an activity, anything from icebreaker games to putting together Spotify playlists. When it’s her turn to lead, Brazil likes to lead morning stretch sessions, using YouTube videos as a guide to help people wake up in the mornings with a little bit of physical activity.  

Another way Brazil tries to break up the monotony of her workday is by engaging with students in after school programs at John Welsh ElementaryThe students usually log on for about an hour after school ends, to participate in a number of clubs offered at Welsh, such as a step-dancing, arts and crafts, or just hang out and play games. “It’s like team building with the kids, bonding with the students,” Brazil explained. “They seem to really enjoy it, so I think it makes the team really want to show up and have fun in those spaces.” 


Working in virtual spaces can be hard, especially for those who are used to engaging with people in person as part of their job. Even with Philadelphia beginning to loosen pandemic restrictions, it seems virtual work and service will be a thing for at least a while longer. With any luck, these strategies will help people bring some variety and motivation into their virtual workday. 

If you’re interested in doing a year of service with City Year Philadelphia, you can visit the CYP website to find out how to apply. The deadline for the next round of applications is March 5. 

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