If you’re “safe at home” you’re likely away from friends. And if you’re trying to work from home for the first time, these things can help  you stay connected.

I was reminded the other day that while millions of people are sheltered in place many are isolated in their home alone. Many people are using Facebook as a means to connect with other friends but there are other ways to be in communication and just someone to talk to.

I was reminded the other day that while millions of people are sheltered in place many are isolated in their home alone. Many people are using Facebook as a means to connect with other friends but there are other ways to be in communication and just someone to talk to.


   Facebook Lives and Facebook Messenger video calls are certainly one way to do that. A more popular form of communication for larger groups though is Zoom. Much has been made about this video conferencing app and website service. There have also been some privacy issues the company has addressed such as making an area called Waiting Rooms a default setting.

 I’ve found Zoom to be particularly fun in setting up reunions with high school classmates and people I’ve worked with in the past. I organized one high school reunion for about a dozen classmates using Zoom and Facebook. 

Here’s the best way to do this:

Schedule a Zoom meeting by going to www.zoom.us or www.zoom.com If you haven’t already, you can download the desktop client of the service which allows you to host the meeting over your computer or laptop. I found most of my classmates preferred to participate in the Zoom meeting using the Zoom app on their phone.

Once you’ve scheduled your Zoom meeting, you should get a URL or website address you can share with other participants. I did this using Facebook where most of my high school classmates and I are already connected. To avoid sending or posting the time and web address for the meeting to everyone, I created a group of only those classmates. 

Facebook doesn’t make this easy, but you can create a group by choosing “groups” under the “Create” tab at the top of your profile. This part is easy but the tricky part is adding people to the group. You have to add each individual person by typing in their name or email address.  Keep in mind each person you invite to join the group will be notified and will need to accept the invitation.

Another way to do this, and it’s quite frankly much easier, is to create a friends list and post an update only those friends will see. Again, Facebook doesn’t make this as easy as it should be.

Begin by starting a post. To the right of the post window you’ll probably see “Public” which is the privacy setting for that post, or who can see it. By clicking the drop down arrow you can change the settings to friends, and close friends. By clicking “More” you’re given the option to customize the privacy to a specific list of friends.

Then on the left side of your Facebook newsfeed you’ll see “Friend Lists” under the Explore tab. Clicking it you can create a new list and add friends to it. I strongly suggest doing this for multiple lists of friends. I have them set up for friends from college, church friends, friends who are easily offended, and one I just labeled “jerks”. Now whenever I post something I’d prefer everyone not see, I can choose the appropriate list.

Pro Tip: this is especially good for when you post to Facebook when you’re out of town or on vacation. You can post those selfies to only people you trust.

Turning the page now for people who are working from home. Many times you might find too many distractions to tackle a project on your own, especially if you’ve never worked from home before. It can be a challenge.

I found the website and service called Focusmate which pairs people who are working on projects to other people who are working on something at the same time. For example, when I used Focusmate it connected me to a student in Chicago who is working on her Master’s thesis. She said she’s used Focusmate several times and found it to be helpful.

True, as Yixi C worked on polishing up her thesis I am writing this story. We set our work time to 50 minutes. After a brief introduction and explanation of what we’re working on, we set to work. She is using her web camera and I’ve got mine set up on an iPad on my desk. I can see her and she can see me. She’s muted her microphone but said I could leave mine on. 

 I’ll admit, knowing someone is working right beside me has kept me focused on writing. I do not want to distract her as she works on her thesis. A clock is shown on top of the video player so we both know how long we have left to work in this session.

Right now, there are 13 minutes left in this session and we both have worked solid the entire time. Normally, I might find myself getting up from my desk two or three times by now but this time I’m not procrastinating. I’m working. I’m sure if she saw me getting distracted, she’d call me on it and keep me on track.

By the way, if you think it’d be weird to connect with a stranger and watch them work and they watch you work, it isn’t. Participants are asked to agree to a code of conduct and you can report any weirdos to the company so they can’t bother people again. I believe the vast majority of people who would use Focusmate are using it for the right purpose.

Focusmate offers three sessions per week for free and for $5 a month you get unlimited sessions. The paid option is for professionals and students who want to get more done.

I’ve mentioned Focusmate to several college students who believe it would be very helpful when they need to crack down on studying for a test or writing a paper and I agree. Plus, it’s nice to meet people. Yixi and I spoke about our projects and what it’s like in Chicago during this crazy time.

She said she’s used Focusmate several times while working on her thesis project and that it’s helped her get work done knowing someone else will hold her accountable for those 50 minutes.

These two things will help you stay connected and productive during this crazy crazy time.


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