Illustration by Olenka Malarecka
Illustration by Olenka Malarecka

Virtual First Toolkit

Virtual First Toolkit: How to stay well


Published on October 13, 2020

Work is changing at warp speed. The rules and expectations around when, where, and how work happens are all in flux. It can be dizzying. At Dropbox, we’re going Virtual First, which means we’ll be mostly distributed with in-person gatherings for team collaboration (once it’s safe to do so). This is new to us and we’re still learning how to do it well. We wrote some principles based on our experiences so far and and included resources about adapting to Virtual First work. We’re publishing this Virtual First Toolkit, and we’ll practice, test and add more content as we learn. This piece is about staying well in Virtual First. You can visit the rest of the Virtual First Toolkit here: 



Sticking with healthy habits can be challenging under the best of circumstances—let alone a global pandemic and an all-new working reality. (In a recent study, workers say the benefits of working remotely outweigh the drawbacks—but they still report higher levels of stress.) The good news is, making wellness a priority is one of the best ways to combat the grind. In this section, we’ll share a few ways to stay healthy while working remotely. 

seatSpiff your home office

Your desk may be two feet away from your dinner table—but it doesn’t have to feel that way. 

Intentionally organizing your workspace and investing in some basic equipment can keep life and work feeling separate, even when they’re blended. 

Designate a workspace 
Working from a consistent place each day will help you get in the zone. Try to find someplace relatively private, preferably not in your bedroom. If you live in a small apartment, you could put your desk near a window or low-traffic corner, where you’re less likely to be distracted.

Find a decent chair 
Well-designed office seating is nice—but you don’t need fancy equipment to prevent a trip to the chiropractor. Try to find a chair with an upright back and a supportive cushion. Try not to work from your bed or our couch all day.  

Work on your feet 
Sitting a lot isn’t great for your health, so try to stand up or walk around a bit every 30 minutes or so. You could also invest in a standing desk, like one of these

Get noise-canceling headphones 
If barricading yourself away from kids or traffic sounds is a pipe dream, try noise-canceling headphones.

Make your space a sanctuary
An inspiring home office can improve your day just as much as a functional one. Small things—like plants, family photos, or works of art—can make your space more inspiring and motivating.

alarm clockSet better boundaries

It’s hard to avoid distractions at home (children, snack drawers), but it is possible to plan around them. The pandemic has made this really difficult, but we will get better at this. Building boundaries into your day can help you feel less scattered, and give you more time to recharge. 

Get dressed
Putting on real pants in the morning will wake you up, and make you feel more confident. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.jeansbeaming face with smiling eyessparkles

Build transitions to and from work
Simple “boundary rituals,” like tidying up your desk or shutting down your computer at the end of the day, will tell your brain that your workday has officially ended—so you can start fresh tomorrow.

Work in chunks
Multi-tasking makes us less productive. Try to block part of your day for deep work (like strategic planning, coding, writing) and another part for meetings and administrative tasks. When you’re heads down, consider setting a timer for 90 min or experimenting with the Pomodoro technique (25 min on, 5 min off) to help you focus on one thing at a time.

Turn off notifications
Buzzing, binging devices are gateways to distraction. If you need to unwind at night or focus during the day, try disabling notifications for a period of time. If you’re worried you might miss something important, try disabling notifications on your Lock Screen but keeping them in your Notification Center (or your platform’s equivalent). 

Set a team curfew 
Boundaries are easier to maintain when everyone agrees on them. See what happens if you set a team curfew for 6 pm each night in your timezone, and try not to send messages or comments after that. If you like writing at night, schedule your drafts for the next day. 

Once you’ve set your boundaries, don’t forget to tell your manager, coworkers, and family. This will help them support you better.

glowing starBe kind to your mind

When it comes to staying healthy, there are a few behaviors that almost always work—even when administered in small doses. Here’s how to take care of the basics: 

Practice self-compassion 
Being kind to yourself isn’t just woo woo advice. It’s an evidence-based antidote to stress and depression that’s closely linked to increased productivity and resilience. The next time you mess up or don’t manage to complete everything on your list, notice if you’re using a critical voice with yourself. If so, see if you can shift it to a more respectful, understanding voice—one you’d use with a friend who was going through a tough time. 

Seek out positive social connections 
Strong relationships are one of the biggest predictors of longevity and health. Whether it’s a weekly date night or 5-minute text thread, making time for your friends and loved ones is one of the best ways to stay well. 

Move your body 
Regular exercise has countless benefits. It regulates mood, controls weight, improves cognition, promotes sleep… and on and on. Try to get moving every day, even if it’s just a walk or two around the block. 

Mind your mental health 
Just like physical health, mental health has a huge impact on productivity and life satisfaction. There are now many online therapy and coaching services and a variety of other resources like meditation and breathing apps. If you’re feeling stressed or depressed, seeking support is a smart way to take care of yourself. (Managers: If you notice one of your reports is struggling, look for ways to support them.) 

Get some sleep 
Sleep scientist Matthew Walker has said, “There does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough).” Far from being an indulgence, research shows that getting 7-9 hours of sleep nightly is crucial to regulating your immune function, productivity, weight, mood, blood sugar, and more. So: Don’t cheat your sleep. To get a good night’s rest: 

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily 
  • Replace LED bulbs in your bedroom (blue light disrupts sleep)
  • Keep your bedroom temperature cool (lower than 65 degrees is ideal—your body needs to decrease its temperature by 2-3 degrees to initiate sleep)
  • An hour before bedtime, dim your lights and turn off screens 
  • Don’t go to bed tipsy (alcohol suppresses REM dream sleep) 
  • Avoid caffeine after 1pm

Calendar your zen 
For certain personalities, scheduling appointments for self-care like meditation or exercise can help you stick with it. Try blocking these off on your calendar, and then treating them as seriously as you would a meeting.

palm treeRecharge on the regular

Elite performers and athletes know that rest is just as important as hard work. Learning to manage your energy, not just your time, will make you more resilient over the long-haul.

Stop before you’re spent
When you’re on a deadline or in the zone, it can be tempting to work through lunch—until you snap out of it at 3 pm, feeling hangry and disoriented. Keep an eye on your energy throughout the day. Notice when you’re in the optimal performance zone (challenged, but not exhausted). If you’re not feeling challenged, see if you can increase your focus on whatever you’re doing. If you start to feel depleted or overly stressed, take a break. 

Unplug (for real)
When you take vacation, try to unplug as best you can. Put your work away. Stop your notifications. Consider turning off access to your work email if your team is comfortable with it. Taking time to truly disconnect will make you more productive over the long haul.

Know what drains and sustains you
Some people need hours of heads-down time to do their best work. Others need frequent social interaction. Understanding which projects and interactions invigorate you, and which don’t, makes it easier to manage your energy. If you’re not sure, try this creative energy worksheet.

Don’t over-Zoom it
New research suggests that trying to read your coworkers’ body language, something that happens quite naturally in person, is difficult and draining over video. Avoid Zoom fatigue by balancing VC with asynchronous options like cloud docs and and chat apps during the day. You can also try turning off your camera when you need a break.