How to Survive Working in Quarantine: Lessons from The Martian

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Overview

There may be periods in life when you encounter uncertainty and change. In the era of COVID-19, we’re witnessing a worldwide lockdown for the first time in history, when many of us are working under quarantine. In March, Qualtrics conducted a poll on the habits, wellbeing, and productivity of 1,000+ employees in the United States. The interviewees worked in an office environment before. In response to current times, they became remote workers. The survey revealed that over 50% of them are more anxious about working from home under quarantine. The causes of their anxiety include stress about the job, unfamiliar work environment, and loss of human contact.

Houston, We Have a Problem

If anyone can give advice about isolation and social distancing, it’s astronauts. “Isolation and confinement are like being alone in a cramped space, and that feeling worsens over time,” says Bill Paloski, Director of NASA’s Human Research Program. The legendary Ridley Scott directed the movie The Martian based on the novel by Andy Weir. The premise of the story is that an astronaut is left on Mars after his crew presumed him dead. However, astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) was alive! Both the book and the movie follow the astronaut’s struggle to survive. They weave a gripping plot of his fierce fight against all obstacles to contact Earth. The ending of The Martian leaves us with a sense of hope, as Watney survives and the rescue plan is successful.

If you have not seen or read The Martian, put it on your bucket list! If you have, well done! Can you recall how Watney overcomes serious obstacles? Do you remember his creativity, logical reasoning, and strategic planning? The Martian offers fascinating insight to any of us who are struggling to cope with remote working under quarantine. It draws up an inventory of skills necessary to manage a lockdown. In this article, we will examine which skills are necessary to overcome the challenges of working under quarantine and how you can make the most of your career during the lockdown.

A personal note: reading the novel or watching the film, you easily become a cheerleader for Mark Watney. This happened to me. I enjoyed both the book and the movie so much that they fuse in my mind into one giant Mars Bar of amazement. Still, for the article, quotations will refer to the novel to share the choice of words by Andy Weir.

I Will Survive!

“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” ― Andy Weir, The Martian

Skills:

  • time-management
  • strategic planning
  • forward-thinking
  • resilience

The Ares 3 spaceship crew left Watney on Mars, a waterless planet without oxygen. The satellites broke in a sandstorm, so he had no means of communicating with Earth. His food supply was small. He knew that NASA planned the next mission to Mars in 4 years, in a different location. He did not know how he could survive for 4 years, but he devised and used brilliant methods to make sure he did. Instead of worrying about possible distressing outcomes, he set out to do things that he knew he could. He figured out how to produce food and communicate with Earth. He created a garden in the Hab (surface habitat) from the plants the mission brought along and started cultivating potatoes. He fixed communication with Earth via the lost Mars Pathfinder, the first human-built space rover which landed on Mars.

He took a systematic approach and went step by step. Solving one problem at a time, he broke down major difficulties into smaller ones. He was consciously looking ahead and did not contemplate too much about being on his beam ends. While the prospects over the months were going from bad to worse, with enormous efforts of planning, patience, and foresight, he survived and came back to Earth.

During these times of working under quarantine, the boundary between private life and work life is unclear. You lose rituals that helped you differentiate between the days of the week and the parts of the day. You find it difficult to switch off when your workplace has moved to your home. The blurring of boundaries creates challenges for your work-life balance as work time and private time are overlapping.

If you want to keep a sense of timing, it is advisable to organize how you divide the time between activities. With good time-management skills, you achieve more in less time. Thus, you avoid stress and improve productivity. The distinction between urgent and important and the focus from activities to results are key differentiators of efficient time managers.

Plan your days strategically by defining your tasks and priorities. Avoid meditating on the uncertainty of the circumstances. Instead, reflect on what you can take control of, and devise a strategic plan. You may go about it on a one-day-at-a-time basis, but it is also a splendid idea to schedule a week ahead.

Beyond organizing your time and planning, a forward-thinking mindset helps focus your attention on the future. Whatever happens, forward-thinkers always make progress, as they occupy their minds with ease. Rather than pouring your energy into problems, channel it to seek positive solutions.

There is a silver lining in this crisis: you will probably emerge more resilient. Resilience is the strength you gain through unexpected and difficult experiences. Being resilient helps you get through life-changing problems and empowers you to grow. Companies face the “unknown” a lot in these unprecedented times. Resilient employees will be valuable assets to them in their business transformations.

Starting Point: Conduct a Situation Analysis

“Things didn’t go exactly as planned, but I’m not dead, so it’s a win.” ― Andy Weir, The Martian

Skills:

  • adaptability
  • self-discipline
  • self-motivation
  • being well-organized

After the first shock, Watney took stock of his situation. He checked his supplies: food for 300 days, an intact Hab, a working oxygenator, solar cell arrays, a water reclaimer, and the Pathfinder. He grasped what he had to do. Only by adapting to his current reality did he have a chance to handle the life-threatening challenges. With this in mind, he began working toward developing his ingenious plans for survival. Luckily, he was a mechanical engineer and a botanist, thus he pulled his knowledge of both sources. Going at it alone, he could not rely on anybody other than himself for motivation and discipline. His organizational skills were highly essential to respond to the situation.

When working under quarantine, you need to track the impact of changes and adapt as much as possible. Adaptability incorporates several soft skills, such as flexibility, willingness, or positive response to change. The more adaptable you are, the better you manage unusual circumstances.

Self-discipline is another ability that matters more than ever before in your career. You do not have support next to you; you are taking control of your own time and tasks. Self-discipline preserves work-life balance and warns you to stop working when you lose track of time whilst working from home under quarantine as you are bound to overwork yourself.

Self-motivation is the next skill that serves you in the long run. Since your supervisor no longer sees you at the desk, you’ll want to make sure to showcase your performance in other ways. Results will speak about your achievements. With less external encouragement, you need your internal strength and intrinsic motivation to do your tasks. Self-motivation also implies efforts to avoid getting distracted.

On top of this, if you are well-organized, you focus on the tasks and capitalize on your resources to achieve the desired outcome. This ability turns you into a productive team member, one which every employer seeks. Organizational skills are transferable. You bring them to any position and develop them during your everyday activities. Amidst ambiguity, mental organizational skills give you the peace of mind that you can draw up a plan based on an in-depth analysis.

How Can I Communicate Effectively?

“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.” ― Andy Weir, The Martian

Skills:

  • communication
  • transparency
  • accountability
satellite orbiting Mars

Mark Watney stayed alone on Mars with no means of communication with Earth because a sandstorm broke the satellites of his habitat. He remembered that NASA lost contact with the Mars Pathfinder several years ago. He determined its location, and through its radio and camera, he could exchange messages with Earth. This is the most critical part of the entire story. In this vital moment, NASA understood that Watney was alive, and it speeded up the set-up of a rescue plan to save him. Watney felt connected again to human life. This allowed him a more optimistic stance toward his return to Earth. 

In a telecommuter career from day one, clear and proactive communication is paramount. First, you attempt to interpret your manager’s style and messages. Second, you focus on expressing yourself, acknowledging your needs, and asking questions. As you are lacking personal interactions, you might analyze too much and develop second thoughts. Leave behind your worries, as all you need to do is align your communication to be digital-proof. Strengthen your telecommunication links via online platforms, video meetings, and email.

Be the one who earns the trust of your manager with transparency. Make sure  they know when you are available and when you are not, even if you have unexpected commitments. Do you have childcare or household duties? Does your partner work from home? This being the case, set up a schedule that best fits both you and your manager.

Accountability has a specific meaning in working from home under quarantine. It is now upon you to prove that you have completed your tasks, arrived for your shift, or met your deadlines. By keeping your manager in the loop, your commitment and engagement will be visible enough.

How to Take Advantage of Your Forced New Reality?

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.” ― Andy Weir, The Martian

Skills:

  • problem-solving
  • innovative thinking
  • risk-taking

On the surface of Mars, Watney brings his own innovative ideas. He grows potatoes in the Hab by figuring out how to create more water or how to fertilize. He even uses “plain old duct tape” to improvise solutions that might not be the most sophisticated, but practical. He makes up the rules as he goes along. No matter how dire the conditions get, he refuses to quit. He accepts failures and setbacks and always pulls himself together to move on. His risk-taking goes hand-in-hand with thinking outside the box. 

Today’s successful companies foster an entrepreneurial environment. They encourage and enable you to showcase your problem-solving skills and creative ideas. Problem-solving skills are part of your transferable skill set. They help you identify the source of problems and propose solutions.

Innovative thinking implies you are eager to learn, experiment, and apply something new. Your ideas will create opportunities and generate leads. This novel virtual reality is a golden opportunity to show that you are ready to innovate and take the initiative. When you research new topics, create novel ways to get the job done, you reveal how resourceful you are. 

Risk-taking is a step towards success and is part of today’s business culture. How much you are ready to plunge into the unknown depends on many factors. Still, you might take a chance on carving out a niche for yourself. Why not solve upcoming problems, recommend process improvements, or learn modern tools? If you take some reasonable risks, you will stand out in the crowd and contribute to the success of your company.

Wrap Up: You Have Nothing to Lose

“I guess you could call it a “failure”, but I prefer the term “learning experience”.” ― Andy Weir, The Martian

Watney’s struggle on Mars started because of a series of poor luck. Due to a severe sandstorm, the crew had to evacuate the Mars Ascent Vehicle. A shard of antenna hit Watney, who lost consciousness, and the biomonitor of his suit got damaged. The rest of the crew read no vital signs of him on their computers, that is why they presumed he was dead. They gathered in their vehicle and took off. When Watney awakened, he found that he was alone on the planet.

His survival journey is an exploration of what everybody thought before was impossible. The theme highlights the importance of human grit, ingenuity, and persistence. Watney’s ability to survive rests on his skill set to plan, develop resourceful solutions, and tolerate risks.

You might face unexpected challenges in your career or life. Everything can change in a blink of an eye without you being able to stop or control it. When you are in an unrealistic stage of your life, you can drop the burden from your shoulders by not worrying about losing anything. This gives you the freedom to act, instead of breaking down. In this context, whatever you do will make you a winner because you do not get stuck in the status quo.

Seize the occasion, assess yourself, and develop your abilities. Think about joining a recent free online course that helps you navigate your teleworking. How to Win at Working from Home offers classes of 30 minutes per day for eight weeks. The tips and advice you discover during the course will also work well when you get back to the normal routine.

astronaut mars

Remind yourself that this period of working from home under quarantine will not last forever. It may not be the best part of your life, but take it as an opportunity to sharpen your skills and put another feather in your cap.

Diana Rozsa

Diana Rozsa

Diana Rózsa is a content writer at Lensa. Previously, she worked with various types of content across different industries. She compiled grant application packages for funding organizations. She assisted nonprofits as a grant writer. Having fulfilled the roles of proposal writer and copywriter, she created proposal content for some of the most valuable telecommunications brands in the world. With every piece of writing, she strives to engage her audience and drive value for clients.

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