Working from home sounds good, in theory: sleeping in, wearing sweats, no rush-hour traffic. But the reality is much different when the decision isn’t yours to make, as thousands of Canadians are discovering.
It can be tough to wrap our heads around that new reality as we’re sent home to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
“The last week has been difficult for people,” said Blessie Mathew, director of the University of Alberta’s Career Centre. “This has been so sudden and it’s not something we were asking for; it’s a sudden loss of connection to colleagues and to routine. So much of our identity is tied to our work and the purpose of that work, and that’s very much in flux for some of us.”
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Anxiety about jobs, household finances and children now home from school complicates the situation, added Mathew, who is working from home with her own three children.
“Our roles are shifting quickly in unexpected ways. So working remotely is not a simple solution.”
But there are ways to make the adjustment easier, she said.
Stay in touch with your co-workers
It’s vital for work purposes, but equally important to take a break from the workday to connect with colleagues for social support, said Mathew.
“I go through my staff list every day and call or video chat so we can check in on one another. We aren’t talking about work, but asking about what’s going on in our lives. It replaces the conversations we’d be having in the hallway or lunchroom. And at this point, when we see an email message come through from someone, it’s ‘Yes, there’s life out there.'”
When juggling work with child care or other responsibilities, it’s also important to be up front with co-workers about important details like your availability on a given day.
“Sharing these challenges helps normalize the situation for all of us and gives everyone the grace we need at times like this to handle it.”
Set a routine
If you’re able, try to maintain a workday routine.
“So make your bed, brush your teeth just as you would if you were going to the office. Work your usual hours,” said Mathew.
For people handling other responsibilities, make a plan with other adults in the home to carve out time you can set aside for work.
“Work mornings or afternoons, then switch with your partner. It’s going to be a fine balance between flexibility and maintaining a routine.”
Make a work space
“We’re likely dealing with multiple people in a sometimes small space at home, so negotiate with family members or roommates to designate a work spot. And when you step away from that spot, you’re not working. Keep it separate.”
People who don’t feel safe working at home should reach out, Mathew said.
“This is the time to tell someone so individuals can work with their employers or community supports to find solutions.”
Ask for tech support if you need it
“We assume everyone is tech-savvy when they may not be. Ask your employer for clear instructions—are they putting support people in place and giving workers time and space to learn about new technology?” she said.
Co-workers can also help out their team members, she noted.
“If we know someone is struggling, we can phone and walk them through things.”
Make yourself accountable
If you have trouble getting into the mindset of doing work at home, it helps to be accountable to a colleague or manager.
“With the lack of a physical office workspace, an employee may need to set up deadlines and schedules,” Mathew said. “I know I find it easier to get things done when I know someone is waiting for me to get it done.”
Unplug from work—and count your blessings
The changes swirling around COVID-19 are top of mind for everyone, so be sure to step away from it at some point in the day, Mathew said.
“It’s important we find some channels in our lives that COVID-19 hasn’t infected. Pick up that book you love and read it again, take a walk, watch a TV show, do a creative activity.”
Mathew suggests gratitude journalling–listing the things you are thankful for.
“We need to remind ourselves of the good things happening in our lives.”