TORONTO — In an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, government and health officials across the country have asked Canadians to stay indoors and practise physical distancing.
These measures have led many companies to implement measures forcing their employees to work from home. For many, this is unfamiliar territory that comes with its own set of challenges. Overcoming them will require a new way of working and even communicating with others, as well as a bit of help. Here are some expert tips on how to master the art of working remotely:
HAVE A DEDICATED WORKSPACE
Start by designating a space specifically for work. While the ideal option would be an area that is physically separate from the rest of your home – such as an office or another room – this isn’t necessary, says Dominick Miserandino, CEO of Inquisitr Media.
Having operated various remote media companies over the past two decades, he insists that the perfect place to work has less to do with the physical space than it does with how you view it.
“You just need to have a place that you associate with work,” he said. “Somewhere that puts you in the right mindset.”
Anything from a small desk to the kitchen table will do, as long as it mentally prepares you to do work. Ideally, it’s also quiet and free of distractions.
Hilary Carter is the managing director of Blockchain Research Institute, an organization that studies the technology behind cryptocurrency. Having had plenty of experience with working remotely, she also suggests doing what you can to create a work environment that’s stimulating – light a candle, keep a photo of happier times nearby, and make sure there’s plenty of light. The goal is to be comfortable.
“Nobody has a roadmap to deal with this isolating environment,” she said. “Whatever it is that brings you comfort, bring that to your workspace.”
But don’t get too comfortable, warns Carter, who says to avoid working in bed.
MAKE A SCHEDULE
It’s especially important to maintain a schedule while working from home. How we structure our day is often based on having to work somewhere other than where we live, explains Scott Schieman, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto. As a result, much of this structure is lost when working from home.
“Now, it’s easier to fall away from routine,” he said. “I think the work productivity that goes with that falls away too.”
To maintain that sense of routine, Carter recommends starting and ending your workday at the same time you typically would. Sticking to the same schedule helps create a sense of normalcy and allows you to get more work done.
“Whatever it is that you do that feels normal to do, keep doing it,” she said. “If you’re trying to resort to a new routine, I think you might be adding more stress to your life than you are relieving it.”
When planning for work, Miserandino recommends organizing tasks based on what you need to accomplish by the end of each shift. Keep track of all the work you’ve done as well as what you have left to do, and try to schedule meetings for the same time each day. He insists that having a clear plan in place leads to psychological well-being.
“Having that set schedule gives your brain a chance to reset,” Miserandino said. “It gives you that feeling of control in a rather uncontrollable circumstance.”
When building your schedule, make sure to include breaks. Keep them short and space them out across the day.
According to Schieman, breaks should be both mental and physical, so try to spend that time away from your workspace whenever possible. He suggests making coffee, going for a walk, or tackling some quick chores instead of falling into the trap of scrolling through social media.
“It’s healthy to take some time away from sitting in the same position and looking at screens all day,” Schieman said. “Taking a break ultimately makes people feel better, and that’s what we want in this particular circumstance.”
It’s also important to remember that breaks are a normal part of the workday, adds Carter. She recommends taking breaks as you typically would; they were likely already part of your daily routine, and they help refresh the mind.
“It has the same benefit that applies in the office,” she said. “We just have to make a bit more of an effort to take breaks because we don’t have the same kind of natural opportunities as we do in the workplace.”
The question of what to wear while working from home has sparked plenty of debate online. While some suggest getting dressed as though you’re going to the office, others prefer to look a bit more casual.
For Miserandino, the answer is clear: absolutely get dressed up while working from home.
“You have to feel like you’re going to work, you have to feel that purpose,” he said.
Whether you’re dressing up, combing your hair, or brushing your teeth, Miserandino insists that getting ready as you normally would for work helps put you in the right mental state to be productive.
For Carter, it’s about following your regular work routine as much as possible. She recommends getting dressed at the same time you normally do and wearing the same clothes you world normally wear to work.
“[Getting dressed] separates your sleep state from your awake state, and helps your mind focus on the activities of the day,” she said. “Working in your jammies is not advisable.”
DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN SETTING BOUNDARIES
For many, working at home involves being around children.
Parents have gotten creative with setting boundaries to ensure they get work done at home. But Carter recommends not getting too caught up in separating work from aspects of your personal life.
Whether it’s a young child who needs your attention or a pet that won’t stop making noise, realize that you’re going to have interruptions. While she suggests doing what you can to minimize them, there’s no need to be so hard on yourself.
“People shouldn’t sweat the stuff they can’t control,” said Carter.
Miserandino also encourages parents to be mindful of how they communicate their schedules to children. He insists that the goal shouldn’t be telling your kids when you can’t talk to them as much as telling them when you can.
“Give them something to look forward to, because kids are going through their own tough time,” he said. “It would be more effective to look forward to this than to avoid that.”
For those moments when you can’t spend time with your kids, Carter recommends reaching out to friends and family for some virtual help. Ask if they’re able to spend time with your child online to keep them occupied while you join a video conference or take a phone call.
“Parents trying to deal with young children and work at the same time are experiencing similar pressures,” she said. “No one is an island in this.”
You can also find other ways of keeping kids busy using this list of resources.
Communication is key in any work environment, but now that many are working from home, it’s vital, explains Miserandino. He recommends an increase in daily communication to keep your team informed of what tasks you’re working on, and to keep in touch using more than just emails – instead, try scheduling daily phone calls or video conferences.
“The goal should be to get as close to physical human contact as possible,” he said.
Carter agrees, encouraging companies to communicate with their employees via video as much as possible. This allows for the observation of facial expressions and offers a connection similar to what would exist in an office setting.
“We respond well to each other’s faces,” she said. “We want to see ourselves in the conversation.”
But no matter the tool, Schieman insists it’s important to be mindful of how we’re being perceived through our electronic devices.
“There’s a lot said through communication technology that can be misunderstood,” he said. “[The pandemic] has amplified this in a massive way.”
In any workplace, the ability to read body language and assess non-verbal cues can shape the way we provide feedback and share ideas, explains Schieman. With many companies shifting away from face-to-face interaction, it can be harder for those emotional nuances to come across. While he agrees that video conferencing is the closest thing to communicating in-person, Schieman cautions that it isn’t the same.
“I think the rapid pace of all of this has required a lot of people to adjust very quickly to a new way of communicating,” he said. “That is one of the most important things to keep in mind.”
It’s especially important to be mindful of what’s happening in the world and the impact this has on the people you work with. As we cope with the effects of a global pandemic, Miserandino suggests making an effort to be more aware of new challenges faced by those around you. After all, we’re in this together.
“I’m more conscious that eventually, more people are going to have issues of loved ones having trouble or challenges in terms of getting material resources they may need,” he said. “We need to be respectful and understanding of what everyone is going through.”
Part of this mindfulness involves recognizing the toll of physical isolation on your coworkers, advises Schieman. Many are likely feeling lonely and lacking emotional support – especially those working from home for the first time, who’ve had to immediately adjust to a new work environment.
His advice? Reach out to those you work with, as well as family and friends, more often, even if it’s just to ask how they’re doing.
“Checking in on each other signals something we need right now – empathy and compassion,” said Schieman. “It’s important to make sure people feel like they matter.”
Working from home often means using personal devices to access company data. This presents a number of cyber security issues, according to Alexander Urbelis, founder of Blackstone Law Group.
The information security lawyer recently discovered that a group of hackers tried breaking into the World Health Organization’s online network. He explains that while these types of breaches are not new, more people are likely to be affected by them.
“Now, it’s just a difference of degree in that workforces have gone from operating 5 or 10 per cent off-premises to now having a remote workforce 100 per cent of the time,” he said.
This results in the use of more personal devices and remote endpoints, like computers, to transfer data, including highly sensitive information like financial projections, trade secrets, and business plans.
He recommends companies use more IT support services as well as cyber hygiene best practice measures like two-factor authentication (2FA) or multifactor authentication (MFA). He encourages the use of these measures for personal accounts as well, including email and social media.
“If those are hacked by the bad guys, it becomes a vector through which hackers can push malware out to you,” said Urbelis. “That can then lead them directly back into your companies.”
Other recommendations include the use of a virtual private network and ensuring that passwords are constantly changed. He advises keeping your home network password protected and upgrading the firmware on your router. Finally, beware of phishing scams. Don’t click on any unusual links or documents, and notify your employer of any suspicious activity.
“The takeaway here is to be extraordinarily skeptical of anything that pushes you to download files, or provide any banking or credit card information or any kind of login or account information,” said Urbelis. “We all have a collective and shared responsibility to utilize good cyber hygiene right now.”