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With most Canadians on lockdown as we cooperate to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are having to swiftly adjust to working from home for the first time.

As we pull together to navigate unforeseen challenges, the lines between work and life for remote employees are blurrier than ever. And working from home while under quarantine adds a unique set of hurdles to navigate. Kids, family members or roommates may be sharing close quarters, and the option of escaping to coffee shops or coworking spaces is off the table for now.

If you or your team are struggling to navigate work life from outside the office, you’re not alone, but there are ways to make the transition smoother.

Have a designated work space

Set up a designated work space in a low-traffic area. Pick a spot that’s as quiet as possible, and try to work from the same space every day. Make your “office” some place you actually want to be. The little things matter: add a plant, some pictures, music or noise-cancelling headphones – whatever you need to be as comfortable and productive as possible. Remember that ergonomics still count when working from home, so ensure your home office setup properly supports your physical wellbeing. Nobody needs the added stress of back pain, eye strain, or tendonitis right now!

Create a routine (and then be flexible)

While it’s tempting to work from the couch in your pjs whenever the mood strikes, having a routine is important to maintaining focus and a sense of normalcy. With that in mind, establish a routines, and set clear boundaries between work time and leisure time. Studies have shown that remote employees often end up working longer hours than if they were in the office, putting them at risk of burnout. Once you’ve set your routine, try to stick with it as much as possible. That means getting dressed, having a morning schedule, setting regular office hours, and using calendar reminders to help you out if necessary. Communicate when you’re “at work” and “at home” by sharing your schedule with colleagues, so that they know when they can reach you, and when you’re offline.

Balance adhering to routines with being flexible when necessary – this is an unprecedented situation we are all navigating together. If you need to adjust your routine to accommodate demands of life, it’s not the end of the world. Remember that it’s important to cut yourself (and your team members) some slack.

Create a plan for distractions

Kids, pets, partners, parents, housework … distractions run rampant in today’s home office environment. Inevitably, there will be times over the weeks and months to come when some deep breathing and contingency planning will be necessary. Navigate distractions and minimize frustration by:

  • Working with leaders and colleagues to  come up with a flexible (potentially non-traditional) schedule that meets caregiving obligations and minimizes interruptions.
  • Set ground rules for what family members can and cannot do in a shared space while you’re working, and communicate those expectations clearly to everyone.
  • Have a system for letting those who share your space know when you are working. Visual cues can be helpful with this – think signs posted on doors during virtual meetings, or putting headphones in when you don’t want to be interrupted.
  • If you’re juggling child care and work, put together a few emergency “distraction packs” for important calls or heads-down work time. Grab a shoe box and pack up a favourite snack, colouring supplies, small new toy, book, or pop on a tried-and-true movie that you know will hold their attention.

Your Engaged HR Assignment:

Working from home for the first time or managing a newly remote workforce can be a challenge, it’s true. To make the adjustment period lower stress, revisit the strategies above regularly during the first few weeks of remote work, implementing as many as you can!

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