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Working from home because of coronavirus? Here’s how to stay productive

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If you’ve scrolled through social media lately, chances are you’ve seen friends posting about working from home amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

As provinces including Ontario, B.C. and Alberta have declared national emergencies, more and more workplaces are transitioning to work-from-home setups in an effort to slow the transmission of COVID-19.

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But going from seeing co-workers every day to social distancing or self-isolating can be challenging, to say the least.

READ MORE: Coronavirus cabin fever? Keeping mental health a priority during self-isolation

“This is a tremendous time of adjustment for all of us,” said David Zweig, a professor of organizational behaviour and human resources management at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

“We are all trying to figure out how to continue working and delivering on outcomes given that we have been required to work alone and remotely.”

Create a separate workspace

Just as you made your office workspace your own, you need to carve out your own at-home workspace, Zweig said. Bed may be comfortable, but establishing a distinct work environment is important.

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If you already have an at-home office or desk, conduct your workday from there. If you don’t, try to create a makeshift office or desk space.

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“I strongly encourage people to try, as much as possible, to create a separate space in their homes that is just for work or can be designated as a ‘work-only’ space during normal working hours,” Zweig said.

“Psychologically, this will help us create a divide of sorts between our work and family life and responsibilities, and it also signals to others in our houses that when we’re in our ‘work-only’ space, we should not be interrupted.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: How long can Canadians expect to be social distancing?

Martha Switzer, co-founder of Sprout Wellness, suggests people set up their workspaces near natural light if possible, as sunlight has been shown to have a positive effect on workers’ well-being.

She also suggests adding some life to your space, like fresh flowers, if you can.

Utilize technology

Working from home requires an increased reliance on technology, and in some cases, the introduction of new technology.

If you work in an environment that has many face-to-face meetings, your team can incorporate video conferencing technologies like Skype and Zoom, Zweig said. Slack is also a helpful company tool that allows workers to communicate instantly.

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(Depending on your home setup, you might also want to invest in a pair of sound-cancelling headphones if household noise is an issue.)

Even workers who can do the majority of their jobs over email may feel the effects of social isolation. To help workers feel connected to each other — especially during this time — Zweig suggests reaching out to colleagues to ask if they’re open to more video meetings or calls rather than relying on email alone.

“Even if it’s just to spend five minutes commiserating with others and sharing a laugh with them,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Parents don’t have to be teachers, but learning doesn’t have to stop

“Another good reason to try and use video meetings is that we lose a lot of context and richness in our communications via email, so adopting a richer method of communication is much better in preserving relationships and ensuring that messages are understood.”

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Consider what you wear

While many of us are taking advantage of working in sweats and t-shirts, putting on some form of “work wear” can help you get into the right mentality.

In a recent article, New York Times fashion writer Vanessa Friedman said she always dresses as if she was going into an office when working from home.

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“Personally, I need all sorts of maybe-silly signals to my brain that it is now in work mode instead of home mode,” Friedman wrote.

“I find if I just move from bed to computer (or computer on bed), I don’t think as crisply. It’s better if I brush my hair, tuck in my shirt and put on shoes, rather than slippers.”

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Dress is largely a personal preference, but Zweig added that workers should consider how they look for any video meetings. If you appear in a Skype meeting wearing pajamas, others will notice.

READ MORE: How parents are getting through coronavirus isolation — without depending on screens

“People will be slightly more forgiving during this time but social judgment doesn’t stop just because of COVID-19 and because you are working from home,” he said.

Don’t forget to move

Just because your home has also become your office doesn’t mean you should stay still all day. It’s important to take regular breaks, ideally every 60 to 90 minutes, Switzer said, and move around your home.

Research has found that short bouts of activity during the workday can boost overall well-being “without negatively impacting cognitive performance.”

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Some ideas Switzer suggests for movement include running up and down stairs, doing squats, and eating meals away from your workstation.

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Be kind to yourself and others

The coronavirus outbreak has caused a spike in anxiety for many, and news around COVID-19 continues to evolve. During this trying time, it’s important to not only be kind to yourself, but to your family members and co-workers, too.

Many workplaces are still figuring out how to support work-from-home practices, and employees are learning to adapt to social distancing and remote means of communication.

READ MORE: Coronavirus is hurting small businesses. Here’s how to help

If you are a parent and have kids at home while you work remotely, it can be challenging caring for them while taking care of business.

If you live with a partner, Zweig suggests setting up a “work” schedule with them every evening that allows you to identify the times each of you will need to work uninterrupted.

“Of course, keeping our kids busy and on a schedule will also be helpful in reducing distractions and staying in ‘work mode,'” he said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca

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