Working from Home: Tips and Suggestions for Adjusting to the New Normal

Michelle Branigan

Apr 16, 2020

By Michelle Branigan

With social distancing measures in place, thousands of Canadians have moved their offices home in the past month and are getting used to remote working; many for the first time. While this adjustment can be a challenge under normal circumstances, in the unprecedented context of a global pandemic there’s a lot more on our minds at any given time. Here are a few tips for settling in to the new normal and keeping stress levels at bay.

Try to keep up a routine that will give a bit of structure to your day:


1. Get dressed every morning. Putting on clothes that signal “work” is a good way to get your mind in the right headspace.

2. Designate a workspace that is separate from your living space. Depending on where you live, this might be a small corner, but that’s okay. Keeping a physical separation between your workspace and living space also helps to separate work time from other time in your mind.

3. Keep clearly defined office hours and resist the urge to let your work dribble into the evening. When you have finished work for the day, leave that space, or close up the tabs on your computer to signal a clear break.

4. Instead of your commute, try another activity to keep up the routine of easing in and out of the workday. Taking a dog for a walk at the end of your day might be a good way to wind down, if you’d usually do some post-work reflection in a car.

5. Take regular breaks to refocus during the day. Try short breaks to step outside and take a few deep breaths before returning to the desk.

6. Prepare healthy work snacks and lunch for the day, just like you would for the office. This way you’ll always have something easy to grab.

7. Observe when you are most productive and try to schedule certain tasks for that time of day. This may be at a different time than it would be at the office.

8. Set limits on your social media use throughout the day, and how often you check the news. This is important not only for productivity, but also for anxiety, as the constant onslaught of headlines can be overwhelming.

Maintain communication with your colleagues:

9. Communicate clearly and often with your manager, direct reports and other colleagues to help build trust. Use whatever methods feel natural. If you have a lot of face time at the office, try video chat or calling to check in, rather than email.

10. Communicate with your colleagues about your availability. Those working with kids at home may find they need more flexible schedules.

11. Assume positive intent. Text-based messaging like email or Slack obscures key components of in-person interaction like body language and tone of voice. Try not to take quick remarks from others as rude or personal attacks. In your own messages, use emojis often to convey emotions to your team.

12. Continue to socialize (remotely!) with coworkers about topics outside of work projects. Now more than ever, our social ties are an important lifeline. Take time to check in on personal well-being too. This resource from the Mental Health Commission of Canada has tips for talking to someone in crisis during COVID-19.

Balance family responsibilities while taking the time you need:

13. If you are working at home with a spouse, try to be mindful of each other’s need for space during the day. Spending so much time in close quarters can put a strain on the relationship, so if you can, set boundaries for uninterrupted working times and times when chatting together is okay.

14. If small conflicts are becoming a problem, try inventing an invisible co-worker and blaming them for the little things that happen around the home office like unwashed dishes, or loud phone calls.

15. If you don’t have to be in front of a screen to take a call, step outside and take it from the backyard, balcony, or front step, to get both fresh air for yourself and breathing room between partners.

16. If you are also balancing childcare or homeschooling, remember to keep your expectations reasonable. Your productivity might not be at its usual levels, and that’s ok. And if your young child decides to introduce him or herself to your colleagues during a videoconference – well that’s ok too. There are many resources online about working from home with children. Try this one, to start.

Our sector is essential, and our workers are resilient. As Howard Schultz said, “In times of adversity and change, we really discover who we are and what we’re made of.” The situation is challenging, but I’m confident we will adapt, grow, and be stronger from the experience.

Michelle Branigan is CEO, Electricity Human Resources Canada.

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