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For Employees Working from Home

Many businesses and workplaces are offering accommodations to support employees in working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this is an important practice for many businesses to help reduce the spread of infection in the workplace, the transition to an at-home working environment is often accompanied by its own set of unique challenges. The following recommendations are intended to support employees in transitioning and managing the at-home working environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Work Environment

An appropriate work space is an important factor to establishing an effective and efficient at-home working environment. Individual needs for the work space will vary based on the person’s position, hours of work, and familial situation; however, key practices to consider are as follows:

  1. Create a dedicated work space. If at all possible, try to establish a dedicated work space that is in a separate room from other family members and/or away from other distractions, such as televisions, radios, or social media. Use this space as a dedicated area for completing your work responsibilities, such as storing documents, holding conference calls, and attending virtual meetings. A dedicated work space can help to enhance productivity, comfort, privacy, and efficiency in the at-home working environment.
  2. Access the appropriate tools and supplies. Work with your employer to ensure that you have the appropriate tools and supplies to carry out your work responsibilities. This can include:
    • Computers, laptops, or tablets
    • Computer attachments, such as a keyboard, mouse, docking station, and a monitor(s)
    • Internet connection, a wireless network, or a cellular network 
    • A phone, a headset, and/or a web cam to hold virtual meetings
    • A table/desk and a comfortable chair
    • Access to any workplace files or internal networks – work with your employer to ensure that you have the support and resources to meet all privacy and security requirements of your workplace and all related privacy legislations.
  3. Establish working from home ergonomics. Please see the following resource from OHCOW for several recommendations related to transitioning to an at-home ergonomic setup: http://www.ohcow.on.ca/edit/files/ergo_docs/home-and-virtual-office-ergonomics-march-2020.pdf
  4. Develop a family plan for children. It is important to find a work space that is quiet, comfortable, and free from as many distractions as possible. If you have children, this may be particularly challenging. Develop a concrete plan for your children that aligns with your work schedule. This can include the following:
    • Infants & Young Children: If applicable, communicate with your partner or support networks about a caregiving plan for young children and infants. This can include scheduling work days and caregiving days interchangeably between yourself and your partner, taking turns for feedings, play time, and nap time (with adherence to workplace policies), or seeking help from friends, family members, or child caregivers that have passed Public Health Ontario’s COVID-19 self-assessment tool and are not required to self-isolate.
      • If required, consult with your employer about developing alternative work arrangements to help accommodate your familial situation.
    • School-Aged Children: Develop a consistent schedule and regular routine for school-aged children during the work day. This includes routinely practices for waking up and getting ready, planning and preparing for their daily activities and tasks, and creating a safe and dedicated space for them to stay throughout the day. Ensure that you set clear expectations by communicating boundaries and clearly explaining any expected tasks/activities for the day. Consider the following:
      • Support them in setting up their online learning platforms before work and encourage them to work on their homework or school assignments during the day. For other resources to help support your children/youth in learning from home, please refer to the following websites:
      • Provide fun activities that they can do outside of school hours, such as colouring pictures, doing a craft, watching a movie or a television show, attending a virtual yoga class, playing a board game, or connecting with their friends through phone or video chat. Try to limit child/youth sedentary behavior, such as recreational screen time, to no more than 2 hours per day. Children/youth should be physically active at a moderate to vigorous intensity for 60 minutes every day and should avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time. Refer to the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth Ages 5-17 for more great tips and physical activity ideas for children/youth.
      • Give them a list of chores to do – make this activity fun by turning the list into a scavenger hunt! Another option for those who have multiple children is to create a “Helper Chart” with a list of tasks and have them mark off their task accomplishments with stickers. At the end of the day, whoever has the most stickers is awarded with a “Helper of the Day Award”!
      • Be creative by making fun and interactive signs to let other household members know when you are available, such as a traffic light system. A red sign on the door would mean that you are not available (e.g., a conference call), a yellow sign would mean that you are working and concentrating, and a green sign would be mean that it is okay to interrupt. Be sure to explain to your children when something is an emergency and when it is critical for them to alert your attention.
      • Align your work breaks with theirs in order to support them with daily tasks, such as making lunch, preparing snacks, completing homework tasks, and other duties. If it is anticipated that an important meeting or work task will conflict with meal times, establish a plan to coordinate meal preparation beforehand (e.g., prepare meals before work, clearly explain and demonstrate how older children can safely prepare their own meals). Please visit the Prepare Meals section on the Food & Nutrition section of this website for more information about food skills development and family meal preparation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Work Day

An important step to adjusting to an at-home working environment is to re-establish a consistent work day and regular routine. This can help to ensure that you maintain your productivity at home and re-establish a sense of normalcy with your professional life. A few important tips to consider are as follows:

  1. Maintain a consistent schedule. Develop a weekly schedule for yourself and make a list of the tasks that need to be accomplished. An electronic or paper calendar can be helpful in organizing these tasks. Part of this schedule should include time for:
    • Waking up and getting ready. Try to wake up and get ready for work as you would a regular work day. For example, if your previous morning routine was to wake up an hour before work, get ready, and pick up a coffee on your way to the office, continue to make this part of your morning routine (as long as you are not required to self-isolate). Another tip is to come to the “office” wearing the attire that you would normally wear to work (e.g., professional attire, shoes).
    • Work breaks, in accordance with your workplace’s policies. These breaks can include time for meals, self-care, family time, and other activities.
    • End of day tasks. Schedule time to follow-up on any remaining tasks for the day, shut down your computer, and clean up your work station. If your work area is not in a private room, put your office supplies away until the next day.
  2. Establish and maintain boundaries. Set boundaries for your work schedule by confirming your “office hours”. When in the office, maintain boundaries with family members by minimizing distractions (e.g., creating the caregiving plan) and focusing your attention on work-related tasks as best as possible. It is also important to set boundaries with co-workers and employers. While working from home, it is important to communicate when you will be “out of the office” and not responding to work emails or messages. Stay within the time frame of your dedicated work hours and try to avoid “staying at the office” or continuing to do work outside of the allotted time period. Because employees have access to their work stations and office supplies/tools while working from home, they may feel tempted to continue working past their usual hours. Keeping regular work hours allows employees to connect with their friends and family and attend to their own self-care needs during off-hours.
  3. Maintain good communication with co-workers and employers. As you would in a typical working environment, it is important to continue to stay in regular contact with co-workers and employers in which you report to for updates, questions, and co-tasks. Use technology to help facilitate this communication, such as phone, video conferencing, or email. Effective communication in the at-home working environment can help to ensure that you have a clear understanding about your employer’s expectations and your responsibilities as an employee, as well as appropriate supports from co-workers in adjusting to the new environment and collaborating on agreed-upon tasks.

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Last modified: 
Friday, July 3, 2020 - 3:55pm