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5 productivity-boosting tips for a suddenly remote workforce

The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Canadians to their home office. Heed these tips from experts and seasoned remote workers on how to work effectively.

Young pregnant woman working from home while older child plays at her sideWorking at home can be especially difficult for parents who are simultaneously managing their children being home from daycare or school (Getty Images/KT images)

Offices across the country have shut down in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With social isolation measures in place indefinitely, many Canadian professionals are getting their first taste of working from home. 

“There were some worries about generally losing connection with each other,” said CPA Michael Kravshik, founder of Luminari, an online CPA community focusing on professional education through their podcasting platform LumiQ. Kravshik’s team has been working from home since March 13.

“We worried about a lot of different things,” he says. “Most of all, the communication and collaboration—we’re a team of 14 people. We all sit in an area together. We’re always talking to each other.”

Here are five tips to ensure you don’t lose productivity while you work from home.  

1) CREATE A DEDICATED WORKPLACE

Where possible, you want to set up a dedicated workspace, says Ann Gomez, a Toronto-based productivity consultant and president of Clear Concept Inc. 

“If you could free up a room, that’s fantastic,” she says. “But if it’s just a desk in the corner, that’s good as well. Having that dedicated space is going to help keep that boundary between work and home life, which is crucial when you work from home. Otherwise it’s pretty easy for that boundary to be blurred.”

Investing in a desk can also make a huge difference in ensuring the separation of work time. Even a messy work area has been connected to greater creativity. And a workplace consultancy study found that simply taking ownership and control over your workspace could increase productivity by up to 32 per cent. 

2) DEVELOP A ROUTINE

Routines are helpful whether we work at the office or at home, says Gomez. 

“The big one is to get up and get ready for work,” she says. “Put your game face on. Even if you’re not connecting with people by video, you want to cue your mind, cue your body that you’re going to work.”

Another part of building routine is to start and end your day at a consistent time. 

“It’s nice to have that defined time when you’re working from home, once again, to create that boundary,” says Gomez. “If my day can end at any time, it’s just going to continue to spill into my evening and weekends.”

Daniel Stone, Chief Technology Officer at Luminari, recognizes that a lot of people are attempting to work from home for the first time. 

“We don’t know how this is all going to play out,” he says. “I think for the first week or two, you probably won’t feel it when the lines get blurred between work and non-work time. You do that for a month, two months, it’s going to really weigh on you.”

3) ENCOURAGE COMMUNICATION

The physical distance from your team can be a roadblock when you work from home for the first time. It’s easy when you work beside someone to tap them on the shoulder, says Stone, who works remotely on a permanent basis from his home in Ottawa.

“You lose that when you’re remote,” he says. “The primary solution we have is using Slack, and that’s a life saver. But I also find it really effective to just put things in calendars as touch points. Normally, if I have a developer on my team who is working on something, I might just check in and say, ‘Hey, how’s it coming along?’. I can’t do that. So I might just put it in the calendar and say, ‘I’ll call you at one o’clock’. That’s by far the most effective thing that I’ve found. It’s just putting things in calendars and getting on the phone.”

The number one person to stay connected to is your direct manager, adds Gomez. Her team even offers a webinar dedicated to teaching people to work productively from home. 

“There is a shift for a lot of managers who might be concerned that their teams are not being productive. And they might be tempted to micromanage,” she says. “So you’re going to help your leader back off and resist micromanaging. The best way to do that is to keep them informed on the things you’re working on.”

4) MANAGE DISTRACTIONS 

It can be difficult to navigate distractions for those new to working from home. This is exacerbated for parents who are simultaneously managing their children being home from school or daycare. 

Gomez goes back to establishing routines to help deal with this new reality, saying you might need to shift your working hours up a little bit and then switch to family time. 

Your kids will also have to have set schedules so they know what to expect, says CPA Melanie Schroeder, a B.C.-based holistic accountant, coach and counsellor.

While there are always going to distractions during normal times, Schroeder recommends turning off the TV, social media and email so you don’t get distracted by the never-ending COVID-19 news when you’re trying to work.

“There will be time to get updated when you’re on a break,” she says.

5) FIND THE POSITIVES

One of the important ways to cope with stress and difficult situations is to find meaning in them, says Schroeder.

“Being able to transition to an effective work-at-home situation where there wasn’t one before is a potential positive to come out of this,” she says.

At Luminari, Kravshik says the move to remote working has gone reasonably well. “Every morning we do a little team meeting on Google Hangouts and we’re adding in non-business things just to give us more stuff to chit chat about and connect with each other,” he says. “Everybody went around and just shared something interesting about their grandparents.

“You just have to be upfront with the reality that this isn’t the same. You can find new ways to spend time. Either learn or do something else that interests you. I like to read books and I find I never have time to read books. So there are silver linings.”

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