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Effective strategies for remote work during COVID-19

Work From Home Strategies

To protect employees from the global COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations have arranged for their staff to work from home whenever possible. Many of us have been working from home for two weeks, some as long as a month or more. Most will agree working from home is not easy. With that said, it’s important to recognize that working remotely is a luxury not afforded to everyone – many people don’t have that option, such as frontline health care workers, grocers, and delivery drivers.

While the loss of productivity seems less important in the time of COVID-19, if you spend enough time in isolation you may begin to lose your sense of self. Parents know how difficult it is to balance work and home life at the best of times, but that juggling act is only intensified when working from home. These tips will help you adjust to a new way of working and will help protect your mental health during this stressful period.

Mirror your work environment at home

It’s important to implement the same routine as you would on any normal day you would go into the office or workplace. Continue to set your alarm, shower, and eat a healthy breakfast.

If you can avoid it, try not to work on your bed or your couch. If you have a desk, use it. If you don’t, consider using a dining room table, coffee table, or even a kitchen counter. By clearly defining the space in your house where work happens, it’s more likely you’ll be able to focus when you are there – and be able to disconnect when you’re not. Additionally, sitting or standing upright will help you avoid getting a sore neck and back.

You’ll already have more than enough distractions as it is, so keep your work space clean and tidy to allow you to focus.

Set boundaries

Remember that when you work from home you’re always at home – but you’re also always at work. It can be exhausting to feel like you’re at work for 16 hours a day, so it’s important to set some boundaries. As Thomas Watson says in How to Govern, Manage, and Work Amid COVID-19, “Define ‘working hours.’ (Working-from-home) is not a 24/7 proposition simply because you’re home all day.”

Turn off the TV and stay away from video games and books during normal working hours. If you wouldn’t do it at the office, don’t do it during working hours.

Once your workday is done, it’s important to switch off from work. Engage in an activity that is completely different, such as cooking, listening to music, working out, spending quality time with family members, doing household chores, or yes, watching TV or playing video games.

Don't forget to shut down your lap top to completely unplug at the end of the work day.

Prioritize your goals

Establish daily goals and start with the biggest priorities. Write them down and display them prominently. It can be easy to get caught in a game of “whack-a-mole” when working from home, especially if you have children. Add impromptu zoom meetings and conference calls and it’s easy to lose sight of your bigger projects. Get them out of the way while you can.

Protect your mental health

Avoid consuming media that can cause you to feel distressed or anxious. Focus on seeking information that helps facilitate your planning and protects yourself and loved ones. Take breaks from social media and/or mute keywords that you may find triggering. Stay connected with others by scheduling regular check-in times. Exercise, eat well, stay hydrated, and make time to spend outdoors. 

Avoid burnout

it is almost inevitable for anxiety to creep into our lives at some point during isolation. The first sign is usually a lack of sleep, which can be accompanied by lethargy, feelings of depression, and difficulty focusing. It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed with changes to our work and home routine, but there are a few things that can be done to alleviate it:

  • Practice mindfulness, which is simply focusing on the present while trying to avoid thoughts of tomorrow, or next week, or next month.
  • Think of things and people you appreciate. Being in a state of gratitude can lift your mood.
  • Use evidence of what other countries are doing to successfully manage the current pandemic, such as South Korea or New Zealand, to gain some perspective.
  • Let go of what you can’t control and focus on what you can. 
  • Recognize the current situation is not your final destination. We’re all going through a period of transition together, and it will get better.
  • Set a number of hours to work and allow yourself to take frequent short breaks, including 20- to 30-minute naps if needed.
  • If stress becomes overwhelming, or you're having difficulty sleeping, practice deep breathing and breath focus. Deep breathing aids you in disconnecting from unpleasant thoughts and sensations. 

When to seek help and where to find help

If you find yourself feeling irritable, have a hard time sleeping, struggle with daily functioning, or have difficulty regulating your emotions, these might be signs you need help to cope with your stress and anxiety.

The Canadian Psychological Association has an online fact sheet with tips for coping with the new coronavirus and a list of who to contact to find a psychologist in your area. Additionally, there are resources if you need to speak or text someone:

  • Crisis Services Canada: Call 1-833-456-4566 (or 1-866-277-3553 from Quebec) or text 45645 to speak with a trained crisis responder.
  • If you’d rather text, you can message a trained crisis responder at the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 686868.
  • If your employer offers an EAP (Employee Assistance Plan), most have counsellors available to provide support through telephone, videoconference, secure email, and chat. If you or a family member are looking for support, don’t hesitate to give them a call.
  • has further tips and resources for those dealing with the unprecedented disruptive impact of COVID-19.

It’s important to remember, “you are not working from home, you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.


About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

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