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Tips for setting up a home office during COVID-19

Note: This page is meant to advise NRCan employees on working during COVID-19. Please consult Health Canada’s COVID-19 pages for up-to-date information on the situation.

Carving out a space for yourself amongst partners, pets and kids

This is the first in a series of articles that will provide tips for working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The information provided in this article is courtesy of our colleagues in the Corporate Management and Services Sector.

A simple search for how to successfully work from home turns up an abundance of useful tips, but let’s be honest, we’re not in a regular telework situation right now.

Some people are working from home for the first time. Many people have spouses or partners working from home, kids they need to home school or keep busy and pets who are thrilled (or not) to have them home all day. Those who live alone can start feeling isolated.

So how do we push past this and set up a home office to get us through these difficult times?

First, cut yourself some slack

Don’t be surprised if you’re not as productive as you were before, especially in these first couple of weeks when you’re setting up your home office or trying to get your household on a schedule.

Prioritize your work and set realistic objectives with your manager. If you can continue with your work pre-social distancing, great. If not, you can work on things like strategic and HR planning, writing or updating protocols, procedures, training, how-to guides or organizing your information in GCdocs.

Second, set up a productive space

Unless you telework often, your home “office” may not be as comfortable as your work office. After two weeks of full-time telework, you may be starting to feel back or neck pain and your eyes may be more tired, too. 

Since picking up furniture from the office is not feasible, here are a few things that you can do to make your setup more comfortable. 

Ensure you have privacy

If you have a room with a door, close it so your household knows you’re working. Get creative if you don’t have a door. Use a room divider or a low bookcase to separate your workspace from the rest of the house; the bookcase can serve as storage for your office supplies, too. You may also wish to make a sign to let others know you’re working (e.g., “Quiet please” or “I’m on a video call”).

Find the right lighting

Work in a room with a window to get as much natural light as possible; otherwise use a combination of general and task lighting. Even with a window, task lighting will be important on cloudy days or if you have to work late. Place the task lamp behind your monitor or laptop to reduce contrast.

Create a work surface

If you don’t have a desk, consider using a nightstand or two filing cabinets with a board or door across them. You can also use a kitchen counter, ironing board or an upside-down clothes hamper as a desktop so you can alternate between sitting and standing during the day.

Make a comfortable chair

If you don’t have a proper office chair, use a chair with a backrest to help you maintain good posture. If you need lumbar support and don’t have a lumbar pillow, use a rolled towel instead — you can even secure it in place with an old tie or scarf. Sit in a relaxed position, with your thighs parallel to the floor and your feet flat on the floor. Use a footrest, a box or your old university books to keep your feet elevated if they don’t touch the floor.

Be active

It’s important to stand up, move and stretch for a few minutes every hour. To avoid eye strain, focus on objects 20 feet way for 20 seconds every 20 minutes and periodically focus your eyes on distant objects.

Stay organized

Keep all your work in your workspace so you’re more efficient. This also helps you separate your work life from your home life. Establish set hours of work, and stick to them as best you can. It’s easy to keep working when you’re at home and don’t have to catch the bus or drive the kids to music lessons.

Reach out to NRCan’s Technology Accessibility Centre (TAC)

The TAC’s Ergonomics at Home guide has even more tips, including wrist and forearm support, comfortable use of tablets and mobile devices, proper monitor height and keyboard and mouse use.

If you need more ergonomics help, send questions or a photo of your office to the TAC team mailbox. They can answer your questions by email, phone or video chat to help you set up your office as best as possible.

Third, be aware of your mental health

Get enough sleep — about 7.5 to 9 hours. Eat a healthy, balanced diet, and stay hydrated. And schedule exercise time — a 20- to 30-minute walk outside, while physical distancing, is a good way to refresh your mind and your spirit.

Many people also feel lonely right now, especially those living alone. Try to schedule a daily call with a colleague or friend, or connect with others using Office 365 tools, NRChat or other messaging/video tools.

Be aware of the leave available to you, and know that the Employee Assistance Program is available to you and your family 24/7 at 1-800-268-7708 (TTY: 1-800-567-5803).

Share your workspace

Snap a pic of your office space and share it on Twitter using the hashtags #MyNRCan and #MyGCworkplace. Your office setup may gives others ideas for how to set up theirs.

Send us your feedback

Is there a topic about working from home you’d like to see us cover in a future Source article? Send The Source an email with your suggestion.

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