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How to meet the challenges of working and learning from home

Ontario Tech researcher Dr. Serena Sohrab shares ideas to make the most of your home space

Dr. Serena Sohrab, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Business and Information Technology, Ontario Tech University.
Dr. Serena Sohrab, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Business and Information Technology, Ontario Tech University.

The physical distancing protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic quickly shifted how we communicate and interact with each other. Response to the health-care crisis put the brakes on people gathering in lecture halls, workplaces and public spaces. The necessary changes to minimize spread of the coronavirus have drastically altered daily routines.

At Ontario Tech University, Faculty of Business and Information Technology organizational behaviour and human resources researcher Dr. Serena Sohrab says working or studying at home presents a new set of stressors and challenges for remaining productive. As an expert in performance management, Dr. Sohrab shares some of her observations and perspectives:

The response to COVID-19 has redefined how many organizations operate. What are some of the challenges employees face in making the transition to working from home?

“Almost overnight, COVID-19 changed our way of life, dropping people into new settings and limiting where we can carry out workplace functions. Many of us are unfamiliar with taking care of work-related tasks at home. Many people have started experiencing sleep issues and heightened levels of anxiety. While worry about their health, their families, and the future of economy contributes to the anxiety and sleep issues, not having proper strategies for working from home factor in as well. Many do not know how to create structure around their work and non-work life. Hence, they end up spending long hours engaged with work and do not get enough rest. This can quickly lead to burnout if it is not managed.”

What are some best practices for remaining productive at home during the pandemic?

“Separate your work life from regular life, both physically and time-wise. Allocate a space to work and avoid the temptation of doing non-work tasks in that space. Regarding the time you can work, do not stay engaged with work for the entire day; schedule the work time and stick to it as best as you can. This allows you to have effective rest time, which is essential to staying productive and mentally healthy. And yes, you should change out of your pajamas into outdoor clothes, and wear shoes to tell your mind that you are getting into the work zone. Finally, be realistic about what you can deliver.”

What about having a daily routine? How important is that?

“Routine is imperative. Routines help our mind and body move between different stages of day with ease. Go to bed and wake up at the same times you normally would. Create a morning routine to remind your body that a workday has started. Work at regular hours, and allocate specific times or slots for breaks. Keep the routine during the day, and end your day with the bedtime routine. If you have children, arrange your schedule with your partner to make it easier to maintain the routine. Structuring your day is essential.”

Following the pandemic, might we see a rise in the number of organizations or employees developing work-from-home options?

“I am sure we will see a substantial growth in remote work or virtual service. In the past, fear of learning and change has slowed our adaptation of technology. However, now that we have experienced virtual service and remote work, many will stick to this new way of getting things done.

There are various mutual benefits to remote work and service. Companies might find they can save on operational costs like office space. They would be in a position to hire qualified people from all over the country and expand some of their services to remote areas. Workers might be happy to commute less often, save on fuel costs and travel time, and have more flexibility around life. It will certainly be good for our environment too.

But we need to be careful in implementing remote work. Isolation is not a healthy way of living. It takes an emotional toll on us. Stressors add up over time, and often we don’t realize it until we ‘crash’ from fatigue. We are social creatures and need to interact with other people to stay mentally and physically healthy. In addition, we know that people who work from home are less likely to be considered for promotions or advancement opportunities. So, this needs to be done with planning and consultation with experts.”

Media contact
Bryan Oliver
Communications and Marketing
Ontario Tech University
289.928.3653 (mobile)