In the matter of a few short days thousands of Albertans moved from getting up and going to work to working from home in response to the intensified precautions related to COVID 19, a global pandemic sweeping across Canada. This transition has been a topic of conversation on virtual meetings that have taken the place of in-person discussions. Uncertainty, public health recommendations and everyone’s efforts to “flatten the curve” has meant projects and events have been disrupted, postponed or even cancelled.
As a community mental health organization with a strong commitment to mental health in the workplace, the Alberta Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has a unique vantage point to support the changes that are occurring all around us. Importantly, CMHA is also adapting the way we work with our own staff as we navigate emerging realities.
We thought it would be interesting to talk to members of our team about how they are managing their mental health during this transition. Three of our team members have worked from home exclusively for a number of years, while others have worked primarily in our downtown Edmonton office.
We asked these CMHA staff members to share their experiences, tips and tricks on remaining productive while working at home.
CMHA’s Mental Health
Many of us at CMHA Alberta Division feel alone and miss the day-to-day interactions we had at work. Although we aim to connect through other means like a phone call or video-chat, it can be difficult not to be able to walk into someone’s office to check in. CMHA’s Wellness and Resilience Manager, Tim Neubauer, says “making the time—even if I have to schedule it in—to connect with friends and colleagues who inspire me is an important part of maintaining my mental health right now.”
Individually we have worked at reducing our intake of social media and are being more selective of the media we’re consuming regularly. “It became important that I was getting information from valid news and public health sources,” says Project Manager Kolbi Kukurba. “This has kept the doom and gloom out of my mindset and let me focus on the things I can control.” Further, it’s important to remove anyone from your online community who may be unhelpful or negative. “Managing what you’re consuming can be a difficult thing to do, but it’s important to ensure your mental health isn’t suffering at the expense of a friend’s unsolicited negativity,” Kolbi says.
“I’m grieving right now,” explains Jessica Turowski, Project Manager with CMHA. “I feel like all the things we were excited to accomplish this year has been lost.” You, too, may have lost something you were looking forward to at work. Everything from changing plans, sidelined projects and cancelled events all impact us and it’s important to acknowledge and process the feelings associated with those changes and losses. “An online therapy session and cuddling my cats has helped a lot,” Kolbi explains. “Maybe that will help others, too.”
Tips from the Pros
- Whether you’re in an office or at home remember to take breaks and step away from your work space to chat with family or colleagues. This may mean picking up the phone and calling those people.
- Make a list of what a productive day looks like. Is it finishing a project? Getting your inbox to zero? Meeting with stakeholders virtually? Knowing what the results of a productive day is provide a measureable structure. Keep in mind that like any other workday, working at home means some days will be more productive than others.
- It’s important to have a dedicated space to work, but also the flexibility to move your workspace when you feel like you need to get a different perspective.
- Ensuring you have the right tools in your workspace helps you feel like you’re “at work.” This includes not just laptops and phones, but also books, notes and to-do lists. It’s also helpful to have something that signifies you’re working right now, like lighting a candle while you work to signify the mental space you’d like to be in (our Executive Director’s hack!).
- Switch up your tasks regularly. Don’t work on the same thing all day, which will help keep things fresh and interesting.
What the Newbies Learned
- Working from home is a new skill you’re learning. It will take time to feel comfortable doing it, and that’s okay.
- This new way of working allows you to have some control over your space, schedule and outputs, which you can use to your advantage.
- Working is a strong contributing factor to people’s mental health. Being able to work from home allows you to remain purposeful and productive, while also supporting your bottom line.
- Recognize at home your work will be disrupted—by things such as your partner, your kids, your pets, a ringing phone or the doorbell—and that healthy disruption and engagement with others is not only possible, but preferable to locking yourself in a home office for the entirety of your day.
- When you’re working in an office setting, you don’t sit at your desk all day without interacting with your colleagues or stakeholders. Similarly, interactions at home, while different than those at the office, should be a welcome part of your routine.
- Post-secondary students—either current or past—remember the time they spent in school and how flexible and mobile they had to be in order to get the schoolwork done. These skills translate very well into working from home.
- Plan and percolate on the things you need to get done. Take advantage of any time that has opened up because of schedule changes and cancelled meetings to do this. It may not look productive but it sets the stage for you to successfully complete your work.
The experiences shared here come from our team at CMHA who are Albertan workers just like you! While they may not be universal, we hope they affirm some of your thoughts, feelings and approaches to working from home in the last number of weeks. This may not be a complete list of what others might be going through, but we hope there is commonality in our shared experiences that can support others who are struggling with the current “normal”. We are all in this together.
Do you have ideas to share about working from home? Tweet us at @cmha_ab with your idea and include #workathomementalhealth. Your advice might help support another Albertan struggling with working from home right now.
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please call 211 (in Alberta) or your local distress line.