Australia

How to make working from home a success during the coronavirus lockdown

Carole Bouchier works at an Australian university and is now working from home with her three children. Source: Supplied

As Australia grapples with a rising number of coronavirus cases and a nationwide shutdown, millions of people are now adapting to working from home.

For many Australians, this year is the first they’ll be working from home.

It is the first time they've logged on remotely, conducted meetings over video chat and spent their day trying to concentrate in their kitchen, living room or bedroom, instead of the office.

For Sydney mother-of-three Carole Bouchier, who works as an executive assistant at a university, this isn’t her first time working from home, but she told SBS News it is no ordinary circumstance.

The shutdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak means her husband, as well as her three children, aged 12, six, and 13 months, will also be at home.

Here, Ms Bouchier, an occupational psychologist and an HR expert share their tips for working from home.

Accept these aren't normal circumstances

“We will have to determine areas in the house and schedules, or something like that, because it's a three-bedroom house, it's not massive so it might be a little bit challenging,” Ms Bouchier told SBS News.

“Obviously there will be our 13-month-old to take care of so it will be interesting, I don't quite have the details completely ironed out, to be honest.”

Ms Bouchier said between her and her husband, they will have to arrange a flexible working arrangement, so one can look after the children in the morning, and the other in the afternoon.

While she admits this period will be difficult, Ms Bouchier who is originally from France and has lived around the world, says she knows how to adapt.

“We might be worried to start with, and it might take a while to get into a groove, but we will do it,” she said.

Act as if it’s a normal day at work

Health and employment experts agree it will most certainly take time to adapt from working from home (or WFH as dubbed by social media users) and have offered some tips to make the transition a little bit smoother.

Griffith University occupational psychologist Professor Paula Brough says for people working from home for the first time, they should stick to the same routine they would if they were going into work.

“It's quite helpful to try and engage in that work mindset as much as you can,” she said.

“So if you normally get up at a certain time to go to work, do that, and you have your certain morning routine, still do that.”

“Have a shower, get dressed, have breakfast as you normally would.”

Professor Brough said having a structure throughout the day - joining in on video calls, still organising meetings (even if they’re virtual) as well as taking breaks to eat, or take a quick walk - “will make for a more productive workday”.

Don't sit on the sofa

Professor Brough said if you have the option, setting up a comfortable, practical work environment is a key part of successfully working from home.

She said ideally you should try to replicate the workspace in your office in your home environment, where possible. 

“Preferably not your bed, preferably not the couch,” she said.

Experts say one should be able try to replicate their workspace in their office in their home environment- but acknowledges this might be hard with children.
Experts say one should be able try to replicate their workspace in their office in their home environment- but acknowledges this might be hard with children.
AAP

 “So have a desk, or a space which you can set up in the same way, or in a similar way as you would in your office,” she said.

Be aware of distractions and isolation

Working from home can seem like a “novelty” according to Professor Brough - people can do their washing, or clean the house, or snack all day - which means getting easily distracted.

But staying focussed and motivated is one of the things people struggle with the most. 

“You can be very easily distracted by your home environment, and I would suggest you would think about it like this - 'I'm just going to sit down and do a couple of hours of work ... and then I'll go and unload the dishwasher or hang out some washing',” Professor Brough said.

Isolation can also be a challenge for people when they are working at home.

“Especially for those who are used to working in a busy office or doing work in cafes … where there's noise, and activity, and people, and social connection all around you,” she said.

“For a while, it will be difficult when it's just you and your computer.”

Professor Brough suggests pencilling in as many video meetings with colleagues, or just phone calls with friends and family, to keep your spirits high.

Remember health and safety rules still apply

Dr Robin Price, lecturer in employment relations and human resource management and Central Queensland University said the same obligations apply to employers and employees when someone is working at home, as they do when they are working in an office.

So that means occupational health and safety rules still apply.

Experts say an employer has an obligation to provide the tools that an employee needs to work - be it a laptop, phone, or an officer chair.
Experts say an employer has an obligation to provide the tools that an employee needs to work - be it a laptop, phone, or an officer chair.
AAP

“An employer has the legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for their employees so the employer should definitely, if they can, do some kind of a check on the workspace,” Dr Price said.

She said while in-person checks are obviously difficult in the current environment, there are other ways an employer can check that their employee's workspace meets health and safety requirements.

“[The employer] could send a checklist with what you want them in an ideal world to have, and they could send photos, or do a video tour, or something like that.

“It’s basically about. one, protecting the worker, but two, protecting the employer to say that yes, they have checked the workplace and they know that their employee is going to be working somewhere safe.”

Keep receipts so you can claim the tax back

Dr Price said an employer also has an obligation to provide the tools that an employee needs to work - be it a laptop, phone, or an office chair.

“It really is an employer's responsibility to provide equipment for their employees to be able to work and to reimburse for things that they have spent money on,” she said.

But she does admit Australia is currently going through a “crisis situation” and there are no hard and fast rules to make it happen. Employers may not have the equipment or funds to provide what’s needed, she said. 

Aa a result, she recommends employees keep all their receipts and will be able to claim certain purchases on their tax.

“The employee can keep records and claim the costs of running their home office on their taxation as deductions,” she said.

She directed people who want more information to the Australian Taxation Office website - where there are more guidelines about what you can and can’t claim on a ‘home office’.

ato.gov.au
ato.gov.au

Dr Price said given just how unprecedented this situation is, most businesses “probably didn’t prepare for a pandemic ... regardless of how good their risk management is.”

She said both employers and employees need to manage expectations during this time.

“There's a whole lot of businesses just putting one foot in front of the other and doing whatever we can at this point in time to try to adhere with the government directives and what's best for our workforce."

Australians must stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. Indoors, there must be a density of no more than one person per four square metres of floor space.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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