Working at Home During COVID-19 Outbreak

Being in close proximity to sneezing, coughing passengers is more alarming than usual right now for employees travelling on public transit. Additionally, being in close quarters and contact with colleagues who may have the coronavirus.

Such was the case at Amazon in downtown Seattle, Washington recently, when one of their colleagues tested positive for COVID-19.

How do employers keep their workers safe, especially with so much still unknown about its transmission?

Should companies restrict travel for employees who conduct business abroad? Should hand sanitizers be placed on all floors? Should anyone feeling unwell be mandated – and paid – to stay home for 14 days, the length of time it takes to know whether you are infected? What if you just had the flu, but didn’t get paid? These are critical questions companies face.

Many of these questions are addressed by Labour and Employment Lawyer, Peter Straszynski of the Toronto law firm, Torkin Manes.

Canadian employers are grappling with imposing restrictions on staff by instituting or encouraging alternative work arrangements, as the coronavirus continues to spread.

If you find yourself working from home all of a sudden, and don’t have a dedicated work area, below are some tips to set up a workspace in your home, or adjust what you have:

  • Set up proper technology. Your company will arrange the proper technology to connect you to the company’s server. If you have to work from home, ensure you have the bandwidth.
  • Control light, comfort, temperature. Once you have a desk set up, or area designated to work, ensure the sun isn’t shining in your face, you have a supportive chair, and a comfortable temperature. That will help you focus on work.
  • Set expectations on disturbances. Tell your children, spouse, and any other people at home not to bother you when at your desk. Unless it’s an emergency, they must wait until you leave your workspace to ask questions or chat. Still, remember to take frequent breaks so that you can refocus on your work when you return.
  • Eliminate distractions. If you don’t listen to the tv or radio at work, don’t start now. It will be enticing to watch an entire show. You may be tempted to walk the dog again, just pop out to pick up milk, or quickly sew on a button. These are all tasks that must be left to after-work hours and takes will power. Set a timer to take breaks instead.
  • Manage disruptions. When working at home, you’ll notice how many times telemarketers call your land line or cell phone. Don’t be tempted. You may also find yourself making tea, drinking coffee, or eating snacks you don’t normally, as the kitchen is right there. Or maybe you want a long bubble bath you never get. It will be important not to get seduced into a different routine. Also, if you need to be on the phone, ensure you have some privacy and conduct calls out of potential noisy areas.

Working at home can be rewarding with less noise, no commuting time, and saving money making lunch. With the proper boundaries in place, you can often concentrate better with less distractions. Embrace it.


Seeing 2020:  New Office Habits

You go to work every day, and there’s money for bills and food. It's a good time of year to ask:  are you happy, or just satisfied?

I believe people make New Year’s resolutions because we always want to improve our performance as humans. Lose weight, save money, eat healthier…

How does that translate into our work lives? Could we be more satisfied? January seems like a good time to consider this.

According to Rana Florida, in her book, Upgrade, we can always decide to transform your career. “The reality is that the majority of us don’t think about how we can optimize our lives.” She says we just “slog through” in a state of “managed dissatisfaction.”

Good point. And it got me thinking.

Do most employees just go to work because it’s what you do every day? Do most Canadians feel engaged? Turns out, we do!

In 2018, Monster Canada found nearly two-thirds of Canadian employees are content with their jobs. That’s right. Canada has some of the most satisfied and engaged workers in the world!

What’s strange is that a few years before, a 2015 survey showed 82% of working Canadians feel extremely disorganized. So why the disparity between the two statistics?

I think some of the reason is the disorganized state of Canadian workspaces. With files (electronic and physical) disorganized, boxes stacked up, papers piled around, and business cards in disarray, etc., people’s minds feel cluttered. How can you start your day without that kind of guilt?

Employees, executives and entrepreneurs want to get rid of old projects and recycle unused or broken supplies and electronics, as well as paper and digital clutter, but don’t have time. Or the energy. Or know how.

It’s 2020. It’s a wonderful time to form new habits, and get that office, desk, or workspace organized. Let’s start your workday being inspired.


What Paper Piles and Digital Disorganization Cost You

Some people embrace clutter. They love their messy office. They know exactly what’s in each and every one of their 27 piles of paper littering the desk, floor, windowsill, and credenza. ‘Go ahead and test me. I know what’s there,’ they say confidently.

Their computer desktop is littered with dozens of unsorted files. Their inbox holds emails in the tens of thousands. Maybe more than 100,000.

But what if that person has the flu, or is working in another time zone for a week. If they weren’t able to get to a computer or phone for a few days, would a colleague be able to find what they need in that messy office?

What if you were out longer, such as a serious illness or injury for a few months. Would it be intuitive for your colleagues to know where to access files, either in your office or on your electronic directory? Could they find everything to take over the project?

Here’s the thing: you may know where everything is, but no one else will understand your system. All they see is a high pile of paper leaning dangerously to the left. Or blocking the heating vent.

If they are allowed access to your digital files, your piles likely won't make sense to them. If files are buried in a system only you can understand, that spells trouble for the company.

When you hear someone say they know where everything is, ask if they have room on the desk to read, make notes, or edit a document. Is there space for water, a coffee cup, to review a file? Are several projects in one tall leaning-tower-of-Pisa style stack? That is probably not serving them well and could be a safety hazard.

And it costs.

Not being able to have clients in your office, or looking unprofessional if you do, affects your professional reputation. It looks like you aren’t in control. People wonder if the way you approach work is the same -- unkept and ignored.

Above all, it costs the company or your business by not sharing information with colleagues or clients on a regular basis.

it’s impossible for anyone else to know your system. If you have one. And if you don’t, I encourage employees and small business owners to file, have a spot for current projects, and archive those long over and complete, rather than let them sit in your office gathering dust. You’ll all benefit.


5 Tips for Smart Filing

For a supposed digital society, paper clutter is still an epidemic. And for others, the disorganization has just shifted from physical to digital.

If you don’t know how to handle scattered digital files at work, or the mountain of unsorted paper or in your office or home, let’s talk about how to manage papers and files.

1. Cut down how much you have. It’s difficult for some people to expel items, especially if they have an emotional attachment (promotion confirmation, first condo purchase). Honour the feeling, know the memory is stored, and then try to let it go. Only keep what you may need for legal reasons or to refer to in future.

Next, edit out these typical items in your home office or business workspace:

  • Conference notes you’ve never looked at
  • That “someday pile” of documents you’ve been meaning to sort
  • Saving or collecting items you may need “sometime,” but never do
  • Annual daily planners for years passed
  • Completed projects unnecessary to keep
  • Articles or bookmarked sites you are never going to read

Do you really need to print out an email or document? If you prefer to read a physical copy rather than a computer screen, research actually supports that preference (see study by Virginia Clinton, University of North Dakota). It’s more efficient to read from paper. However, ensure you recycle, file, or shred once you are finished editing or reading the document.

Keep vital documents such as your Social Security number, birth certificate, insurance policy, Estate & Will, property deed, car title, passport, and any contract or legal agreement with an original signature in a fireproof metal cabinet, safe, or safety deposit box.

To determine what’s vital, decide if replacing it would expensive, time-consuming, or vulnerable to fire, flood, or identity theft.

2. Be realistic about whether you will actually file what’s left, and if so, decide what kind of system you’ll likely use. If it’s too complicated or stressful, go digital. If you decide to keep hard copies of files, let’s go through options so you can store, track, and retrieve what you need.

3. Once you’ve chosen a system, think about what size file (letter or legal), if you want plain or colour-coded folders, and whether they will hang or sit in sorters. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Put files into folders and label with date
  • Don’t delay, but label new files as soon as you open them
  • Be clear where outdated files go (why keeping it, storage, scan)
  • Share files with others (central company drive)
  • Ensure you set up files for business expenses, and to prepare for tax season

4. Go Digital. Set up an electronic filing that follows the company’s system, and if there’s none set up, establish your own. See if a “file naming convention” works for you.

  • Add dates (back to front for chronological retrieval): 20150201Agenda (YYYYMMDD = Feb. 1, 2015)
  • For Alphanumeric, use “0” so lists go in order automatically (MemberReport2014V02.doc)
  • Add versions to drafts so lists are in order, but add final to last version (MemberReport2014Final.doc)

5. Maintain the system you put into place.

  • Book time weekly to delete emails
  • Set time to read articles
  • Every Friday (or end of your work week) tidy at 4:30 pm
  • Schedule seasonal file clear out and tidy days

Nobody has time or energy to expend looking for files. If you set aside time to stay organized, your workspace will be a more inviting place to work and create.


What Happens When We Become Organized?

The things we keep in our workspace/office exposes what we decided will enhance our career, job, expertise, life, or business. When papers pile up or are dumped unsorted in boxes, this is an indication these items no longer serve you.

Getting organized will help you take back control. Until then, colleagues or spouses may think your workspace’s mess reflects your state of mind. “I know where everything is,” you’ll retort. “I can always find what I need.”

The problem is you won’t always be around to find a project or file due to a hospital stay, vacation, sick day, or out-of-town conference.

If you lose important papers or electronic files, you cannot pass on important knowledge, keep the information for company records or history, or find what you or others need.

When information gets missed, productivity and the company can suffer.

You know getting organized helps you, but did you know it will boost your work financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually? See how below:

Financial Benefits

  • Only keeping what you really need compels you to focus on projects and goals you value most  allowing you to better meet company goals and faster
  • A cleared space leads to increased productivity, and a more profitable employee
  • By organizing supplies, avoid repurchasing those you have (save money!) and allows you to plan what you need in the next supply order
  • Instead of wasting time looking for files, you can spend your time effectively by being a more productive employee

Emotional Benefits

  • Feels like huge weight lifted off you (“I must get to this” is now done)
  • Seeing what’s really important to you may inspire you to pursue new projects, or a new role
  • Lift away that guilty awareness that your space is cluttered
  • With a cleared space, you clear your mind
  • Each morning, instead of starting your day with frustration at the clutter and disorganization, you are ready to work on your newly identified goals
  • Clearly see what is truly important to you at this stage of your career or business
  • Become more passionately involved or feel recommitted to work
  • Gain renewed confidence in decision-making abilities
  • By confronting what we no longer need, we get to reset our work lives
  • Make decisions based on newly identified values

Physical Benefits

  • Spend less time searching for files or projects
  • Reduce stress and feel less overwhelmed
  • Find things you’ve been looking for
  • Have room and feel comfortable to host meetings in your office
  • Tackle projects hanging over your head untouched, ignored, or hidden
  • Face your tendency to procrastinate
  • By reducing files, have more room to work
  • Digitize old files and that tower of business cards you won’t use
  • Easy-to-maintain system, reflecting the individual personal work style, helps spaces stay clear, and productivity remain high
  • Stand or sit at your desk properly, with an ergonomic computer set up, helping to reduce neck or lower back pain
  • By selecting what you keep, make choices and decisions on your future
  • With boxes gone, you have a clear path to your desk
  • Organized files are at hand when you need them

Spiritual Benefits

  • Organizing your work space can be reputation-enhancing, as colleagues and clients see you in control of your workflow
  • Learning to let material go and giving away, recycling, and archiving files or items can be cathartic, leaving you with a feeling of freedom
  • Items in your office are signs of what you value, and a reflection of what you want to get out of your career
  • By digging out from stuff that has been burying you, you can forge ahead uncluttered, ready for change
  • Feel ready to tackle projects you couldn’t bear to look at before
  • Be more passionately involved and able to focus on what matters most

 


Next Decluttering Practice: Swedish Death Cleaning

While people around the world embrace Marie Kondo’s method of what sparks joy to declutter, those into their 50s and beyond are practicing the Swedish Death Cleaning method (SDC) or döstädning. In Swedish, dö is "death" and städning is "cleaning."

Sounds downright scary doesn’t it? I mean it has the word “death” in it.

The SDC philosophy is all about editing out unnecessary objects and clutter in your home over time to be left with only what's useful or a good memory. You slowly edit out items before your children or loved ones have to do it for you after you’ve died.

It’s the ultimate plan to be organized, but after death.

Although SDC advocates say clean it up now, it is really a philosophy of living.

It can start anytime, ideally in your 50s, beginning with small steps that involves organizing and purging out stuff daily, getting down to a minimum, and leaving behind a decluttered home.

While people have been scrutinizing their relationship with stuff lately, this method has been around for about two years, practiced by an aging generation.

From their 20s to 60s, the Baby Boomer Generation made good salaries, bought inexpensive homes, cars, and spent their wealth during the extravagant 1980s. All this stuff now packs their homes.

And many of those born in the 1940s, brought up in wartime, know what it is to lack. Therefore, many keep things that may come in handy. This can get out of control.

I’m generalizing here, but through either experience described above, many Baby Boomers have become collectors. They have stuff. And they expect their offspring will want it when they are gone.

Not so fast.

Their children are Generation Xers, and they have enough stuff. Excellent consumers, they can buy lots with cheap manufacturing, and as a result, have tons of clothes, furniture, and electronics. And now with online shopping, it's even easier to make our consumerism easier, faster, and more efficient.

They are collectors too. But also discarders.

Gen Xers get rid of their stuff in search of getting a better, updated, newer version.

Bottom line is most likely, Gen Xers won't want all your stuff.

Not that everything has to go. The SDC minimalist lifestyle still means you keep items that may have sentimental value to you or relatives. The point is that whatever’s left is not a burden on the family someday. Or you.

That gives SDC followers time to travel, watch movies, go to the theatre, or create elaborate meals. This is how priorities shift, when you spend less time shopping, collecting, and taking care of what you own.

When you think about it, Swedish Death Cleaning gives you more time to enjoy life. I like that.


Time to End Cramped Cubicles

With skyrocketing real estate costs, businesses are opting for smaller employee work spaces like cubicles and group desks. That’s why you don’t have your own office anymore.

Even 10 years ago, in a midlevel position, you often got your own private office with lights you could control, a big window, and a door to close.

These days, with the “hoteling” trend, desk shares, and working from home, the traditional office is still reinventing itself, with the latest being long desks in a wide-open space. But cubicles remain. I must wonder why.

Recently, I organized a cramped cubicle for a male employee who stands 6’3”. It’s so tight in there, he cannot stretch out his legs, and has to crane his neck back while opening his cupboard door so that he doesn’t whack his head. When a colleague comes to the half-wall entrance, he has to swivel his chair a full 180 degrees to see who it is.

He is quite uncomfortable in this space.

It takes more courage, than most people have, to ask during a job interview: “What does my office look like? How much square footage is it?” Once you are hired, you must accept wherever the employer assigns you.

The cubicle was invented by Robert Propst, an office-furniture company designer. When they debuted his concept of walled-in private space in the early 1960s, it was a time when individual office space was shrinking.

Instead of long tables, shared desks, and wall-less spaces, he invented 6-by-6 square cubicles to give office workers more privacy through semi-enclosed workspaces, thinking it would lead to a more efficient, happier employee. His design was trying to replace open spaces, but we now have both designs.

And both are noisy, distracting, lack privacy, and frustrate employees.

The 1960s cubicles accommodated more employees joining the workforce, in particular women, while minimizing space and companies’ rental estate costs. But so-called Cube Farms make most people feel caged in, especially if there’s no sunlight. Some employees may goof off since no one can see what they are doing.

As such, popular entertainment has immortalized cubicle culture: Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ brilliant cartoons, the TV series Mad Men sets the scene, and we feel the pain in cult movie hit, Office Space.

Remember the disrespected, mumbling character, Milton, in Office Space? He was let go five years ago and no one even told him! So he kept going into his pod, surrounded by boxes, stacks of paper, and clutter, seriously unhappy with being moved every few months into another cramped space.

So where does this leave us?

In this modern business world, our society has shifted to activity-driven, employee perks (foosball anyone?), and open spaces for collaboration.

Office designers are combatting the lack of sunlight and privacy with open spaces, and “breakout rooms.” Companies build spaces to accommodate different work tasks, such as a private room with comfy couches for brainstorming, or a closed off booth for private phone conversations.

Whatever we do, let’s retire cubicles.


Kondo Cleaning Craze Catches On

Marie Kondo’s book, the life-changing magic of tidying up, has been a sensation since it was released. Five years later, Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has elicited a second wave of love as millions unload items that don’t “spark joy” by following her “KonMari Method.”

Professional Organizers have already been practicing parts of what she preaches for decades. Yet, Kondo introduced a few new perspectives on decluttering and organizing.

Her brilliant practice of folding a sweater or t-shirt into a small package and standing it on end vertically, side by side -- instead of stacking clothes on top of each other -- is revolutionary. How did we not think of that before!

Part of her inspiration is that Japanese homes tend to have much less space to hold stuff. They don’t have the luxury of buying in bulk, and fill up their spaces like we North Americans. Our consumer-driven society seems to have reached the breaking point of too much stuff.

Therefore, I am on board with her practice to greet a space, and show gratitude toward things you own.

The “KonMari Method”

People begin tidying by item, rather than room, gathering the same category into one location. First clothes, then books, papers, “Komono” (kitchen, bathroom, garage, misc.), with sentimental items last.

I agree we should see everything we have before discarding. However, seeing a mountain of books or clothes may be daunting for some.

Many people have trouble distinguishing categories, making decisions, letting go, and worse, keeping up an organizing system. As a result, this subset may become frustrated with the KonMari Method, or feel guilty for not embracing her method’s success like everyone else. Or cannot maintain it.

Yet, Kondo is adamant you don’t divert from her proven methods, and claims no client has never rebounded or backslid.

That statement surprises me.

The "Spark Joy" Challenge for Many

People have emotional attachments to their things and can easily start a “someday” pile again.

Similarly, some people can’t hold each piece of clothing to see if it sparks joy. Instead, they want to reminisce and keep it. Those who struggle with hoarding tendencies, for example, find it difficult to let go once they have held an item. Also, your tax return might not spark joy, but you need it (for seven years at least).

Also a challenge for many is her maxim to tri-fold socks, stockings, and tights. I cannot imagine a busy parent trying to keep this up, especially if he or she is folding everyone’s laundry. Pairing up socks and folding once is just fine, in my opinion.

The good news is, many Professional Organizers in Canada specialize in working with people who have ADHD, who hoard, and who are chronically disorganized. There are also Organizers for those who want help organizing their office, setting up a home workspace, or getting their papers straightened out.

Another area where I waver is how Marie wants us to treat clothes and books like they are alive. She suggests stroking a book cover awake before deciding if you need to keep it, and thanking our clothes for doing a good job each day, then letting them “rest.” Sorry, but I cannot pretend inanimate objects like sweaters are mad at me for keeping them in a plastic tote. However, I agree we need to respect our belongings and treat them with care.

I prefer store-bought containers to hold items. But keeping with the Japanese tradition of using boxes to store items, Kondo says she has an aversion to purchased organizing supplies. She sees them as imprisoning our belongings, and suggests we use shoeboxes instead. This is economical, but these cardboard boxes can be thin and tear, get wet from leaky containers, and hide what’s inside. However, I love Marie’s Hikidashi Boxes she had custom-made for the public, to fill in what she sees as a gap in the marketplace.

The KonMari Method is inspirational for the general population. I’m excited Marie has people passionate about tidying up their spaces, and feeling inspired to keep them clear. If you focus on what you want to keep, you’ll be left with what’s really relevant to your current life.

Now that’s magic.


Is Your Work Style Early Bird or Night Owl?

Each workday, Night Owls drag themselves out of bed to arrive at the office on time, while Early Birds fight taking a nap in the early afternoon.

Wouldn’t it be great if all employees were able to design their day based on their body’s natural circadian rhythms and personal preferences?

Everyone’s work style is different, yet many work places still expect its employees to adhere to a set schedule.

In order to be organized, though, I believe we should work according to when our minds and body are at our best.

What Job May Best Suit You

If you like to keep on the move, are fidgety, or like to tip your chair, you might be best suited to a job where you can walk around (security), stand (retail store; pharmacy), put items on shelves (store), move items along (grocery), pack boxes (manufacturing), or be under pressure to hustle (emergency worker, police).

People who have amazing hearing and are inspired by sounds (audiophiles) might like to arrange music (producer, composer, recording studio), play an instrument (orchestra, band), sing (opera, commercials), install hearing aids (audiologist), work on a radio show (voiceovers, DJ, host, technician, interviewer, producer), or teach others language (teacher, speech therapist, linguist).

Those who are more visual and enjoy seeing what they do might be best matched to outward-looking ventures such as creating beauty (make up artist, painter), experimenting (scientist), inventing (entrepreneur, engineer), making (woodworking, costumes), capturing beauty (photographer, videographer), crafting viewpoints (writer, advertiser, actor), or building (construction).

Whatever you choose, here’s hoping you get to sleep in or go to bed early, and work at a pace that honours your natural work style.


Organizations’ Disorganization

It’s not just an oxymoron: an organization’s disorganization. It’s a threat. Before work begins, companies and business owners have to decide (1) their main focus (2) what they’ll avoid, and (3) how the operation will be set up to run smoothly.

Once organized, employees know where to prepare food, hold a meeting, photocopy, get help, or procure office supplies. Yet how an individual workspace functions is still up to you.

The challenge is that many employees, executives, and small business owners don’t know how to set up their own office or personal workspace for its highest efficiency. No one teaches us that — or even expects it.

People grapple with how to handle expense receipts, for example, or what to do with a filing cabinet when all their files are digital. When you don’t set up a system for dealing with common working issues like these, or account for individual preferences, this is where employee disorganization thrives.

With too many employees unfocussed, the organization’s goals can suffer.

THE SOLUTION

Work is always challenging, whether it’s conflict with colleagues or struggling with too much work. So why put off organizing offices until ‘things calm down?’

As soon as employees are frustrated or stressed by mess, it’s time to take steps to tackle the culprits. Following are some tips:

Recycle, file, or archive paper, stationary, digital files, and knick-knacks to make room for new projects and ideas.

Choose new projects only if they help you reach your goals or teach you a new skill you want.

Turn down insignificant projects that may bring your attention away from your true passion, the reason you were hired, or why you started the business.

Discard/recycle/give away items you no longer use, never have, but feel compelled to keep. Clutter is anything that stops you from accomplishing your work. This could be projects, ideas, or sketches you didn’t finish. It’s all holding your space hostage.

Your decision to reorganize will lead to action, which brings about change, and shortly, renewed focus. Everyone wins.