You may have been working from home since the lockdown but like many Canadians, you are resigning yourself to the reality that you may be there until … well, maybe you don’t know when you’ll get back to your office. But even if you are snug at home with your family, there’s no denying that if your home and work routine feels topsy-turvy, it can be unsettling.

Georgia Swan, a Tax and Estate Planner with TD Wealth, has felt the same way. She says everything seems to take longer because she is working on a laptop and misses having a large monitor and separate keyboard. Her secure work laptop doesn’t connect with her home printer, and self-isolation has hit her hard on a personal level: She has felt fatigued from work, anxious about the pandemic and generally stressed out. She’s since made a point of establishing a better work routine, with regular breaks for exercise.

“It was a shock to me how awful I started feeling within the first few weeks of this lockdown even though I tried to keep exercising. I realized that it was just not enough movement,” she says.

If you’ve been coping with a make-shift situation, now’s the time to really make yourself a workable office where you can thrive but doesn’t disrupt your home. Here are some ideas on how to make a home office work.

Claim your space

First, ask yourself what kind of atmosphere do you need to work well. Do you need absolute quiet and no interruptions? Can you balance work, coffee, food deliveries and a dachshund on your lap, and still hit your deadlines? Be honest and don’t pretend that you can do your best work if distractions eat up your day.

You probably also want to draw a line in the carpet with your family or house mates about how to respect each other’s time and space and who gets to control the thermostat. Parents with young children will have the hardest time of this, but try to define times when you need no interruptions: If you work in the adjacent room, it may mean the kitchen doesn’t open until noon or the washing machine doesn’t go on until 6 p.m. Making rules and sticking to them can hopefully head off hard feelings later.

Make your space professional

Depending on your home situation, you may not have a choice on where you are working but try and make the space your own and as professional as you can: It will put you in the best frame of mind to do your best work. Also, take into consideration how your office gear will influence your space. If you can’t do without several giant monitors, a large working table and sample products across the floor, plan for a space that can accommodate it.

You may have to set up your office up every day and break it down again at night but make it your own with plants and photos to make you comfortable and get rid of the clutter that can distract. Keep your accessories like power cords in a drawer so you can stow them away every night. If the buzz of the home or the construction site outside is too much, get some comfortable noise cancelling headphones.

Get the right gear

Maybe you can survive a few weeks scrunched over your coffee table but if you’re doing this for the long haul, you may need a proper desk, office chair and a stand for your computer. While laptops can do the job, you may also find a separate keyboard, mouse and monitor makes working more comfortable and helps prevent eye strain. You may also want to invest in some good lighting and a phone headset that is comfortable and sounds great — both of which can improve the quality of your video calls.

Ergonomic office chairs may be expensive but if you have an aching back at the end of the day or just plain fatigue it may be a good investment, along with a foot rest. Standing desk devotees can experiment with some old school texts to raise their workspace and get the blood flowing in your legs.

And check your internet service. What may have been adequate for your family before, might not be enough when multiple people in the household are trying to have simultaneous conference calls. Speak with your provider to see what the best solution for your situation is.

Set time to focus, time to relax

Let’s face it, most of us are used to focusing hard at work and relaxing at home. Not having different surroundings may mix us up. We don’t want to be tethered to our laptops at all hours but equally, we may find it hard to stay motivated when the boss isn’t across the corridor. If you’re feeling unfocused, set some mini-targets to get a portion of your particular project done. If you can’t meet them, find out what’s keeping you away from finishing that work: clear away those disruptions and you may be able to hit your deadline on time.

On the other side of five o’clock, Georgia Swan says that she finds it’s important to break up work and home time for the sake of her mental health. While it may not work or be feasible for everyone, she thinks it’s best not to work beyond dinner time or get up early before anyone else to get work done.

Track your WFH expenses

While you may be saving money on public transit and lunches, you may also have costs related to buying equipment for work. You can talk to your employer about getting those costs reimbursed.

Swan says for many of us who are employees working from home for an extended period, the increased costs of heat or hydro related to working from home may be deductible expenses. However, there are a number of conditions that must be met currently in order to qualify. Given the extraordinary impact the pandemic has had on our working lives, Swan says it may be wise to keep your receipts and wait for future clarification from the Canada Revenue Agency.

In the meantime, you may consider shifting any money you are saving by not commuting or eating out to your finances. You may be able to use that money to pay down debt, or make extra contributions to your RRSP, TFSA or your mortgage.

Ultimately, Swan says we all should take time to be kind to ourselves.

While society may be slowly opening up around the country, there is still uncertainty about the future and what exactly life will be like in the coming months. Swan says everyone should feel empowered to do whatever keeps them sane, which may include redefining what makes a great employee in a WFH environment: “It might be having animals around you or being outside and breathing fresh air or reading a book or watching soap operas,” she says. “Whatever it is, just be kind to yourself.”

DON SUTTON

MONEYTALK LIFE

ILLUSTRATION

DANESH MOHIUDDIN