'We haven't killed each other yet': Working at home during a pandemic
The rise of COVID-19 means more people are relocating their work areas
It's day four of working from home in the Blakely household, and so far, so good.
Dominic Blakely, who works at a technology entrepreneurship institute at the University of New Brunswick, has set himself up on a folding table in a spare room of the family home in Hanwell.
His wife Heather, a school vice-principal, has commandeered the kitchen table.
"Separate rooms, so we're not in each other's way, but close enough that we can bump into each other at the coffee maker," Blakely said during an interview via the video meeting app Zoom.
"We haven't killed each other yet, so that's always a positive. But it's not really much different than being at work, except that most of my meetings are taking place exactly like this."
More and more New Brunswickers find themselves in the same boat: together in their aloneness as they adjust to working from home to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.
'An odd time'
Luke Randall, a co-owner of two downtown Fredericton retail stores, says he's now working from home about 75 percent of the time as the stores gear down to pickup and delivery sales only.
"This is definitely an odd time and there are times I just want get out and connect with people," he says.
Home-office veterans, including workers in Fredericton's technology sector, suddenly find themselves dispensing advice on how to stay sane if the place where you live is suddenly the place where you also work.
"There's a bit of a learning curve there as the culture is forced to change immediately: the accessibility of people, whether they're on chat, what their level of availability is," says Brandon Hubbard, a product manager at the Fredericton office of IT company Introhive.
"A lot of people that don't have previous experience suddenly have to communicate in different ways, when they're accustomed to just walking over to somebody's desk."
Maintaining me time
Sarah Rennick, who works for a company providing tech support for e-commerce sites, says boundaries are important when all your work tools are just down the hall.
"It's really important to not overwork yourself just because you're at home," she said. "A lot of people will let that bleed into their evening time. When I'm done work, I'm done work."
Rennick has a company-provided computer for work and she turns it off when she's done for the day and leaves it off. Usually she'll lie down, catch up on her phone or chat with her boyfriend to create a clear dividing line between work hours and the rest of her day.
She and her boyfriend have also established ground rules for interacting.
"He knows what my work hours are and if he comes to talk to me when I'm working, I can just say 'I'm busy' and he knows I'm working and doesn't get offended."
Hubbard, Rennick and others had a few universal suggestions: maintain social interactions, such as by using videochat apps to speak to co-workers or friends.
Hubbard and his co-workers use Slack and have set up some channels for lighter-hearted conversations.
Rennick does the same: "so if you want to talk to someone, someone's always around."
Snacking a problem
Hubbard and his co-workers are also talking about organizing a "virtual happy hour" where they can grab a drink together -- at home -- while connecting online.
He also recommends putting your home workspace a healthy distance -- literally -- from the refrigerator.
"One of the challenges people have is the constant snacking and the best bet is to try to keep it away from your desk," he said. "If it's not within arm's reach you're less likely to find yourself constantly snacking and eating."
Randall says he relishes the hour or so he has to spend at the stores every day to do tasks that he can't do at home.
"I kind of love going in," he said. "I do find it therapeutic to go in."
Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau, meanwhile, has set up a temporary constituency office in the nearby home of another family that is a partner in his Rogersville-area farm.
Working "at home" isn't new for a farmer, he says. "That part hasn't changed. I think what has changed for me is not being able to separate MLA work from the farm. That's the hardest part."
That's why he opted for a workspace away from his own house. "To have all of that in the same environment would not have been good for my mental health." He says he's still trying to find the right equilibrium.
Arseneau also says it's important to remember that not everyone is able to simply pick up their jobs and move them into their houses.
"People that have that privilege or the luxury of working from home are often better off financially. In low-wage-paying jobs, people are still physically having to go to work, and that's something that's been running in my mind: the question of the privilege that I also have."