Federal public servants should work from home if possible: TBS

Government workers should work from home if possible during the coronavirus pandemic but must first get permission from their managers.

Final decision up to department managers

Avoiding distractions in the home is one of the biggest challenges, according to telecommuting consultant Umar Ruhi, an associate professor at University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Business. (Stanley Leary/Associated Press)

Federal public servants should work from home if possible during the coronavirus pandemic but must first get permission from their managers, said the Treasury Board in its latest update Sunday.

"Managers are to consider telework for all employees, at all work sites, and identify an approach that is flexible while ensuring continued critical government operations and services to Canadians," said the department in a tweet.

"Federal organizations must identify and determine how to manage through exceptional situations that do not lend themselves to telework."

Many Canadians are facing the prospect of working from home to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

That includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, now in isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19

Ontario's public school children will be home until April 5, forcing many parents to consider working from home. 

Work-from-home tips


So what does it take to make working from home work for employers and their employees? 

Umar Ruhi, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa who consults for companies setting up work-from-home policies, said he's getting calls from businesses that are scrambling because they didn't have telecommuting strategies in place before the COVID-19 crisis.

Ruhi said their priorities should be a technology platform that works remotely, and an emergency communication strategy. From an employee standpoint, he said the biggest issues are burnout, and boundaries between work and family.

Keith Gallop has been working from his Ottawa home for 11 years as a marketing consultant. (Submitted by Keith Gallop)

Keith Gallop, a marketing consultant who's worked from home for more than a decade, recommends "a room where you can close the door and block off all the other distractions."

Start by switching off Twitter, Gallop told CBC's Ottawa Morning.

Anybody who takes their laptop and settles into their La-Z-Boy? They're going to be snoozing away before you know it.- Keith Gallop

"If you're sitting down with your home laptop and you have your social media streams going, you need to get rid of those, and turn off your personal email. Turn off your tech so that you can actually put yourself in a office mindset," he said.

For Gallop, that means no laundry until lunch hour.

"You have to treat each day like like it's a regular workday. You're up and dressed. You're showered and ready to go at your regular work time … with the usual breaks, and the usual lunch — without all the potential other chores around the house that you could use as an excuse to step away from your desk."

Gallop warns work-from-home newbies about the draw of a comfy chair or couch. "Anybody who takes their laptop and settles into their La-Z-Boy? They're going to be snoozing away before you know it."

Gallop believes if done right, telecommuting can be more productive than going into the office

"You're also free of office distractions, and there are plenty of those, from meetings to signing somebody's card because they're getting married or somebody's birthday, so come and have a cupcake — when the distractions are taken away, you can really focus and be more efficient than you can in an office."

Gallop, who has two kids ages 13 and 12, admits families with younger children will face bigger challenges. 

"My best advice would be try to divide and conquer. Trade kids with someone and use your work hours as efficiently as you can, then take their kids. Trying to do both at the same time is brutal."

With files from CBC's Ottawa Morning

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