Tips for working remotely as a co-op student

Co-op student working in their home office

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, many of you have probably been asked by your employer to work remotely. Although you might be feeling a bit nervous about this new arrangement, there's nothing to worry about. By putting a few clear guidelines in place from day one, you can quickly and easily set yourself up for success!

1) Discuss where you will be living and working from with your employer

When you’re interviewing for a job or making arrangements after you’ve accepted an offer, it’s important to ask good questions and be transparent with your employer about where you’ll be located during your work term. 

Many destinations and jurisdictions require individuals to work in the country where the employer is located. There might also be specific regulatory requirements to work across borders that you and/or your employer would have to comply with. In addition, if you are an international visa student working from your home destination outside of Canada, you will still need a valid Canadian co-op work permit to work for a Canadian employer.

So be sure to research any implications and talk to your employer to understand their expectations around your location as soon as possible. For tips on how to ask questions to make informed and safe employment decisions, check out this resource on the Centre for Career Action’s website!

2) Ask your employer to explain their guidelines and expectations for working remotely

Your employer will most likely reach out to you with these details, but if they don't, make sure you ask them what their expectations are. The last thing you want are blurry guidelines that make it difficult for you to feel like you're doing your job well.

Tips for you:

Immediately after you've been asked to start working from home, call or email your manager with questions like:

  • Do I still need to work my original 9-5 hours, or is there flexibility?
  • Am I expected to respond to emails that come in after hours?
  • Will my role be adjusted in any way to support remote work?
  • Is there anything I need to work from home more effectively? (i.e. a laptop, a printer, etc.)
  • When will you and I be checking in with each other each day?
  • Do you prefer video meetings or phone calls?
  • How would you like me to track my work?
  • What happens if I receive an ask that I can’t facilitate in my home environment? (i.e. sending or receiving physical items from a storage room)

3) Set up a "home office" for yourself

No, this doesn't need to be a fancy oak desk in a private room off the hallway, but you'll need to find a way to set yourself up in an environment that allows you to be productive. This arrangement will look different for everyone, so you may need to try out a few options before you find the one that works for you. 

Tips for you:

  • A good place to start setting up your home office is your bedroom, especially if you're living with other people who are also working from home. 
  • Make sure your set up is as ergonomically friendly as possible. This might mean propping your laptop up on old textbooks, trying out a few different chairs from around the house and playing around with lighting. Remember: you'll probably be working here for the next few weeks. Little aches and pains can be ignored for a day, but they can become a big deal over time.
  • Clean up the space you're working in. There's a good chance you'll be on multiple video calls over the next little while. You probably don't want your dirty laundry in the background.

4) Organize your day first thing in the morning

When you're working from home, it can be easy to get distracted and disorganized. A great way to ensure you don't fall victim to binge-watching cat videos on YouTube is to create a schedule for your day immediately after sitting down at your desk.

Tips for you:

Everyone organizes their work differently, but here a few things you might want to try:

  • Write a "things to do today" list and keep it by your computer. Check things off as they're completed.
  • Block off time in your work calendar for each task you need to complete today.
  • Set alarms on your phone to work in blocks of time. Try things like 30-45 minutes of "head down work" mixed with five-minute breaks.
  • Don't be late for meetings - even if they're online. It's better to be the person who logs into the meeting a few minutes early rather than a few minutes late.

5) Regularly check in with your manager 

It's important for your manager to know that you're present and accounted for each day, especially because he or she can't physically see you. Don't be the employee who your manager needs to digitally hunt down and worry about every day. Be the one they know can be counted on and reached easily.

Tips for you:

  • Send short update emails to your manager with details about work you've accomplished so they can check these tasks off their "things to do" list. 
  • Reply to all of the emails you're sent, even if it's just to say, "I'm on it!" This lets your team know you've heard the ask and are working on it. If you leave them hanging, they may start to feel frustrated and unsure of what you're doing.
  • Stay active on your team's communication platform (like Skype, Teams or Slack). This will make you feel more connected to your team and allow you to play a role in boosting team morale.
  • Let your manager and team know when you'll be "offline" for an extended period of time (30 minutes of more) so they're not wondering why they can't reach you.

6) Communicate your expectations with anyone who might be at home with you

During this time, there's a good chance you won't be the only person in your house who's working from home. To make sure you're not stepping on each other's toes, it's important to set up some ground rules.

Tips for you:

Officially sit down with the people you're living with and talk about expectations. Don't leave this to chance and just *hope* that everything works out. It's better to be clear from the start to avoid conflict later. Talk about things like:

  • Everyone's working hours: Are they the same? Are they different? Does anyone need to start work much earlier or later than everyone else?
  • What type of working environment you need: Do you like quiet background music? Does the sound of someone else's podcast or movie running in the background distract you?
  • Are there any specific times of the day that you require COMPLETE silence? Or that your housemates should expect you to be a bit louder (i.e when you're on phone calls)?
  • Should you take group breaks together at certain times of the day to make sure you stay connected?

7) Don't forget to take care of yourself

You might be feeling overwhelmed right now - and you have every right to feel this way. So cut yourself some slack. Yes, it's important to work hard, but it's also important to take care of yourself.

  • Don't hesitate to reach out to your manager if you need any extra support. Be open and honest with them about how you're feeling.
  • Reach out to your co-op advisor if you have any questions about your co-op term.
  • Remember to practice self-care. Do your best to take breaks during the work day and do something that makes you feel positive and refreshed.
  • Keep an eye on Waterloo's Coronavirus website. We post updates here on an ongoing basis.

Additional resources: