Managing the new normal: Working from home (WFH)

woman taking notes

Like many of us, Miljana Prelic, Performance Measurement Analyst at SAF is learning to adjust to the new remote workplace. A big difference for Miljana is that she has a new co-worker, Oliver, her toddler at home.

We wanted to catch up and find out how she is managing the new normal and if she has any insights to share.

How have you transitioned from an office environment to a work from home (WFH) environment?

Before COVID-19, I sometimes worked from home, so from the technology perspective, I was mostly set up. Our SAF Computer Consultant needed to set me up with some additional software, but that was fairly seamless.

For the first two weeks, both my husband and I converted our kitchen table into our office space and I sat on my wooden dining chair. This desk set-up was very uncomfortable and I started having back pain, so I received permission to borrow my office chair for the time being. I didn't take my big monitors, even though this would make my job easier simply because we have no room on the table (my husband needs his big monitors so I work on my laptop). So, ergonomically and technology-wise, there were some hiccups, but mostly okay.

The biggest challenge has been having a very active toddler at home, eating well, and getting enough exercise.

What are some of the best practices you’ve implemented for your WFH environment?

I've tried my hardest to keep the same routine and a similar schedule to an office environment. However, that doesn't always work with a small child at home, and every day can bring an unplanned challenge - but I still try to go for a walk at lunch or after work depending on the day. I try to have similar eating habits as much as possible. This didn't work for the first few weeks because the uncertainty brought with it the need for comfort food and frequent trips to the fridge. But as time went on I realized that if I'm to keep healthy, I will have to limit my indulgences.

I've been diligent about my walks, however, and this is what has helped me 'stay sane' the most on those days that were a little harder than others. On campus, I used to attend a Pilates class and a yoga class once a week, so I've also tried to keep this up at home. Again, it hasn't been perfect but it's better than nothing. Now, with the nicer weather starting, we have been going on bike rides.

What are some of the strategies you’ve implemented to balance your work with your family?

My husband also works from home, so now we see each other all day every day. During the work hours, we are both busy but we make it a point to take a walk together at least once a day and eat lunch together. This is a rare treat we didn't get before when working at the office. Now, we can use that half an hour to focus on the meal, catch up and take a break.

What are some unique challenges you’ve had to face in being a full-time employee and a full-time mom?

My son Oliver is now two and a half years old and very active. He wants our attention most of the time, and in the beginning, it was challenging to focus on both work and him. Over time, we have figured out a routine and got into a certain groove that seems to function well enough (of course some days are worse than others). The biggest change has been that the workday has become longer for both myself and my husband. When some work task needs our undivided attention, we balance our productivity by switching on and off between focusing 100% on work while the other plays with Oliver.

My husband's employer is fairly accommodating, so sometimes Oliver will sit on his lap during his daily progress meetings and just stare and point at the screen. This gives me a chance to have some uninterrupted work time. Oliver naps for two to three hours in the middle of the day, so this is the time where we both try to get a lot of work done because after Oliver wakes up, he wants us to play with him.

In instances when we both have some deadline or a call at the same time, I put on a cartoon for Oliver to keep him occupied. After the official work hours are finished, we play with Oliver or go for a walk, but then sometimes continue working after he's gone to bed for the day. 

As the SAF’s Performance Management Analyst, your work involves collaborating with SAF colleagues and campus partners. In your opinion, how do you feel COVID-19 has impacted the way you manage your work and work processes?

For the most part, my work and work processes have remained the same - working remotely hasn't changed that. What has changed however is being able to quickly discuss something by being able to pop into someone's office. Sometimes e-mail isn't the best form of communication and over time I've learned that for some issues it's best to set up a short meeting over WebEx or even just a simple phone call can avoid a lot of e-mail tag.

How are you utilizing technology to manage your work during this time?

I had not used WebEx or Microsoft Teams before, so I've learned how to use these platforms for meetings with my colleagues. 

What long-term impact do you foresee COVID-19 in having for the nature of the work that you’re doing?

The change to working from home has brought some welcome surprises in procedures - for example turning previously paper-based processes to electronic. Reimbursement claims for visitors and students were changed from paper to paperless and I commend UW Finance in being able to switch so efficiently and quickly in those initial weeks. I find the process now more streamlined and quicker, so I hope something similar can continue even when things go back to normal. However, I understand the difficulty around this as it involves following proper audit trail requirements mandated by the Canada Revenue Agency.    

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