Working in the age of coronavirus introduces “new normal”

One’s situation – in office, working from home, laid off – will dictate strategy, says Fernando Garcia

Fernando Garcia

In response to the novel coronavirus crisis, in-house (and other) counsel now fall into one of three camps: an essential employee who is required to work from his or her office; an employee working from their home; or, unfortunately, a counsellor who has lost his or her job or has been laid off with no foreseeable date of return. Depending on your current situation your day-to-day experiences, short- and long-term objectives and the challenges you face will differ tremendously.

For many counsel designated as employees essential to the office, our working lives have not changed much. While it is fair to say that the pressure of performing tasks on time and with less face-to-face interaction with the rest of the business team has added stress and complexity to our tasks, for the most part we understand and appreciate that we are in a fortunate and privileged position. Apart from the challenge of meeting child care obligations, resulting from school closures, solitude is the greatest challenge faced. As businesses start returning to a “new normal,” many of these challenges will, ideally, begin to disappear. The strategy here is to hang on and stay healthy.

Similar to the group above, those who are able to continue working from home are also fortunate as they do not have to face the pressure of replacing their income and there is no fear of exposure from having to commute into work. But working from home adds different challenges. First, it may be difficult to be productive and to perform in this new work environment, especially when distractions such as children and pets makes finding a quiet space to focus impossible.

Access to tools such as scanners, industrial photocopiers, fax machines, support from admin staff or work colleagues may also be a limited. For this group, maintaining communications with the work team is critical. While technology has helped keep people virtually connected, being away from the office takes some getting used to and is not for everyone. Some key points for this group include:

  • Try to stick to routines as much as possible, e.g., waking and bedtimes, mealtimes (be cautious of over-snacking), and exercise times such as daily walks.
  • Dress as you normally would for work, and make sure you are working from a desk and in a relatively quiet environment. While tempting to stay in your pyjamas for the day, or to get half-dressed (business on top, casual below) for phone calls, there is evidence that getting dressed for work enhances your productivity.
  • Try to minimize distractions such as working in front of the television set.
  • Make sure you keep in communication with your team, colleagues and other network contacts, whether through a virtual coffee, regular update meetings, or through the sharing of important information or interesting articles. It is critical not to lose these contacts.
  • Finally, keep yourself mentally prepared and excited to return to work in the office; otherwise, the change could create anxiety, depression or other problems.

Finally, the third group is the one facing the greatest challenge. Finding a new job during normal times is difficult enough, but the current situation makes it even more difficult as business is diminished and halted, hiring freezes are common, and many are looking for work after becoming unemployed through no fault of their own. Tips for this group include:

  • Keep up the networking, whether virtually, by email, telephone or social media.
  • Understand that your situation is not specific to you, or a reflection of your skills or lack thereof; there are many others in the same situation. These are unique times.
  • Take advantage of tools available to you; for example, apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) if you are eligible. You may also be eligible for loans that can be used to start a business or to keep yours afloat.
  • Think about your long-term aspirations. If there was ever an interest in starting your own business, going back to school, or changing career paths, this may be the time to start as you now have access to the most important investment: time.
  • Take the opportunity to attend as many webinars/seminars as you like. Many are free and widely advertised on social media. This will help you sharpen skills, add additional contacts to your network, and stay plugged into current issues within the profession.
  • Write articles and blogs, and work on improving your social media profile on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.
  • Finally, if needed, do not hesitate or feel shy about getting necessary help; here is a great resource from the Law Society of Ontario.

These are unique and difficult times for everyone. People are at high risk of experiencing depression, anxiety and financial difficulties. Regardless of your circumstances, please make sure to take care of yourself and to get help if needed. Remember, everyone is affected and we will all get through this!

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