People in Focus: The Transition to Working Remotely

Initial Stages of the Covid-19 Pandemic

In mid-March of 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. CWA’s management had been closely monitoring the situation for several weeks, creating a contingency plan so that, if CWA’s physical offices would need to shutdown for a period, they could get their teams up and running remotely as efficiently as possible. The plan became a reality when WHO made the announcement, and CWA’s management and staff moved swiftly to implement it.

CWA’s shutdown began on March 20th. Staff were provided with computer equipment, access to CWA’s Virtual Private Network (VPN), and integrated into the Microsoft Teams Platform to facilitate communication and collaboration while working from home. In mid-June, CWA’s physical offices entered a phased reopening period at a reduced capacity, with a Covid-19 Safety Plan, protocols for safe physical distancing, and a heightened sanitation regime in place. Since then, for a variety of reasons, some staff have opted to return to work in the office, while many others have continued to work remotely from home.

Transition to Working Remotely

For some people, the transition to working remotely was seamless and easy. While for others, adjusting to a remote-work environment proved more challenging for reasons that ranged from having small children to care for at home to a lack of adequate space in their home for an office. The difficult challenges and adjustments that we have all made to both our work and personal routines since the start of the pandemic have resulted in significant lifestyle changes. But along with the many challenges that this has presented, there have also been some silver linings and positive takeaways realized because of these changes.

Pros and Cons of Working Remotely

While some staff may lament the loss of face-to face communications with colleagues, others have experienced increased connectivity and ease of communication in the digital workspace. They have realized the advantages of the technical tools at their disposal, such as the Microsoft Teams platform (MS Teams). This platform allows for both synchronous and asynchronous communication, as well as greater ease of collaboration in virtual meetings through the sharing of files, making document reviews more accessible to meeting attendees. The ability to create group chats, teams, and channels with shared files has facilitated streamlined, task-specific communication pathways, while the use of instant chat has reduced the number of emails flying back and forth. Having the MS Teams app on your handphone also provides you with the ability to stay connected on the go.

While some staff may experience feelings of separation and miss the collegiality of the office environment, others have found that, without the stress of the daily commute to and from work, they are now more relaxed. They have more time for family or other activities during the day such as exercise, gardening or whatever it is that they enjoy, helping them to recharge and refocus when they return to their desks.

Personal Experiences of Working Remotely

CWA is grateful for all the extraordinary efforts that our personnel have made while working remotely from home to ensure the continuity of our business and the continuation of quality service to our valued clients. At CWA, we are proud of the adaptability, resilience, and positivity that our team has shown throughout this whole process, and we are pleased to share some of their personal stories and experiences during their transition to a remote-work environment…

Chris Little — Structural Designer

“The transition from the office to working remotely from home was relatively seamless for me. I brought my computer home, set it up and was able to begin work right away. Working from home has been a great experience for me thus far.

One of the best aspects of working from home has been that it has eliminated a roughly two-hour commute each day. This has afforded me more time with my new daughter as well as being a huge cost savings. It has also had a positive affect on my mental health, and I feel good about decreasing my impact on the environment.

The main challenge that working from home initially presented was the distraction and commotion that comes with having a busy household. The way that I overcame this was by renovating my basement to create an office work space that provides me the atmosphere I need to be my most productive.

One tip I would like to share would be to allow yourself to take a break from time to time. Get up, go for a short walk, or do a quick chore around the house. I find those little breaks allow me to recharge and return to work re-energized.”

Shereen Chao — Project Coordinator

“One thing I definitely enjoy about working remotely from home is not having to commute to work, especially on those rainy miserable days. Sleeping in those few extra minutes is an added bonus. I am able to have a non-$6-croissant-coffeeshop breakfast, which is healthier and easier on the wallet as well!

My favourite part of working remotely is, now that we have a puppy, just being able to spend more time with her so she isn’t alone. Another thing is that I hate sitting still. My home office is set up so that I am standing while working. I find that I am very stiff when I sit for too long, so this is more ergonomic for me and results in me having less weird aches and pains. It is also nice to be able to stretch my legs more often. Oh yeah, and a huge plus is wearing comfy clothes all day!

I also really enjoy working with music on. At home, I can blast my music throughout the apartment and really get in the zone. In terms of work, I find that it is easier to be efficient at home. When in meetings on MS Teams, instead of physically taking notes and then trying to decipher what I had written down, I can immediately open my email and start a task during the meeting, so that I don’t forget anything.”

Shane Bryant — Mechanical Engineer

“One of the things that I enjoy most about working remotely is: More time! I no longer spend time and energy commuting to a from work, which is amazing. As a result, I find it easier to relax and complete the tasks at hand given a similar workload to what I had prior to working from home.

In addition to more time, I’ve also enjoyed the integration of MS Teams into my work life. Working with MS Teams has given us a collaborative working platform, which is something I think we lacked in the office. I think, in a lot of cases, this has allowed us to work together more fluently and successfully on certain aspects of a project. We should continue to use MS Teams.

Now don’t get me wrong…I like people as much as the next person but working alone in my apartment has been beneficial when it comes to focusing on my work without being distracted by people around the office.

To be honest, I haven’t found anything too challenging about the transition to remote work. Although, I guess since we no longer have those day-to-day spontaneous interactions with certain people, it makes it more difficult to receive that constant feedback on how you’re doing and what to improve on. Setting up an MS Teams call for this would be a bit awkward.      

My daily routine has changed somewhat, in that I’m able to cook more and, as a result, eat healthier. I’m also able to consistently go to the gym in the morning before work.”

Ian Hutton — Estimator/Cost-Controller

“The transition to working remotely started out a little rough, as my wife and daughter also had to start work/school remotely, quickly filling up the space around the house. Fortunately, I got to move into a spare bedroom on the top floor. Internet connectivity was an issue initially with everyone working from home all at once, but we have a very capable IT department and Felix was able to help remotely, getting me set setup quickly. I now have very few problems.

My work routine has now become quite convenient. MS Teams software works very well, and I can connect with anyone on the system quickly and effectively. I can chat or communicate with them by way of text, clips, or photos, even when they are in a meeting or momentarily away from their workstation. I am also using less white paper than I did when I was in the office. Our kids are now adults and we have no pets, so I find there are less distractions to worry about at home and there is a shorter line-up for the microwave – LOL.

One of the things that I enjoy about working remotely is that it provides me with more flexible and uninterrupted work time. I do not have to battle bridge traffic each weekday nor pre-make lunches or dress up in semi-formal attire (comfortable weekender clothing works best at the home office). This affords me one additional hour in the morning. My house is near a park, so after the workday is done, I can simply walk straight outside for a stroll before dinner, free from the stress of commuting home by car. It is always enjoyable to take advantage of the comforts and convenience of your own home. As I currently have back issues, having the ability to stretch out, even for a few minutes a day, can drastically help minimize the discomfort. From an economic perspective, the savings on gas, car-maintenance bills, and parking fees are definite advantages.

One of the strategies that works for me while working remotely is to keep a consistent regimen throughout the day/week and to write down the specific tasks that I want to accomplish each day (or for the week). I also try to remove any distractions that might prevent me from focusing on the work at hand. I like to schedule small breaks every 1-2 hours to stretch or take short walks to stimulate my mind and body and keep me refreshed. I also think it is important to maintain contact with your colleagues by effectively using the technology to communicate with them, but sometimes, it is also better to just talk directly with them if it will save you from writing large emails or avoid confusing language/tones.

My day-to-day work has not really changed much since I began working remotely. The biggest change for me has been the absence of the daily commutes to and from work, which is a winner in terms of saving time, money, and having a positive effect on the environment. It also provides me with more flexibility in my day, making it easier to obtain quieter mid-day appointments, when needed, with the time that I save not having to commute. It also allows me to care for a senior family member, as I now have the ability to get her to any necessary medical appointments. Having a fridge full of food at your convenience is nice too!”

Bing Song — Structural Engineer

“The transition to working remotely was swift, but the nature of my work has remained the same. The face-to-face interactions that I used to have in the office now take place over Microsoft Teams using chat and virtual meetings or by email.

While I miss the face-to-face interactions, there have been some advantages to working remotely. With the time that I save not commuting in traffic to and from the office, I now spend taking a walk. Also, my husband and I have become “colleagues” — we share the living room which we converted into our workspace. If we have meetings at the same time, one of us will go into another room and keep our voice low, so that we do not to disturb one another. We now have a better understanding and appreciation of each other’s work.

My advice for being successful at working remotely is to treat it the same as working in the office. Be sure to keep in touch with fellow team members to align your priorities and submit deliverables ahead of the due date.”

Mark Malecek — Vice President of Engineering Operations

“The transition to working remotely involved my wife and I relocating from our house in North Vancouver to our cabin in Garden Bay. Garden Bay is a small community in the Pender Harbour area on the Sunshine Coast. Getting there involves a Ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons followed by a 1-hour drive. Normally we “visit” our cabin on the weekends but we “live” in North Vancouver.

Back in March we thought that we would be working remotely for the short-term, not the long-term. Over the next few months we realized, however, that we now “live” in Garden Bay and “visit” North Van. We just somehow transformed to country living without giving it a thought. Instead of spending time at grocery stores we planted a big veggie garden for lettuce, kale, tomatoes, carrots, kohlrabi, celery, peppers, strawberries, onions, cucumbers, and a host of herbs. 

We would regularly set the prawn and crab traps before the morning roll call, check them at lunch, and then check them again after work. Slowly we got to know all the neighbors, the gossip, and the goings on of the local community; and slowly we became more and more disconnected from the city and the rest of our family.

From a work perspective it was seamless and efficient at first. I was mostly involved in the Allison Project, so the communication circle was specific and small. As the Project wound down, however, I found it a bit harder to connect with the people at work on new projects, proposals, and various initiatives. I had realized by the late summer that I needed to spend time in the office to reconnect and help drive the company forward through this rapidly changing business climate. I now alternate weeks between working remotely and working from the office. So now we “live” in Garden Bay and we “live” in Vancouver.”

Louise Liao — Mechanical EIT

“Like many other people, I never expected I would be working from home for most of this past year. I graduated from UBC engineering last year, so working at CWA has been my first “official” job. Talking to new people and making new friends does not come naturally to me, so in addition to being nervous about my first job, I was also nervous about meeting new people.

Looking back now, I am so, so grateful for the few months that I was able to work in the office — to meet everyone face-to-face and to engage in random conversations in the kitchen — yes, I do miss awkward small talk. I can only imagine how much harder it would have been to make these connections virtually.

These days my only work companions are some of my plants. Since the home office I work in is in a windowless basement room, they help bring some brightness into the space. My plant collection has grown quite a bit since I started working from home, which is bad for my wallet but arguably a good thing for the rest of my plants. I am less likely to kill one with too much love now (overwatering is the #1 reason for a dead houseplant!).

I am looking forward to being able to work in person with everyone at CWA again but for now I will enjoy my short commute down the hallway, past my plants every morning!”

Steve Millan — Mechanical Designer

“Back in March when we were all sent home, I never thought that I would still be working from home in December. I was fortunate to have a room that I could use as my office. I reorganized it, moving our home computer to a different spot, and set up my workstation. It was kind of exciting to do but I didn’t think that it would work, trying to communicate what we do daily face-to-face through the computer. As it turned out, once I got used to using MS Teams, it was then that I thought that this will work!

The best part of going to and from work these days is the commute…from one room to the other! I also like the time I save not having to drive. I’m an early bird, so I like to get up, get a cup of coffee and do a few things (like write this) before I get started. I’ve also been able to work on those home projects over the summer either at lunchtime or after work.

The key for me working from home is having a good setup. I can work and talk to other co-workers and not disturb my wife and her daily routine. I think it took her a while to get used to having me here all the time.

This year has been hard for people in different ways, whether it’s not being able to be with family and friends or having a job to go to. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to work through this crazy year and do it safely from home. I look forward to better days for everyone and the day when we can all be together working face-to-face again. It’s time for another cup of coffee and to get to work!”

Christine Vautour — Administrative Assistant

I have enjoyed the switch to working from home a lot. It allows me to cook up a fresh lunch every day and have more time to myself that would otherwise be spent in transit. Having a roommate with a similar work from home schedule helps keep things structured. It’s like our own little office environment, 8am to 5pm every day with a break at noon for food and an episode of our current Netflix show. Overall, I believe my daily productivity has increased, but my pantry of snacks has decreased… alarmingly. A good tip I have for maintaining a working atmosphere is to get dressed every day. Not always easy when pajamas are so comfortable, but crucial to separating the “work” and “home” mindsets when you’re working in your home.”

Sunny Thind  — Senior Electrical Engineer

“Typically speaking, work away from work is an exciting proposition. Apart from working in my home’s comfort, it is commute free, flexible, and provides more quality time. For me, regular walks and jogs every day after work give a good incentive to stick to my work schedule and start a workday on time.

For the most part, the transition to working remotely was relatively smooth for me. It did take a couple of days to make myself strict about when I start and end my work. After all, one cannot stick to a screen all day long and needs to break-away from it. The second dominant challenge was some feeling of isolation due to not meeting others from work face-to-face.”

It is always a good strategy to set your work schedule and stick to it. It also applies to lunch and coffee breaks. Also, ensure to get out of your home for refreshment. It could be as simple as a walk around the block, a few basketball shots, or gardening, etc.

If you have a dedicated office space at home to isolate yourself during work, that is excellent. Otherwise, you may have to set some practically manageable rules for yourself and your family.”

Supicha Saisamorn — Project Controls Specialist

“The transition from the office to working remotely from home has been amazingly seamless. CWA management and our IT department were very helpful and supportive during the initial transition. They provided us with the necessary tools for collaboration such as all the required computer hardware as well as virtual and secure access through our VPN network, which has allowed us to stay connected. We have been using Microsoft Teams software, which has been very helpful in making it easy for our teams to chat, collaborate, and meet virtually, replacing our previous in-person meetings.

What I like about working remotely is that it allows me to spend more time with my family and fit in some daily exercises as I am no longer spending so much of my time commuting between the office and home. I feel much more relaxed not having to deal with the everyday stresses of commuting and really enjoy being able to manage my own schedule. This also saves me money on the cost of fuel, car insurance, and parking expenses, which is also great!

Some of my tips for working remotely are to set a daily schedule for yourself to help you stay on track. Also, practice self-care such as taking scheduled breaks, paying attention to the ergonomics of your workspace, etc. I like using headphones for clearer communication. And it is important to maintain your physical health and wellness and keep your immune system strong by washing your hands with soap, getting enough sleep each night, taking vitamins, exercising and stay active, and finding time to relax your mind – I achieve this through regular meditation.”