Date posted: 01/04/2020 5 min read

Real-world lessons from working remotely

New to working from home? CA ANZ’s Lydia Tsen honed these tips during her two months remote working in Canada.

In Brief

  • The key to working from home effectively is establishing a routine so you don’t lose momentum.
  • Not working in your pyjamas and avoiding using the TV as background noise can help with productivity.
  • Make a point of logging off and packing up to signal the end of your working day.

By Lydia Tsen

I spent the first two months of 2020 working remotely in Canada when my husband was given the chance to work in Calgary for a short while. I told CA ANZ I wanted to join him and CA ANZ was incredibly supportive.

So off I went to the middle of a Canadian winter. Up until this point, I had never seen the snow nor experienced temperatures colder than -5 degrees Celsius. Despite that, getting used to the temperature was far easier than becoming accustomed to working remotely for two months.

Given the unprecedented times we find ourselves in, I thought that I’d share what I learned from my time abroad.

Establish a routine

 The first tip that you will read everywhere is routine is key.

It’s true – without routine, it’s easy to lose your momentum.

For me, creating a routine involved setting consistent bedtimes and mealtimes, but also establishing when other tasks (such as chores, exercise and downtime) would happen.

Having a routine created certainty in each day and protected me from decision fatigue, which was particularly present towards the end of the day.

“Having a routine created certainty in each day and protected me from decision fatigue, which was particularly present towards the end of the day.”
Lydia Tsen

Secrets to being productive

Sometimes I struggled to get into the rhythm of working and being productive. In these moments, I found the following helpful:

  • Not working in pyjamas – and sometimes even extending this to getting into a full work outfit (sometimes with hair and make-up done)
  • Avoiding using TV as background noise (which could be very tempting but detracted from the ‘at work’ feeling) and instead opting for music or news/podcasts (depending on the topic)
  • Taking a more direct approach to scheduling my day and putting time blocks in my calendar for each task (including checking emails and reading the news)
  • Doing my best to maintain a balanced diet (and not consume my entire pantry in one sitting) 

Switching off from work

Sometimes I had the opposite problem and struggled to switch off when I was outside my working hours. Workarounds for this included:

  • Making a point of packing up at the end of the day so I had to set up the next, signalling to myself when the working day began and ended
  • Letting my downtime be as unproductive as I wanted and doing my best to not feel guilty (for example, if I wanted to binge watch a show or just watch the snowfall)
  • Having weekend ‘creative sessions’ where I did some arts and crafts – I had packed my watercolours for Canada, but now that I’m back home I’m thinking about trying knitting
  • Exercising in some form – sometimes this involved going to the gym (which I appreciate is not an option in the current environment) and other times I followed videos I had found on YouTube (that showed exercise routines which didn’t need special equipment)

Staying connected while physically alone

The lockdown in New Zealand will, at times, feel physically isolating but it will not be socially isolating.

While I was in Canada, there were moments where, if left unchecked, I could easily start feeling isolated: my husband was at work, New Zealand and Australia were still asleep, and it was too cold for me to wander around outside.

Being over there gave me a chance to appreciate how connected I really was to friends and families. Setting up regular calls and sharing experiences (such as making meals together) protected me from feelings of isolation.

Learn and experience something new

I also had the chance to see what the internet had made possible. I learned how to paint in watercolours by watching others, and I know I can do the same for knitting.
In addition to learning new skills and connecting with others, I also found out that we can now:


Take a moment, where you can, to breathe and reflect. Reflect on what you need to do to get through. Reflect on how connected we are and on how much we need each other in these unprecedented times.

Take the time to check on your friends and family, and also those in your surrounding communities. Take the time to feel your feelings and let those around you feel theirs, too. Ask for help when you need and provide help where you can.

And above all, as NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern entreated, be kind.

Read more:

Your COVID-19 Resources hub

This dedicated hub is regularly updated to ensure members are equipped to navigate the serious long-term economic and business impacts from this pandemic, including the latest updates on available government packages, guides for your practice or business and support to maintain your mental health and wellbeing.

Read more

Ten working from home issues to consider during the COVID-19 pandemic

Having employees working from home raises health, safety and insurance issues for employers.

Find out about the issues for employers

7 critical tips for leading teams from home

The global jump to working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic will test leadership, communication skills and empathy.

Read more

Guarding against cyber-attacks while working from home

Remote working will help curb the spread of COVID-19, but firms must also protect their staff from computer-borne viruses.

Read more