“There are eight of us at home right now”: How Torontonians are coping with working from home

“There are eight of us at home right now”: How Torontonians are coping with working from home

After a few months of self-isolation, even those lucky enough to work from home are getting restless. Still, when things return to some semblance of normalcy, the prospect of sending employees back into offices presents its own challenges. Will everyone wear masks? Will handshakes be a thing of the past? Will companies bother leasing office space at all, given the pandemic provided a semi-successful WFH test run? Either way, it’s reasonable to assume that working from home will be the new reality for a big chunk of the workforce. Here’s how some Torontonians are managing it.

Rola Dagher—president and CEO, Cisco Canada

From her home office, Oakville

“It’s a light-filled room that looks out over my garden. I’ve been self-isolating with my grown children, Stephanie and Michael, along with my dog, Ollie. His cuddles are a welcome interruption. I’ve been video-conferencing with my employees to meet their families and pets. One of my colleagues’ kids taught a virtual tae kwon do lesson and, of course, we’ve enjoyed a few happy hours. After work, I love that I can close the door, disconnect and spend time with family.”

Michael Katchen—co-founder and CEO, Wealthsimple

From his second-floor home office, St. Clair West

“Before Covid-19, I used this office after my daughter went to bed. Or when I occasionally worked from home. I’ve since upgraded the space with a print by Jethro Buck and a blue velvet armchair that belonged to my grandparents. The chair looks cool and makes me feel nostalgic. Pre-pandemic, my work uniform was a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. But I’ve since swapped my shoes for slippers. My essentials: AirPods and a cup of coffee. I also keep a book nearby for inspiration.”

Ana Serrano—incoming president, OCAD University

From her dining room table, Regent Park

“My parents brought this table, which is made of narra wood, from the Philippines in the late 1970s, when they immigrated to Canada. It’s been my go-to work station ever since, because I’ve never liked using a traditional desk. I work at one end of the table, while my 11-year-old son, Néo, sits at the opposite end with the family computer. Sometimes he’ll ask, ‘What’s for lunch?’ but otherwise there are few disruptions. I always keep plant-based lip balm and a portable aroma diffuser by my side.”

Randy Lennox—president, Bell Media

From his family room, Mississauga

“I watch CTV all day to keep up with the news. There’s plenty of work activity, because I’ve got my laptop, iPad and iPhone by my side, and I’m in constant communication with my colleagues in response to the crisis. But I’m not much of a sitter. I like to be moving around, so I’ll wander the house on my phone. Sometimes I’ll go down into the basement, depending on where my wife and kids are watching TV. I thrive on people’s energy and, honestly, I can’t wait to get back to the office.”

Jayme Poisson—host, Front Burner, CBC

From a nook near her kitchen, the Junction

“This is my makeshift office and recording area. From here, I call into the CBC studio and get patched through to guests. My producers give me real-time notes via Google Docs. The room gets a lot of natural light through the south-facing windows, which look out over the downtown skyline. It’s pretty quiet during the day, except when my dog, Henry, barks during an interview. That’s already happened a couple of times, so I’ve banished him to the third floor while I’m recording.”

Moez Kassam—principal, Anson Funds

From his home office, the Annex

“Before the pandemic, I pretty much lived at our downtown offices during the week. My home office functioned as a weekend-only workspace. Now it’s a stock-trading battle station, with multiple computer screens so I can do non-stop data analysis. The biggest benefit? I can watch the markets on one screen while my daughters, Madeline and Mila, watch Trolls and Peppa Pig on the other. But I miss being able to freely converse at the office—everyone is too polite over Zoom.”

Anne Maggisano—vice-president, Burgundy Asset Management

From her living room, Palmerston–Little Italy

“This space offers a lovely view of Palmerston Boulevard, where I can watch people walk dogs, ride bikes and go for runs. It’s much different than the view from my office on the 45th floor at Brookfield Place, but seeing other people provides some semblance of normalcy during the pandemic. I’m always connecting with my colleagues via Microsoft Teams to understand how the virus impacts the market. If I take care of our clients’ capital, then they can focus on their families.”

Allen Lau—co-founder and CEO, Wattpad

From his home office, Yonge and Lawrence

“I run a global business, which involves hosting meetings at all hours of the day. My workspace is optimized for efficiency and comfort. It’s fairly minimalist, with a standard desk and ergonomic chair. I’ve got two computers and a phone, so I can multi-task. And I keep a lamp above my desk to improve the lighting for video conferences. My AirPods are essential, because they allow me to make hands-free calls. Plus, my wife and I share the office, so I need the noise-cancellation feature.”

Som Seif—CEO, Purpose Financial

From a chair in the corner of his bedroom, Rosedale

“There are eight of us at home right now: my wife and I, our four kids, our nanny and my wife’s aunt, who moved in with us during Covid-19. It’s awesome. I love busy households, the chaos of everyone running around combined with the comfort of having lots of company. The Wi-Fi, however, is not up to the task. My Zoom calls seem to cut out every time I try to talk. I actually have a home office in the basement, but I’ve set up camp in the corner of my bedroom, because it’s a better workspace. I like to pace while I’m on the phone, and there’s plenty of room in here. I also try to walk around the neighbourhood, because the fresh air feeds my creativity. The best part of my day? When my kids open the door at 6 p.m. to let me know its dinnertime.”

Rohit Bhapkar—senior partner, McKinsey & Company

From his main-floor home office, Lawrence Park

“The endless stream of Zoom calls can be exhausting, but it’s been great to spend more time with my wife, our two daughters and our dog, Biscuit. The girls seem to have adjusted nicely to remote learning, while Biscuit enjoys interrupting my Zoom meetings by popping her head into the frame. We’ve been eating lots of big Indian, Italian and BBQ meals together, with the kids cooking dinner every Wednesday. We’ve also been binge-watching Stranger Things and The Last Dance on Netflix.”

Medhat Mahdy—president and CEO, YMCA of Greater Toronto

From his living room, North York

“I’m currently working in our living room so I can watch the Covid-19 news updates on TV. It also allows me to be with my youngest son, Kareem, who lives with a severe disability. A lot of people in our community, especially those with young children, are experiencing unwelcome interruptions while they work from home—but I think it’s a good thing. At the YMCA, we say, ‘The sound of children is music to our ears.’ When I’m at home, I like to wear my Sweat for Good hoodie. It’s perfect for exercising during the day, whether I’m on the treadmill, working on my core strength or doing stretches. There are many ways to stay connected with others, even if from a distance. A wave across the street or down the hallway, a phone call, a video chat. It’s vital to make an effort.”

Denis Nagasaki—director, Silicon Valley Bank

From his living room, King West

“I rearranged my downtown condo and set up my home office near a west-facing window, which overlooks the Financial District and allows for plenty of natural light. By moving things around, I made the space feel new and interesting. I’ve enjoyed trying out new Japanese-style recipes in the kitchen, like yakitori chicken and pork gyoza. I’ve also brought my old Seagull acoustic guitar out of storage and put it near my desk so I can play—everything from Gordon Lightfoot to Arkells—throughout the day. I try to keep a routine and get out for walks to stay active between calls. Now that I’m working from home, I notice the little things about urban life, like the sound of the streetcar zipping down King Street.”

Farah Nasser—TV anchor, Global News

From the makeshift studio in her backyard, North York

“Working in the backyard is a mix of stress and convenience. On the one hand, it only takes 30 seconds to get to the studio. On the other hand, I’m tasked with juggling work and playing the role of part-time schoolteacher for my four-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son. My camera operator, Max, has been a blessing. He’ll kick the soccer ball with my kids while I’m putting on makeup. When my newscast airs, around dinnertime, my kids get to watch TV. But, of course, they’d rather watch Pokémon than their mom delivering the news. When I’ve left dinner to the last minute, I’ll pop into the kitchen during the commercial break to stir the butter chicken or put fish in the oven.”