How To Set Boundaries When You Work From Home
By some measures, working remotely can improve work/life balance. As an employee, you’re closer to home, free from a commute, and able to accomplish at-home tasks that would have been impossible from a company desk.
But now that remote work has become the norm, there are new concerns. Video chatting with a boss from your living room can feel invasive. Virtual communication channels between home and work are constantly open, creating murkier boundaries. If you have children at home, it often feels like you’re juggling several jobs at once.
“For remote workers, creating boundaries between work and life has always been top of mind,” said Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager and coach at Flexjobs and Remote.co. “But during the pandemic, this has become especially important because there have been fewer activities we can do outside of our homes.”
Career Tool Belt spoke to Reynolds about how to work from home – instead of living at work.
Beware of burnout.
A funny thing happens when we work from home: we tend to overwork.
According to a survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America, 37 percent of employed respondents said that they were working longer hours than usual since the pandemic started. Faced with fewer boundaries, people never stop working.
While employees lament a commute, for example, it often creates a natural start and end time that doesn’t exist in remote work – so we work all day long. In an office, we join other people when we see them taking lunch breaks, but when we’re on our own, we forego lunch entirely. It’s harder to appear busy and present when we work from home, so we overcompensate by making ourselves constantly available.
Being aware of this tendency is an important step to creating healthy remote work boundaries and avoiding burnout, Reynolds said.
“Remote workers have to be very deliberate in creating boundaries around work time so that they don’t find themselves working all hours of the day, or even thinking about work at all hours of the day,” Reynolds said.
Set clear boundaries with your boss and colleagues.
If you feel like work is creeping too much into your home life, it’s time to set boundaries.
Let your teammates and manager know when they can expect you to be online, so they’re not left wondering, Reynolds said. If you need flexible hours, ask for them. Turning off email and work notifications is a simple, but critical move. Your boss is not going to tell you to do these things: you have to do them yourself.
“Turning off email when you’re not ‘at work’ is important. You shouldn’t be available all the time,” said Reynolds.
Chances are, your boss and colleagues didn’t invade your home life on purpose. They’re probably all working on different schedules, and they have no rulebook to consult. Instead of getting angry or flustered with them for violating your boundaries, be firmer and clearer about them. Most people will be grateful for the guidance.
Have a literal office space that you can enter and leave every day.
There’s a reason why offices exist: they help you get into work mode. If you let work spill into the rest of your home, it may not only affect your work productivity; it may make you feel less at home at the end of the day.
“Having a specific office space, whether in a guest bedroom, a true home office, or just the corner of a shared space, can help you get into work mode each day,” Reynolds said. “Put your laptop in a drawer or closet when you’re done with work, so you don’t see it and feel tempted to jump back in. Start and end your workday with some kind of ritual that signals to your brain that it’s time to change from work to personal or vice versa.”
Schedule personal activities during your free time.
Even when you’re off the clock, it’s sometimes easier to keep working than to do things for yourself. In order to maintain a healthy work/life boundary, you have to deliberately plan things that make you happy.
“Most people struggle with the ‘life’ part of work-life balance,” Reynolds said. “Schedule personal activities and have several go-to hobbies that you enjoy so you’ll have something specific to do with your personal time. If you don’t have anything planned, like a hike after work or a puzzle project, you may find it easier to slip back to work unnecessarily.”
Maintain boundaries with your family.
If you have family at home, maintaining a boundary between work and life can be extra challenging. Small children, in particular, love to shatter work/life boundaries by making noise, saying hi to your colleagues on video chat, or by making demands at the worst possible times.
You can’t stop children from being children, but you can make strides by creating certain boundaries and being firm, said Reynolds.
Create visual boundaries by shutting doors, writing signs, using green or red cards to signify how busy you are, setting timers, putting on headphones, or even taping a floor to outline a boundary around your desk, Reynolds suggested. Verbal boundaries include having an initial deeper discussion, followed by smaller, consistent chats.
“Prepare yourself to have these conversations regularly. Kids will naturally not always respect or remember the rules in this strange new world. Try to have patience and know you’ll need to regularly remind them,” Reynolds said.