Imagine you’re at your home office working, having a perfect moment of concentration. Though you’ve struggled all day with regular distractions, now you’re finally entirely focused. You have almost finished your tasks when suddenly, your teammate starts pitching you about a project. You try to ignore it, but when the 10th notification arrives, you realize you’ve lost all your concentration. Sounds familiar? If so, that’s because you need to start setting work from home boundaries.
As a remote worker, you don’t have the same physical separation of time and space as working in an office. Now your morning commute becomes a switch from your pajamas to some comfy trousers and a pair of slippers. And as you finally get your productivity running, your teammates become annoying, or your children or pets start fiddling all around the house.
Since you haven’t established work from home boundaries, constant interruptions and distractions make remote work extremely difficult.
How Do You Set Boundaries When Working from Home?
Here’s how your remote workday looks. You wake up, and you grab your phone to check on your messages. While the coffee machine is still running, you open Instagram or Twitter and scroll over the last posts. You head to your workspace, where you’ll open your laptop and start working. During all your working hours, you’ll check on your phone every five minutes – even if you didn’t receive any message. And once you’ve finished with work, you’ll probably watch some random show to chill out.
Did you notice all of these activities include technological devices?
One of the main reasons most people don’t have a work-life balance is the constant use of technology and social media. Now, you can work anywhere in the world but you’ll also have to deal with confused barriers between work and personal life. When you work from home – especially for those inexperienced – working time limits get blurred.
You may find yourself doing things you would have never done at the office. Working at 9 pm while you’re cooking dinner. Sending emails from bed. Or even having lunch while correcting team projects. Well, all of these are part of an imbalance in work-personal life.
Remote work allows greater flexibility in schedules. However, many remote employees still struggle to disconnect from technology, step away from their screens, and set a clear boundary between the digital and physical world.
If you avoid setting clear expectations from your households and teammates, you’ll quickly blur the lines of work and life, which can result in discouragement, resentment, and burnout.
Here are 5 Ways to Set and Maintain Boundaries When Working from Home
1. Avoid Overworking
“When you work from home, you have plenty of free time,” “working from home is for lazy people,” “remote work provides a lot of free hours,” are some of the people’s first reactions when you say that you work from home. But the truth is that all of these are false.
The funny thing about these fake assumptions is that remote workers tend to work more than onsite employees. According to FlexJobs and Mental Health America survey, 37% of remote employed respondents agreed to work for more extended periods since the COVID-19 pandemic. They claim remote work eliminates the barriers between work and personal life.
Nowadays, people never stop working. Commuting had its disadvantages, but it helped workers to have an established routine. The workday started when you went into the office and finished when you left the building. But what happens when you work from home?
As a remote employee, you must create healthy work boundaries to avoid overworking. When you start your workday, set the alarm for the end of your workday to make sure you’ll know when to stop. During the day, stay focused on your work tasks and avoid all kinds of distractions. But remember to prioritize your work-life balance. Once the alarm goes on, you should get away from work-related activities and enjoy your free time.
2. Create Morning Rituals
Think about how your typical mornings were when you went to an office. You enter a crowded building, with men in suits carrying their briefcases accompanied by a strong smell of coffee and fresh perfume. You visualize the last accessible elevator and get in. And there you start greeting all the acquaintances that you meet. But, how would this morning look like working from home?
While you probably won’t have these morning rituals working from home, you could create new morning rituals to keep up. Once you’ve woken d up, make yourself an excellent coffee and drink it somewhere relaxing. Whether watching the sunrise from your window or in your backyard while you take the dog out, you should create a morning ritual that establishes the beginning of your workday.
Sometimes, when you work from home, you can lose track of time. In a blink of an eye, it will have been three days since you left the house. And you realize you’ve only moved from desk to the kitchen and from the kitchen to bed. To prevent this, fake commutes. Take a short morning walk before starting and a longer one once you’ve finished your workday. It’ll help you switch your modes and set up specific daily rituals.
3. Have a Designated Office Space
When you’re a remote work newbie at first, you’ll probably have only a laptop. Then it’s a laptop and a notebook. The following week you add some folders, contracts, and a few pens. And suddenly, in a month, you’ve misplaced all your essential work items around the house.
When quarantine had just started – if you are one of those recent remote workers – people thought lockdown wouldn’t be for long, so they grabbed their laptops and established their workspace in any free spot they found in their houses. But a year and a half went by, and some remote employees still haven’t found a suitable space to work and avoid household distractions.
Whether you choose to transform your house’s basement into an office, or you prefer to buy a new desk, a rolling chair and set a tiny office in the living room, you should establish a physical space where you’ll work every day.
A Harvard Business Review article recently reported that less clutter helps decrease your levels of stress and anxiety. Setting an office can also help you increase your productivity since it enables you to focus and process information better. Plus, you won’t only benefit yourself but your households as well, since they’ll know when they can or can’t bother you – unless the house is on fire, in that case, please let them bother you.
4. Take Breaks
Work-from-home boundaries don’t only focus on your work environment but also your personal life’s balance.
Remote employees can only achieve an outstanding work-life balance if they focus on improving both. Maybe today you think you’re at the best moment of your career. You’ve been through the pandemic, you’ve overcome every challenge that came in your way, and you’ve accomplished every goal your boss set for you. But your job isn’t everything that matters. A fulfilling life is also composed of hobbies, experiences, and healthy relationships.
It’s easy to forget about your activities when you aim to prove yourself as a productive employee. Roy F. Baumeister, social psychologist and author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, reported that decision fatigue occurs after a lengthy decision-making session, resulting in low self-control and willpower; resulting in underachievement, lack of persistence, and even failures of task performance.
So, it’s time you start taking breaks and enjoy your favorite activities (yes, during the week!). Start by scheduling time into your calendar to do those activities you want the most. Baking bread, taking your dog for a walk, reading a book, or spending some time with your family. Block those periods off your calendar so your team knows when to reach out to you. If you can help your colleagues, you should help yourself, too!
5. Set Agreements
Last but not least. Setting agreements with your family and colleagues can become the most complex boundary since it depends on your cooperation and other people’s collaboration.
When working remotely, you’ll need specific rules for yourself as well as for people around you. Boundaries are about respect and cooperation. They’ll help your family and co-workers respect your availability and energy. However, unless you communicate these boundaries, they won’t know them.
Set an agreement with your work team on your availability. Focus on establishing your start and end time for work so your team knows when to reach out to you. Coordinate the channels you’ll use for communication. Maybe you chose Slack for regular conversations, emails for essential matters, and Zoom for video conferences. The important thing is that every team member agrees on these arrangements before you start expecting your colleagues to fulfill them.
Regarding your households, establish your working hours. Unless it’s important, your family should respect your working hours the way they did when you went to the office. You could create some symbol to let them know when you’re available – like a red sock on the door handle meaning “do not come in” or leaving the door open for when they can come in.
Benefits of Setting Boundaries When Working Remotely
Good communication and trust among team members or relatives are the keys to have a peaceful coexistence. But they’re not beneficial without their boundaries.
Boundaries help establish a connection among groups of people. They allow each community member – whether your family or your teamwork – to focus on their roles and respect those who need to set up barriers.
According to research by Ellen Ernst Kossek of Purdue University, effectively managing work-life boundaries can reduce role conflict and enhance the well-being of employees, teams, and organizations. It can also help reduce stress, prevent burnout, and increase mental health.
An integral part of a company’s success is excellent communication, strong rapport, and trust among remote teams. Each worker has tasks to accomplish, responsibilities to follow, and relationships to contribute to a company’s improvement. But boundaries will be the ones that help maintain a safe, supportive and conducive work environment.
Well-established boundaries will always be beneficial. An edge of respect can help people speak up on their needs, share new ideas, suggest solutions to problems without fear of ridicule or embarrassment.
It All Depends on You
Boundaries start once you’ve established them. Setting limits and needs demands communication. Don’t expect people around you to respect boundaries you’ve never developed. So, speak up!
If there’s a remote work benefit all employees can take advantage of is its freedom. You can manage your schedule and activities as you want. But remember to stay organized. You need to develop a healthy routine, making time for your interests, and communicating your needs to people around you – whether your colleagues or household members.
Focus on your work-life balance and your demands to work in a remote healthy environment. Once you’ve set your needs, it’s all about communicating with those around you. You’ll finish with tasks quicker and enjoy more recreational activities you’ve been leaving aside. Plus, you’ll reach that concentration you’re always hoping to achieve.