Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, working from home has become the new normal for knowledge workers. Initially, many cheered at their newfound freedom. However, as time goes on, people everywhere are discovering challenges associated with working from home: child-care issues, lack of work-life balance, and managing competing priorities of health and finances. For many, the mental and emotional stress of working from home is taking a toll on the otherwise welcome benefits of comfy work PJs and lack of commute.
To help manage these challenges in the new normal, it is important to set boundaries. From physical boundaries to emotional boundaries, here are some tips to help you create balance when you are working from home:
Create a Dedicated Workspace A dedicated workspace is a form of physical boundary. It signals to other people in your home that this is your workspace and that they should respect the limits that come within the territory of that space. It is understandable that not everyone has a separate room in their home to use as a dedicated office space. However, it is important to find some form of physical barrier, such as a clever room divider or repositioning your desk. Whatever you choose to do, what is important is finding a space in your home where you can focus on work and not be distracted by other goings-on in your home - a place where you can create a calm mental space before diving into work. A physical boundary between your work and home space also helps to create a delineation between your work time and home time, allowing you to have some form of mental transition between productivity and relaxation.
Use Headphones If it’s difficult to find a quiet space because you have to share your “home-office” with other family members, such as your spouse who is also working from home, you may find it helpful to get a pair of noise cancelling headphones. Headphones work in two ways:
They create a physical visual cue to indicate that you are in your “workspace”, and that you should not be disturbed.
They help to reduce the audible noise level in your home, whether the noise is from within the home, or from external sources.
Create a Family Inbox If you find yourself constantly interrupted from your workday to deal with requests that crop up at home, you may want to consider implementing a Family Inbox. Request your family members to place non-urgent requests in this inbox for you to address outside of your working hours. You cannot positively focus on work when your mind is disrupted from the tasks at hand.
Block Off Your Calendar Set defined "work-hours" for yourself and block off your calendar. Clearly communicate to your co-workers and managers that you have done this. You may choose to share your calendar so that others can book appointments into your calendar. Whether you choose to allow others to book their own appointments in your calendar or not, respect your own work-hours by not checking work emails or responding to work requests outside of your work-hours.
Set Communication Guidelines Being at home creates a lot of potential issues with respect to communication. What was once a simple walk over to someone’s desk now requires forethought and timing. We’re increasingly being bombarded with emails and instant messages. These small interruptions distract us from being productive and create potential for conflict when there exists a mismatch in expectations. To address this, ask your employer specifically how they expect you to communicate and clarify how your performance will be managed. Then clearly communicate when and how often you will check and respond to your various messages. Such as “I will respond to emails within 2 business days”, or “I am available on Slack between 8am-4pm”. Again, use calendars and Out of Office messages with the expressed intent to create a clear delineation between your work and personal time. Work with your employer and the rest of your team so you understand each other’s expectations.
Request Help from Your Family No, we don’t mean ask your family to help with your work. What we mean is that you should ask your family - spouse and children (if they’re old enough), to respect your workspace and time. Visual reminders are really helpful too, so you may find you need to put up a sign that indicates you are on a conference call. Download our cute "Meeting in Progress" free printable for your home office Work with your family to set a schedule that will work best for everyone. Maybe it’s taking turns helping with your children’s at-home learning; maybe it’s taking turns managing meals and other home demands. Whatever it is, make sure everyone in your home is on the same page so everyone's time and efforts are respected.
Whatever you decide to implement, be consistent and do not allow others to violate your boundaries. With commitment and healthy compromise from all parties, you and your family will create positive, long-standing habits for working from home. Healthy boundaries help us gain a sense of control of our own lives, and go a long way towards our mental health during these unprecedented times.
Much has been written in 2020 on Working from Home - here's some additional insight from a professional administrator from Admin Slayer Services Inc. which has been 100% virtual since 2015.