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Work Boundaries | 4 MIN READ

Setting Work Boundaries in a Work From Anywhere World

When you work in a physical office, it creates a clear boundary between work and home. That boundary has blurred since the internet began to make it possible to access work resources from anywhere. It’s still easier to separate the world of work from your personal and family life when you have to travel back and forth from the office.

Remote work, on the other hand, usually takes place at home. That dividing line of a daily commute is no longer there, and it’s becoming clear that both companies and employees are having trouble determining where work ends and the rest of your life begins. A May 2020 survey from Teamblind found that the top reason employees gave for burnout during the pandemic was a lack of work-life balance. That’s not surprising. A BlueJeans by Verizon study found that remote workers worked an average of 3.13 more hours per day in 2020 than they did when they were in an office.

Boundaries Require Leadership

The best leaders understand the importance of coaching team members to make healthy boundaries between work and their personal lives. It begins with culture, and a healthy humane culture starts with a company’s leaders. As our Visionary and CEO Mark Abbott writes in his series of essays on Medium, “The leader of leaders in every group owns their group’s culture.” A company with a high-trust culture will respect those boundaries, and not expect other team members to take time away from their families and personal time after hours to work. It’s important for team members to enjoy the many benefits of remote work, while still having plenty of time for friends, family and personal pursuits.

So how do you encourage Work From Anywhere (WFA) balance within your organization?

First, encourage team members to create a dedicated workspace within their home. This could be a separate room or a corner of a larger area. What’s important is that this space becomes their designated place for work. This doesn’t mean, of course, that team members shouldn’t take their laptop out to their deck on a sunny day or work from a local cafe from time to time. But it’s psychologically important to have a special space that’s dedicated to work, both for team members and those who live with them. That’s where papers, files, and work supplies live and where the laptop stays at the end of the day. It draws a physical and mental divide between home and work to establish a clear boundary.

Next, give team members the freedom to set their hours and ensure that those hours are respected. Make agreements about their work schedule, and ensure these hours include breaks for meals — discourage working through lunch. Also, make sure that people set a certain block of time where everyone’s schedule overlaps so team members can have meetings or collaborate in real-time.

Once those agreements are in place, make sure you or other team members don’t violate them except in emergencies. Have team members set collaboration and communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to “away” or “unavailable” when they aren’t working. That way, it’s clear that they won’t reply to messages during their time off. And make sure to coach team members to follow their own schedules! If one of your team members is regularly sending emails outside of their normal work hours, have a conversation about it. When work routinely creeps into family and personal time, burnout is a likely outcome, and that’s no good for anyone.

Agreements with Family and Friends

Just as team members need to respect each other’s time away from work, It’s important for family members or roommates to respect the time team members spend working. Coach team members to set agreements with family and friends about this.

For example, while it’s great to be able to run a quick errand or pick up a sick child at school when working from home, if a spouse is constantly interrupting to ask where the screwdriver went or if they can stop work to go get some milk, completing tasks that require long stretches of concentrated time becomes nearly impossible. Creating a dedicated workspace can make it easier for family members to live up to these agreements because when the team member is there, it’s obvious to everyone that they are working and shouldn’t be disturbed.

Work rituals are another tool that can help set a boundary between your work and personal life, so it’s a good idea to set up a time for team members to share them with each other. Some people may take a brisk walk before work or do a full workout. Others may have a special mug that they only use during work, or they may shut down the laptop, turn off the lights and close the door to the home office at the end of every day. The specific habit isn’t as important as doing the daily rituals, because, again, they divide the time and space between work and leisure.

Working remotely does not mean working all the time. By coaching team members to set clear boundaries between work and home and to respect the boundaries that others have also set, your organization can run on a work-from-anywhere model in a way that’s humane and respectful to everyone.

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