How to Set Healthy Boundaries While Working from Home for the Long Haul was originally published on Idealist Careers.
It’s been more than six months since the COVID-19 pandemic began changing the way we live and work. And with no end in sight, many employers have asked their employees to work from home (WFH) as much as possible for the foreseeable future.
But for many of us, working from home isn’t an ideal solution. Our living spaces may be cramped and distractions may abound. So, how can you balance work life and home life for the long haul?
Because many of us have been working from home for much of the year, it’s useful to apply what we have learned so far to make the experience as comfortable as possible.
- Have a dedicated work space. You may not be able to claim an entire room at home for your office. But having a clear space—even if it’s just the corner of the dining table—to focus will help your productivity.
- Schedule healthy habits. When you work from home, you can fall into a pattern of not having a 30-minute lunch break or time for a workout. Make it easy for yourself and put those habits on the calendar. If you make time for what matters to you, you will feel more confident about your day.
- Ask questions. Working from home can be challenging, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether you have questions specific to the project you’re working on or about working life in the pandemic era, reach out to your manager, co-workers, or HR department for answers.
- Respectfully make suggestions. Because these are unprecedented circumstances, you are learning as you go along. If there are insights or tips you have that can make WFH life a stress-free experience, speak up and share your suggestions with your team or to HR.
Room for improvement
Whether you feel like an old WFH pro or you feel like you are still finding your footing, here are four ways to improve your experience:
- Invest in the right equipment. If there is anything you are missing from your WFH setup, don’t continue to improvise if you don’t have to. Figure out what you need and use in the office, and how you can reasonably replicate that experience at home. Find out from your manager if you can be partially or fully reimbursed for any investments you make to improve your productivity.
- Design a “pandemic-friendly” routine. The routine you have in the office may not be directly transferable to the routine you have at home. To give your WFH life more structure, establish a routine for yourself that keeps you motivated and chugging along during work hours.
- Dedicate more time to communication. Because you, your manager, and co-workers are no longer in the same place at the same time, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working in a silo. Take the time to communicate—via emails or scheduled calls—so that everyone is not only on the same page, but also feels less isolated.
- Share your daily calendar with your household. This lets them know when you are not to be disturbed. Make sure your calendar not only includes when you have work-related calls, but also when you need “do not disturb” time to work on a project or tackle your inbox.
For parents and caregivers
Schools have either opted to continue with distance learning or to have a shortened, staggered school day. In either case, this adds stress to any parent’s workday. If you are a parent, don’t forget you are not alone! This is a new, challenging situation for many parents, so the best thing you can do is take control where you can.
- Give your workday as much structure as possible. Design a schedule that allows you to honor your work commitments while also having the flexibility to help your child.
- Take into account your child’s schedule. During what times is your child in class? That may be the perfect time to do your most demanding work tasks. This isn’t so much working around your child’s schedule as it is working with it.
- Determine how much support your child needs. Do you need to offer complementary lessons to the ones in your child’s virtual classroom? Does your child need help with homework? Can you share those responsibilities with other members of your household?
- Communicate with your manager and team if and when things come up. If your child’s schedule changes or you notice that you need to spend more time than expected helping your child, keep your team in the loop so that you can find mutually beneficial arrangements.
If you are a caregiver of parents or relatives, you may not have a school day to reckon with, but there are other demands that require your regular attention. Build your schedule as much as you can around your caregiving responsibilities, and keep the lines of communication open with your manager and team.
Your boundaries can and will be tested at home. That’s why it’s critical to be able to separate your personal and professional time as much as possible. Being transparent with your team and your household will help you practice enforcing those boundaries that will keep you sane and productive.
Looking for more flexibility? Check out some employers that offer alternative scheduling options.