How to Set Boundaries When You Work from Home
The new work-from-home normal has been disruptive for many professionals who never fathomed the need to work from their homes until a few months ago. Lack of dedicated workspaces, housemates and spouses also working from home, kids attending school online, and other distractions can create countless distractions. The result is more than a degradation in productivity. Working from home can impact work-life balance and even affect others in the household.
Recommendations for Setting Work-from-Home Boundaries
Setting boundaries when you work from home is an important step in order to ensure working from home is as effective and efficient as possible. Following are some of the things that professionals can do:
1. Get a Dedicated Workspace
At the top of the list is creating a dedicated workspace. Having your work and personal lives intertwined at home can impact the quality of both. Further, without a dedicated workspace, your productivity can diminish. And while many professionals may not have the space at home for a dedicated home office (especially with spouses, kids, and parents also now at home due to the pandemic), it is possible to carve out a dedicated workspace in even the smallest of locations. It might be a spare corner of a room, converted garage, reclaimed and retrofitted shed in the backyard, basement, or unused attic space. If you have no options, mark out an area in the dining room or kitchen.
When selecting workspace, look for areas that are away from pets, kids, gaming, and other distractions. It is also important to configure and decorate the space that designates it as your workspace and sets it apart from other areas of the house. Plants, a sit-stand desk, special lighting, and other elements are important factors to tap.
2. Speak with Your Household Members
Boundaries and logistics need to be coordinated with you and other members of your household. They need to know about your dedicated workspace, working house, protocols on lunch and work breaks, coordination of logistics for children (especially with many now doing e-learning) and pets, and much more. Sit down with your household members and go over each of these—yours as well as theirs (as multiple people in many households are working from home).
3. Set Working Hours
Research shows that professionals are working longer hours each week when working from home during the pandemic versus working from a company office. While businesses are celebrating this increased productivity, this additional workload can affect work-life balances and even cause issues with other household members. As a result, when working from home, it is important to set working hours and try to keep to them.
4. Create an “Office” Sign
Signaling to others your current “work” status can be helpful to you as well as other members in your household. Professionals have gotten creative and many are using signs—for their office door if they have one or their workspace desk or chair if they don’t have a dedicated office. Mary Robinette Kowal, who wrote The Calculating Stars, created a downloadable PDF sign that can be printed out and attached to a door, desk, or laptop with a clothespin. It designates your work status: writing, goofing off, other work, etc.
5. Take Lunch Breaks
Studies show that the number of people skipping lunch or working through lunch has gone up dramatically during the pandemic. One study, for example, finds that 41% of professionals admit they are more likely to work through lunch now that they are working from home. Getting the right nutrition is important for your health as well as work productivity. Plus, building in breaks during the workday is a critical requirement per research. For small businesses with teams, you might want to get creative and schedule periodic virtual lunches for your team.
6. Ensure Your Vacation Days Are Real Vacation Days
Not every vacation day means you are jumping on a plane and flying to an exotic location to lay on a beach or hike through a rain forest—and this is even more the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes vacation days simply mean hanging out with your spouse, kids, or friends in and around your home. However, for those working from home, work is only a few feet away in your dedicated workspace. It is critically important to detach when on vacation at home and not give in to temptation to check emails, Slack or Team messages, or voice mail.
7. Build in Breaks During the Day
Studies reveal that professionals who take breaks during the workday perform better. These can take different forms—from a short walk with your spouse or housemate, a quick run to the local coffee shop to pick up your favorite latte, or a few minutes playing with your pet. Ellen Hendrikson provides some useful advice for taking breaks in a recent blog in Psychology Today. Her recommendations include: a) any break is better than no break, b) make sure breaks feel different than your work, c) take breaks that don’t get you off the rails, d) tap microbreaks to recharge (40 seconds), and e) waiting until the midafternoon slump to take a break is too late (breaks at 10 or 11 AM produce better results).
8. Wear Business Attire
Slumping around the house in your pajamas during the day or wearing ratty tee-shirts that you would never wear in public simply easiest the approach you want to take when working from home. The adage, “what you wear reflects how you work” is apropos—having a correlation with your productivity and mental state. Specifically, research shows that getting dressed helps you feel more productive and signals to yourself and your household that you are in a work mode.
9. Wear a Headset
Keeping our background noise goes a long way in promoting work productivity. With other members in your household working at home as well, conducting personal matters, attending school through e-learning, among many other activities, there is likely to be ongoing noise that might be a distraction. This is especially the case for those who don’t have the space for a dedicated office. In these instances, a pair of noise cancelling headsets can go a long way.
10. Separate Your Personal and Business Mail
Having your personal and business mail going to the same address can be fraught with numerous challenges. For those running a business from their home, listing your home address as your business address is not a good idea. There are a number of reasons—from the loss of LLC and corporation benefits to the loss of personal privacy. Getting a Virtual Office address through services such as Davinci Virtual Offices is a great solution. You get a professional address that demands respect and services such as mail receipt and forwarding, a lobby directory listing, an entity formation service, and more.
Getting Full Benefits When Working from Home
One of the positive outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic is a realization by the vast majority of businesses that their employees remain just as productive, if not more so, when working from home. Long-held beliefs that employees will work fewer hours and shirk their responsibilities when working from home have been proven false. Yet, working from home does present challenges—for individual professionals and businesses—that require attention. One of them is the need to set work-from-home boundaries. For those seeking direction, the 10 above recommendations are a great place to start.