U.S. Census Bureau figures show the number of Americans working from home tripled between 2019 and 2021, from 9 million to 27.6 million. Many are navigating an unfamiliar landscape with few road signs to help them steer. The profusion of devices we all use, from mobile phones to tablets and laptops, adds to the problem. According to the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP), “Technology and remote work settings have eroded the boundaries between work and non-work. It’s difficult to create some space between you and the job when you take your work wherever you go.”
If you or your team are struggling with establishing healthy work boundaries, consider these suggestions; every situation and employer is unique so not “one size fits all.”
Understand your boundaries.
You can’t create boundaries until you understand your own personal limits, which may be mental, emotional, or physical. Are you willing to work weekends? Do you mind answering work emails late at night? How do you feel about exchanging hugs with coworkers? These are some questions you might ask to assess your boundaries.
Communicate your boundaries directly.
Don’t expect people to respect boundaries they don’t understand. Your boundaries are as individual as you are. Be open about them. Don’t assume your coworkers share your background and values and have the same boundaries. With so many communication tools available, from email to video chats, there’s no reason to keep quiet about boundaries.
Address oversteps in real-time.
When someone oversteps a personal boundary, the best approach is to respond timely, and politely. A dramatic announcement isn’t necessary. Politely and clearly, let the other person know how the action makes you feel. For example, if a coworker persistently asks for help when you have your own deadline to meet, remind them you have your own priorities and need to get on with your work.
Put boundaries around your time.
Establishing a personal work schedule is an effective way to control your time. Having scheduled start and stop times makes it easier to leave work at the end of your shift, even if your commute is from the home office to the kitchen. Communicate your schedule to coworkers and let them know you’d rather not hear about non-emergencies during your personal time. If management pushes back, remind your supervisor that a lack of work/life balance leads to job burnout.
Communicate your schedule to family and friends.
Having your personal life intrude during working hours is another form of boundary crossing. Let family and friends know how and when to contact you during working hours. This is especially important for remote workers who have frequent interruptions at home.
Don’t be afraid to say no.
Most of us feel pressure to agree to workplace requests, especially when they come from higher-ups. Evaluate demands on your time and if they present a challenge you can’t address, be honest and explain why you can’t agree. If you’re turning people down regularly, it may be time to talk to your supervisor and review your responsibilities.
Delegate when you can.
If you can’t satisfy a workplace request, find someone else to do the work. This may mean going to management. You’re still being helpful, but you’re not taking on more work. When everyone’s work assignments are visible through workforce management software, it’s easier for team members to share tasks when they’re overwhelmed.
Maintain professional relationships.
If you expect other people to respect your boundaries, make sure you respect theirs. Keep communication professional and avoid workplace gossip that violates professional standards. Be cautious about divulging personal information about your religion, politics, finances, or significant other.
A final suggestion for management to help their teams: take advantage of technology like workforce management software. Scheduling and communication tools are invaluable aids in the workplace, especially in remote and hybrid office environments. When used correctly, they can help individuals enforce boundaries around work and personal time and allow team members to be comfortable talking about other boundaries.