How to Set Boundaries at Work and at Home

Remote jobs, freelance work, and different types of digital entrepreneurship were already on the rise before the pandemic. Roughly 4.7 million employees in the United States, 3.4% of the nation’s entire workforce, worked remotely at least part of the week before the major upswing in remote work ensued due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These statistics do not even compass the enormous amount of full-time and part-time freelancers and entrepreneurs who were already operating pre-coronavirus, or who transitioned to this type of career due to job loss brought on by this crisis.

However, while there are countless benefits of remote work, women, in particular, are getting short shrift. With childcare not being available to most professional women right now and some employers overstepping their boundaries with steadier access to their employees’ homes, demarcating your professional life from your personal one can feel impossible. This is especially true in areas where children are resuming school through remote learning, and it is not yet safe to return to coffee shops, libraries, and other public places to take a laptop.

While it’s difficult to get through this trying time, here are a few things you can do to set firm boundaries between work and personal time for your continued career development when your entire household is always home.

Be extremely clear in communicating with your family as to your needs, expectations, and helping each other get through this time.

It may be frustrating to handle your children’s schooling and having to attend meetings or be on call. But your family members cannot read your mind, and you may not know everything that is happening with them. Communicate with them frequently and be incredibly blunt and clear with your needs and what has to get done for school, work, and around the home. If you have a routine you’d like to stick to, let everyone know that they cannot disturb you during this time.

Set an area of the home aside strictly for work.

Normally, the appeal of remote work is that you can take a laptop and basic, portable equipment like webcams anywhere you go. But since you’re stuck at home until the vaccine comes out, you need to try your best to separate workspace from where you spend time alone relaxing, or with your family. If more than one person is also working at home right now, this is especially critical. Try to keep work devices and items separate from your personal areas: It’s not only important for mental health reasons, but it’s also important for tax reasons if you are self-employed.

Home offices need to be “regularly and exclusively” used just for business, and you don’t want to overlook this significant tax deduction. It only helps that it can help you focus and set firmer boundaries between work and life.

Communicate with your clients and/or employer as to what parts of your home and schedule are off-limits.

The self-employed and entrepreneurial types have an advantage in that they can decide when to turn work emails, websites, and agency profiles on and off, and create their own timelines for how they respond to clients. It can be more difficult if you have traditional employment and your manager is using this current condition to frequently email you late at night, call you off the clock, and other invasive behaviors.

If you are unable to simply stay out of your work email after certain hours, you need to communicate to your employer which days of the week or hours of the day are devoted to your family and personal time. If they will not accommodate this request, do your best to meet them in the middle and work with your household on this. If you are using Zoom or other video conference software to communicate, blur your background or use an object like a dressing screen to obfuscate the room since they are not invited guests in your home.

Make time to disconnect.

Set aside some time every day, even if it’s just half an hour or so, to completely do a “digital detox” and avoid the news. The 24/7 news cycle can fuel your anxiety and distract you from your work and family issues, and there’s always social media, work email, and apps demanding your attention. Shut your phone off completely and find something non-tech-related to do, like taking a walk and listening to music or cooking a meal. If you need to keep your phone on so your family can reach you in case of emergencies, try an app like Self Control or Cold Turkey Blocker to shut out these additional distractions.

It can be especially difficult since social media, video calls, and other technologically assisted contact is often the only way we can safely see family and friends. But making the time to truly disconnect is the best way to assert control and boundaries right now.

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