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Advice for Setting Boundaries When You Work From Home

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With many companies still enforcing some sort of work-from-home policy during COVID-19, the line between professional and personal gets blurred. You easily go from pajamas to conference calls within minutes of waking up as a remote worker. 

Millions of Americans are now telecommuting and many of them have never done that before. If you’re one of them, you might not know how to handle the adjustment to being a full-time remote employee during the coronavirus. Here’s how to set boundaries while making sure both your home and work lives stay intact. 

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1. Keep Working Hours

If you’re used to working at the office for a set number of hours each day, try to keep up that same schedule for your home office. Just because you’re home doesn’t mean your work needs to suffer. Stick to your working hours as much as you can and make sure your family respects those hours. 

If you find yourself with extra time in the morning or evening because your commute time has been drastically cut down, use that extra time for you, not for work. For instance, if you tend to skip breakfast or don’t eat much, sit down and eat a healthy meal. You can also exercise, get your kids ready for the day, read a book or a few articles, respond to personal emails and texts. Go for a walk in the morning (or a longer one, if you already do this). If you didn’t have a healthy work-life balance before, having that extra time could help you build a better schedule. 

2. Follow Your Regular Routine

If you’re used to getting up in the morning, showering, putting on a suit and heading out the door, your daytime routine may look a little different. Keeping your schedule as much as you can is a good way to stay on track and avoid distractions. 

You may not need to get into your normal work clothes, but you can keep your regular routine as much as necessary to stay on track. Wake up, take a shower, get dressed in something you wouldn’t sleep in, and sit at a table or desk. While having an office would be ideal, not everyone has space. But do your best to avoid working from bed or the couch — save those locations for when you’re off the clock.

Since you’re not in an office, find a space that serves this purpose. If you have to take video conference calls or plan to be on phone calls, keep yourself in a room where you can shut the door or at least be away from family, roommates, and other potential distractions. 

If you and your partner are working from home, find a routine that works for you both. This might mean you like having “co-workers” around and both of you work at the kitchen table. Or if you both like your space, maybe one of you works at the table and the other stays in the office. If you both take video calls or need the privacy to jump on the phone, consider rotating the makeshift office room when necessary.

Build a work environment that supports you being effective during the day and able to leave at the end of the workday. See if your human resources team has a remote work policy for supplies like a monitor or ergonomic keyboard to make your dedicated workspace at home more like what you use at work. 

3. Stay in Communication

Self-isolation in the long or short-term can take its toll in so many ways, including constant interruptions that you’re otherwise not used to. Especially if you have tiny humans at home, it’s nearly impossible to separate your work hours from the time at home. In fact, you might find you aren’t really clocking out at the end of the day when you work at home.

Use your resources as much as possible, whether it’s grandparents, partners, older children or friends who are in your bubble you can tag team with. Having a small village of people will help you keep your work-life together as much as possible, even when it sometimes spills into personal life. Try to set up ground rules with your family about when you need to focus on work, and hold yourself just as accountable when you go past work hours.

Also have frequent schedule check-ins with your remote team, including your supervisor. If you manage a team, keep them in the loop as well. Let them know when you’re signing off for the day and turn off work notifications, including email and Slack messages. With most people working from home, your co-workers will understand if something comes up, so make sure you’re communicating with them as much as necessary. This becomes even more important if you have coworkers in more than one timezone.

4. Give Yourself a Break

Your battery might be drained now that you’re a few months into quarantine. It’s easy to tell yourself to keep pushing through. Your mental health may fall far down on the priority list. 

But the more you put off taking care of yourself, the more you’ll put off having the energy to take care of other duties, whether it’s children, parents, home tasks, or work. Avoid being on a video conference through lunch or trying to finish projects that can wait another day. Instead of using your mornings to get a head start on work, don’t open your email until you clock in or begin your regular workday. 

Take a few breaks throughout the day and remember to drink enough water. Use your empty cup to take a break to refill it. Walk away from your computer to have a snack. Even five or 10 minutes here and there is enough to refresh and regroup. 

5. Be Flexible

As much as you want to follow a schedule and keep your routine, there will be some days it’s not possible. Whether something comes up for you, a family member, or a work project, you’ll need to give yourself some grace. Flexibility is vital to making sure you get through this.

If you have to work late on a project or take your child to the doctor in the middle of the afternoon, don’t be too hard on yourself. There will be hiccups in your routine — both personal and work. Remember that constant communication is an important part of setting boundaries. Keep your team in the loop — whether that’s your family or your team members — at all times. Then veer back on track when the moment passes. 

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.