Boundaries for Work-at-Home

Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX

Now that many of us are more than ten weeks into working from home full-time, I am starting to hear from clients that they are experiencing more mental fatigue and burnout. The rush of adrenaline that accompanied the initial pandemic announcement and our “stay-at-home” orders have given way to anxiety, tiredness and lack of focus. Given that many of us will be working from home for some time to come, it is probably time to start to examine our personal and professional boundaries and create new routines that will keep us focused and grounded.

Henry Cloud, in his Boundaries series of books, talks about boundaries being a combination of what we create and what we allow. We function much better with the boundaries that we create – ones that we have put thought into and have clear purpose – than we do with the boundaries that we just allow. If we allow ourselves to be interrupted by co-workers, or in my case, my needy dog, we will get less done (with more resentment) than if we had firmly decided upon, and announced when and under what circumstances we could be interrupted.

Some common areas that need boundaries are:

  • Time management – This is perhaps one of the most common “lack of boundary” that I am currently seeing. Now that we’re working from home, some folks are looking at that as an invitation to work 24/7. No wonder people are experiencing burnout. Unless there is a crisis, working from home hours should be no different from working in the office. The nature of our work hasn’t really changed, just the location. Decide for yourself what your “office hours” are going to be and try to stick to them. Create a policy for yourself about answering emails or checking Slack. And, if you need to, schedule time for de-stressing: a run or hike, a long soak in the tub, an episode of your favorite TV series.
  • Interruptions – Constant, am I right? Just knowing that my husband is in the house and might be doing something interesting is distracting enough for me. And I remember what it was like to have kids home for the summer. Again, create some policies about who can interrupt you and when. I recently (pre-pandemic, so long ago…) saw singer Brandi Carlile perform at ACL and her young daughter came along. Brandi explained that her daughter was allowed to come on stage for one hug per night. Adorable! And a great boundary!
  • Communications – Create a personal policy about how you prefer to communicate with your team. Which things can be sent through Slack or email, and which need a phone call or Zoom? Which audiences are appropriate for what topics? How quickly will you respond?
  • Interpersonal relationships – This boundary has to do with managing other people. How will you respond to complaints or criticism? Since we all will experience this occasionally in our working life, it helps to have a plan to respond. Some people need to step back and think before they respond. You may decide that certain things need to be put in writing, rather than brought up in the middle of a meeting. Everyone will have different triggers and different responses, but again, creating the boundary ahead of time will help prevent a “fight or flight” stress response in the moment.
  • Meetings – If you are like me, you are already so done with Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, or BlueJeans, or any form of online meeting. And there is nothing worse than one that goes on and on while accomplishing very little. While you may not have total control over meeting policy, now is a good time to go over your company or team policy and to make sure that agendas are tight and kept.

Being a great leader means creating great boundaries that allow you and your team to function at your peak. You probably can identify additional areas of your life that need more intentional boundary setting. And, remember that boundaries need to be readjusted as circumstances change. Leading others through this challenging point in history is going to require leaders that know how to manage not only others, but themselves as well.

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