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Setting Clear Boundaries for Your Remote Work Life Balance

The repercussions of the pandemic on the traditional business workplace model have shifted into a new era of PJ bottomed executives taking Zoom calls from the convenience of their dining room tables. More and more businesses are realizing that they cannot put the work-at-home genie back into the bottle. Remote work may have started as a necessity due to issues outside their control, but now it is being embraced as the new normal.

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans, or roughly 26% of the workforce, complete their job roles from their bedrooms, makeshift home offices, and living room sofas. That number is expected to remain around the same well into 2025. This suggests that even after Covid 19 has finally been eradicated, there will still be an incredibly high demand for remote worker support.

With so many workers enjoying a more flexible schedule, new lines in the sand of when it is appropriate for company contact to begin and end are being tested. The stressors of maintaining a functioning life around family, friends, personal interest, and healthy habits are starting to wear on remote workers. This poses a new question: how do you set clear boundaries between your remote work and personal life?

1 - Have a Designated Workspace

To begin, set aside a specified area of your home as a physical boundary where you get work done. We have all seen those fantastic social media posts celebrating the idea of working from your poolside cabana while enjoying a delicious drink, but that is not practical for everyone.

The physical environment of your personal workspace has a significant effect on your productivity. Buffer did a great study on the places people work from the most when conducting remote activities and found the overwhelming majority worked from their home space.

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With so much emphasis on a work from home scenario, it is essential you set up a space inside your living spaces that accommodates your working needs. Maybe you can convert an underused closet or designate a particular corner of your living room for a desk. Whatever area you decide to use, make sure it is free from distractions and kept in tidy order. This physical location represents your work and allows you the mental separation when it is time to relax on the couch or complete a project during a deadline.

This is also a great signal to your family. They will begin to respect your space as you work while sitting in a designated area compared to when you are enjoying a good book somewhere else in your home.

2 - Officially Declare Work Hours

Another common benefit of working from home we see celebrated all over the internet is the idea of having flexible hours. That may work for some, but when you add in school for your kiddos and the numerous meetings required to maintain your business structure, you begin to feel closed in by the demands on your time.

Try to establish “working zones” with your management team so you all have clearly designated boundaries of when you are and when you are not available. For example, there shouldn’t be any 2am text messages from your boss expecting a return call when you are supposed to be working between 9am and 2pm.

Think about your natural sleeping habits and when you are the most productive. Are you an early bird that gets most of its work done before the world gets up or a night owl that burns the midnight oil while completing projects? Consider when you feel most active and when you need to rest. 

2017 UN study found that roughly 42% of remote workers said they wake “repeatedly” during the night compared to the 29% of traditional workers. This is because the stress between work expectations and the blurred lines of active work hours confuses our natural sleep patterns. 

Set clear guidelines that account for your other activities like family, social life, downtime, and exercise. These boundaries will help you maintain a better balance, so you do not feel the primary purpose of your existence is your inbox.

3 - Make Time for Yourself

This may seem like a given, but you need to pencil in time for your own pursuits. There appears to be a strong disconnect with remote workers who are happier with the work-from-home arrangement but less happy about the work itself. 

Microsoft conducted a study in the UK of 4,000 office workers and found that 1 in 3 felt like there were working more hours from home than in traditional roles. Roughly half thought they had to be available at all times and take fewer breaks.

This could be a perspective issue, or it could be that without clear boundaries, we spend less time exercising, going to the movies, hanging out with friends, or simply stopping to enjoy a coffee while we unplug for a bit. A little self-care, especially during this pandemic time, goes a long way to improving our mental awareness and productivity. It elevates our mood and helps manage stress, anxiety, and depression.

The critical thing to remember is you are not alone. Practically every industry feels an increase in stress and finds it challenging to maintain a proper work-life balance. Only about half of the psychologists surveyed by the American Psychological Association thought they were keeping a good self-care routine recently. If psychologists are struggling with this new reality of this confusing period, maybe it means it is more common than we all think. 

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You have to devote time for yourself to de-stress and get away from the demands of your work. Start small and take a 15-minute walk outdoors in nature. Getting a little dose of fresh air and the outside world rewards your brain, lowers cortisol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and improves your immune response. Not to mention it just feels good to get some mental clarity from sitting at your desk all done long.

4 - Create Unique Communication Lanes and Agreements

An excellent boundary to set is having a clearly defined avenue of communication between you and your clients or management team. Set up an agreement that shows how you will conduct daily contact (Zoom, text, phone, email, etc.) and when that communication begins and ends.

This is probably the best boundary because it separates space in your day for when you can expect interruptions. This way, if you like to focus on your work, you can do so without having to worry about constantly fielding messages.

When the business book The 4-Hour Work Week hit the industry, the author Tim Ferriss advocated for business owners to designate only two times a day to check their email. This way, they could focus their productivity and reduce the number of unnecessary interruptions. While this may be a bit extreme of an option for most of us, it does have positive effects we can learn from.

Remember, Do What Works for You

At the end of the day, you need to do what will benefit you and your personal situation the most. Remote working can be one of the most rewarding ways to earn an income and enjoy your life. You can get more from your day and be there for the important life events of your friends and family.

As long as you are willing to set a few boundaries about how you will conduct your remote work-life balance, you can enjoy the experience of the workplace revolution that is changing the world.

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