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Setting Remote Work Boundaries for a Balanced Life

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This article provides tips for the remote employer, remote manager of remote teams and the tele-commuting employee  completing a remote job assignment on how to set boundaries for a balanced life. What exactly are we talking about, you might ask? Research in the field of industrial and organizational psychology use this definition, breaches of boundaries established by social norms can “occur when certain events or behaviors breach or neglect the boundary between work and private life.” (Kreiner et al., ). 

The researchers provided an example of taking a personal phone call while working on company time as a breach of professional work-related boundaries. Conversely, answering a work-related phone call after work hours or on the weekends is a violation of family life boundaries. As you can imagine, the adoption of remote work, telecommuting and work from home as created an environment ripe for boundary breaches.

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For instance, PR Newswire recently published an article based upon the Conference Board survey of more than 1,300 remote workers.  A key result of the findings was that almost 50% of the office workers and professionals working from home expressed concerns about the fluid boundaries between work life and home life.  Blurred distinctions between the two often meant that remote workers did not mentally punch the clock out, finding it challenging to ‘turn off’ their professional selves after a day of remote work. Two related findings were that 34% of tele-workers had internalized, nagging feelings and worries about what they perceived to be their employer’s expectation that they be ‘constantly on call.’  Thirty-two percent of the survey participants were worried about increased hours of nonpaid work.

Recap Studies on Remote Work Boundaries 

  • 50% remote workers were concerned about blurred boundaries between home and work life
  • 34% workers who worked at home worried about employer expectations to be ‘on call’
  • 32% work from home employees were concerned about increased hours of nonpaid work

In the article, Boundary Management and Work‐Nonwork Balance While Working from Home, published in Applied Psychology, the researchers found that employer encroachment upon the home life of a remote worker can have detrimental effects for one’s work life as listed below. Similarly, remote workers’ home life can be negative impacted as well. 

Poor Distinctions of Boundaries Lead to Work Inefficiencies

  • Work and home boundary bleeds led to an increase in incomplete task completion for home and work-related tasks
  • Incomplete home-related tasks negatively impacted job satisfaction and contentment with one’s home life
  • Incomplete work-related tasks were negatively associated with job satisfaction 

Based upon the research, the establishment of work life boundaries are crucial for job satisfaction as well as home contentment.  The ways in which remote workers choose to spend their time; for career, home, personal and family requires the adherence to boundaries. A demarcation and clear lines that distinguish the activities that are in and out of bounds at certain times is vital to professional success. Further, setting boundaries are important so employees and contractors working from home can better allocate their time so that neither aspect of ones’ life overtakes the other aspects. Such conditions can lead to burnout, exhaustion, poor mental and physical health.

Here are some remote work  tips for setting boundaries to improve your work and home life balance.

Reasons Why Remote Workers Must Set Boundaries

Boundaries in your life are what will keep you from over-extending yourself.  Knowing what is in and out of bounds can help you place internal limits on the requests of others. It will also help you refrain from giving too much of yourself to your job or overpromising to help a colleague or friend when you are already feeling overwhelmed.  It is important that remote workers establish boundaries in their personal and your professional lives. This is the first step to improving ones’ work and home life balance. Without establishing, adhering to and asking others to respect your boundaries, remote workers will find it difficult to experience a truly happy and reassured balance most crave in their lives.

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You learn how to say no – The simple act of communicating your boundaries with people in your life makes your life easier.  First, it helps to soften the ways a little when they are already aware of your guidelines. They may be less likely to ask you. Next, if they do ask, it is far easier to say no. You understand the importance of setting these limits with people, and you get to practice saying no.

You learn how to say yes – When asked by someone who is encroaching on your boundaries whether they are asking too much. Reply very politely, “Yes you are. Thanks for asking.”  Stop trying to be so stoic. You don’t get a Brownie patch or an Eagle Scout badge when you allow someone to take your power away with your approval and blessing. 

You effectively allocate your time – Having a good work and home life balance means that you are effectively managing your time, organizing what needs to be done; based upon your personal goals and professional goals. Remember, just because a task is urgent according to the requester’s timeline, it may not be an emergency based upon your own personal and professional goals.  The pre-allocation of your time and schedule goes smoother when boundaries are established for each area of your life.

You can avoid unnecessary distractions – Distractions are a lot more common when you lack proper boundaries in your personal or professional life. Further distractions and interruptions can take you off course from your life plan. It is difficult to achieve your divine destiny when you are constantly distracted by the whims of others. Setting boundaries are vital for the realization of your own personal and professional goals.

Personal Boundaries

Even though the primary purpose of our company is to support your professional remote work career, financial success and location independence; we value too, your personal life. If you purchase a high performance German engineered car like a Porsche. You know the importance of the basics: checking your oil, fluid levels and what not. These tasks a similar to the fulfilling your needs related to  basic health, safety, shelter and mental wellbeing. 

Even though you are finely engineered to complete the most exacting tasks in a challenge remote work environment, failure to do routine internal maintenance checkups can lead to an engine malfunction. Why take that chance?

Therefore it is imperative that youo set your personal boundaries first. These include what you do with your personal time, saying no to people when necessary, and of course, keeping work issues out of your personal life.

To set personal boundaries, start by considering what your personal commitments and obligations are. This includes socializing with others, quality time with your family, taking care of your household, self-care and time alone, and anything else that is important to you.

Once you know what these commitments are, you can then determine what often gets in the way of spending time on them. That is where you need to set your boundaries.

Work Boundaries

Next, you need to consider your work boundaries. This set of rules and guidelines support your efforts to maintain a professional demeanor, complete your tasks professionally and communicate diplomatically, without letting your boss, family, friends or colleagues place items in your ‘to do’ basket when the task isn’t really related to your job description, personal or professional goals. For an idea of possible work boundaries, please see below.

  • Placing blocks of time on your professional calendar when you need to de-compress from a stressful work-related meeting
  • Using pre-scripted chat and SMS messages to inform others that you are in a meeting and can not be disturbed at the moment
  • Using automated ‘out-of-office’ replies with dates of departure and arrival to your email box when you are away from work and providing alternative points of contact in the event of an emergency
  • Closing the door of your office when you need to make a call or are concentrating on something important.
  • Keeping all personal notifications on your phone turned off until your work day is complete.
  • Asking that people don’t ask about your personal life when you are at work.
  • Having times of the day when you don’t answer the phone.
  • Requesting certain topics to not be discussed in the office.

How to Know You Need Better Boundaries

Establishing demarcations or lines where you prefer others not cross can be challenging. Establishing acceptable bounds and borders of activities within your acceptable range can be a struggle. Not doing so leads to imbalanced distributions of time allocated to work and home life. It can be really difficult to determine which boundaries  need to be set in your life. But it is even harder, however, to be firm with people in your life, to communicate with them, and to enforce the boundaries you have set.

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So, if any of the following are occurring regularly, it is probably a sign you need set and maintain firmer boundaries:

  • You have people in your life who refuse to let you say no.
  • You allow your co-workers to probe you for personal information for which you would prefer not to disclose.
  • You feel as though you do not have a voice in setting the direction for your life.
  • You unnecessarily take on extra work projects that are unrelated to your job description.
  • People often show up to your house uninvited, even though you asked them not to.
  • You allow people to make you feel guilty or readily accept blame for things that are outside of your control.
  • You are drawn into the personal issues of your colleagues when you are at work.
  • While at home, you have people from your business contacting you regularly.

The boundaries you choose to set are entirely up to you. To maintain your boundaries, however, it is vital that you follow through by reminding people of your boundaries and enforcing the parameters of acceptable and unacceptable requests.

Perhaps a solid approach would be to model the behavior of respecting the boundaries of others. In turn, they may be more inclined to respect yours.

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