I have worked out of my home office for nearly 20 years. My boundaries have always been pretty good between when I work and when I do not work. However, during this COVID-19 time, I discovered that what had helped maintain my boundaries was business travel. Once I was home full-time and working remotely, I discovered that my boundaries weren’t quite as solid as I thought. I found myself, during my non-work time, looking around my house and thinking – ‘Well, everything is cleaned, organized, and put away. I can’t go out so I may as well go into my office and check email.’ This was not a healthy practice! Work should not be my default if I have an open time in my schedule – especially if it isn’t during work times. I realized that my home/work boundaries were even more essential and that they needed to be clarified and strengthened.
As people continue to work from home, their home/work boundaries are being breached and blurred. The Harvard Business School and NYU Stern School of Business – analyzed the work habits of 3 million people in 16 cities – people were working an average of 48.5 minutes more per day. It seems that many people have gained time back to their day by not commuting, but then given that time to work. No wonder many companies are OK with their employees continuing to work from home – it is a productivity boost for them. However, it isn’t good for us. The blurring and breaching of boundaries is wearing us down and burning us out.
During late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse (www.cdc.gov). Add in the uncertainty of COVID-19 infection rates, the uncertainty of kids and school, the pressure of home schooling, and the uncertainty of when a vaccine will be available – we have a terrible stew brewing. Plus – this is only mile 21 of the marathon! We have a ways still to go until this is resolved. We must review and reinforce our boundaries to head off and/or mitigate our burnout.
Some ideas include:
- Time Boundaries – when are you going ‘to work’ and when are you off? Don’t use work as the ‘default’ activity. If you are not in work time, don’t respond to an email or text. Is it an emergency? Think what you would do if you were physically at work – would you answer it immediately? Or, would you wait until lunch was over to answer it?
- Hobby Boundaries – what hobbies did you have before COVID-19 and how can they be adapted? Or, what new hobbies can be discovered? Use hobbies as a support. They can be a great way to lure us away from work, give us something to fill any empty time, and give us something to look forward to doing outside of work. They can also provide acknowledgement of progress – something that work frequently provides. What have you been putting off learning, reading, exploring, or trying? Now is the time! Just look at how food canning and sourdough have become new hobbies for many people.
- Social Boundaries – whether it is a Zoom call, meeting friends in the driveway, or another activity with people at a proper social distance – stay in contact with people! Just because we are separated, that doesn’t mean we have to be isolated. But – it takes work to not be isolated during this time. If you are feeling isolated – reach out! And if someone reaches out to you – reach back! Use these connections to support you in maintaining your boundaries.
Working at home provides flexibility to choose your hours and accommodate other life needs. However – when the lines between work and home get blurred, work usually takes a bigger and bigger slice of the life pie. The problem is that the bigger slice for work comes out of the sleep, family, hobbies, and mental health slice. It isn’t sustainable and leads to burnout. Our working at home needs boundaries to keep it reasonable and sized appropriately for our lives. Arianna Huffington said, “Ninety nine percent of the time it’s not urgent and to create a culture where you are constantly plugged in and expected to be always-on is to create a culture of burnout.” Don’t create that culture at home! Review, restore, and reinforce your boundaries between work and home so that you renew yourself and are sustainable for the long term.
Let us know how we can support you in reinforcing your boundaries!