5 Ways to Know If Workplace Boundaries Have Slipped Since the Pandemic

Working from home has changed workplace norms. Try these strategies to maximize efficiency and well-being during a remote workday.

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5 Ways to Know If Workplace Boundaries Have Slipped Since the Pandemic

Here's what you need to know:

  • Statistically, those working exclusively at home spend an average of 3 hours more each week on work tasks than their counterparts who have embraced a hybrid or more traditional work model
  • To set boundaries when working from home, create a dedicated workspace within the home and create routines for the beginning and the end-of-day
  • Use a calendar to plan the workweek and commit to building breaks into the workday
  • The entire work team should know the team expectations

Since the pandemic began, the work culture has changed from a traditional commute to work and chained to the desk model to a full-time work-from-home model. The alternative is for workers to operate under a hybrid arrangement where they only go to the office part of the time.

Newer workers may not accept a job requiring daily office travel. The resistance to traditional work environments followed what has been coined the Great Resignation.

Since workers started a mass exodus from the traditional workforce, employers who offer flexible work arrangements and employee-centered policies attract and retain more people.

One of the most significant challenges of the new work-from-home culture is that the boundaries blur between work, home, and everything else. It’s essential for workers who choose a work-from-home lifestyle to set boundaries and adhere to them.

Here are some facts about how workplace boundaries have blurred since the pandemic.

How has the shift to work from home affected employees?

When the pandemic hit, much of the world shut down for all intents and purposes. Organizations that wanted to stay afloat and relevant scrambled to adapt to a new work model.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to appropriately plan the transition to teams working from home. People set up “temporary” workspaces without realizing that temporary was likely to become permanent.

Since the original shift to working from home, some people have enjoyed the arrangement enough to continue at home full-time, while others decided to explore a hybrid work arrangement.

Statistically, those working exclusively at home spend an average of 3 hours more each week on work tasks than their counterparts who have embraced a hybrid or more traditional work model. A disparity in the work-life balance is a portion of the cause for additional hours worked by remote workers.

Why is it hard to maintain boundaries between home and work?

Several factors have contributed to blurred boundary lines between work and home. Here are some of the contributing factors:

There’s no getting in the car, driving to the office, and returning home

In a traditional work model, workers transitioned from home to work and back again, giving a clear beginning and ending to the workday. Working from home eliminates the clear transition of a commute to and from the office. This makes it easy for work time to spill over into home life.

Time management is hard enough without having to set boundaries

Even behind closed doors in a traditional office setting, there are meetings, colleagues unexpectedly dropping by, and other interruptions and disruptions stealing portions of the workday.

Workers often jump from one activity to the next without a solid plan. Rather than set appropriate workplace boundaries, many workers find themselves passively moving through their day.

Those who work from home often find that:

  • Work and home time intertwine more easily.
  • They let work become a distraction when it’s time to focus on family and friends.
  • They work on projects on the weekends or answer emails instead of enjoying evenings with the family or focusing on family dinners.

Most of the time, people think these things will be a one-time occurrence. They don’t think there will be future consequences because it’s “just this once.”

However, it becomes easier to “take 5 minutes to check email,” and that becomes the routine until other aspects of life slowly fall by the wayside and get neglected.

People who work remotely need to know exactly what their employers expect

Whether traditional, hybrid, or at home, workers need to know what is expected of them. However, leadership doesn’t often clearly define the expectations for those who work from home. With undefined expectations, workers can feel uncertain about how their day should be structured and what is acceptable behavior for the at-home workplace.

Whether traditional, hybrid, or at home, workers need to know what is expected of them.

When the expectations are unclear, employees may feel like they need to work 24/7 when their employer doesn’t expect that. Or they may think they aren’t allowed to stop long enough to take a lunch break or help their children with homework when their employers expect them to incorporate those things into their days.

5 strategies to set boundaries when working from home

Those who spend their workday within the same 4 walls as they spend their home life need extremely clear boundaries to keep them from working all the time. Here are 5 strategies to help separate work life from home life.

1. Create a dedicated workspace within the home

Many think working from home is just sitting in the recliner with a laptop. However, having a dedicated physical workspace delineates the work environment from the home environment and gives a clear visual representation of where each activity takes place.

Workers should set up a well-stocked space with the necessary work from home tools that are as free of distractions as possible to allow them to work comfortably from home.

2. Create routines for the beginning and the end-of-day

Commuters have an established pattern for the beginning and end of their workday. Commuting was a set ritual that allowed workers time to separate work and home thinking processes.

Working from home makes time more difficult to separate. Having a pattern signals the brain and body that it’s time to switch gears.

3. Use a physical or computerized calendar to plan the workweek

Some people need a visual way to track almost everything. Their time is no exception to that.

A calendar allows these people a chance to have a visual representation of how they have their personal time and their professional time allocated. It also gives them a visual representation of their routines and free time so that they can choose their priorities.

4. Commit to building breaks into the workday

Those working in an office or factory have set times away from their desk or workstation for breaks and lunches. Colleagues may take coffee or lunch breaks together or take an afternoon walk or class together.

The work-from-home culture eliminates these times of socialization and automatic cues that it’s break time. Workers must find ways to block out times they can walk away from the desk and stick to those times for their mental and physical health.

Examples of time-blocked break times include:

  • A static lunchtime every day that is non-negotiable, non-work time
  • Standing up from the desk and moving once every hour
  • Adding additional movement into the day, like taking the kids to the park or going to the kitchen to get a snack.

5. The entire team should know the team expectations

Regardless of their location, the whole team needs to understand what is expected of them concerning how they spend their time. Teams should establish some of the following guidelines:

  • Expectations for response times to email or other communication methods such as messaging apps or conference calls.
  • Expectations for how often to check email and whether it is necessary to check it outside of work hours.
  • Is the team expected to meet specific outcomes and goals, or should they be at their desks during particular hours? For example, should workers expect to be at their desks from 9-5 every day, or can they leave to pick up children from school or meet their spouse for lunch without repercussions?
  • Expectations regarding the communication of progress and projects between team members and management — what method should be used, and how often should progress be reported?
  • Ideas for minimizing interruptions and distractions while feeling connected to colleagues.

Team members should feel comfortable enough to ask other team members or management questions if they feel unsure they are meeting expectations for their work performance, including how the work-from-home model works for the company.

Working from home requires setting boundaries

The pandemic changed the way people view work. Now, work from home has become an anticipated norm in the workforce. Working from home requires setting clear boundaries to help workers achieve a work-life balance.

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