The switch to remote working this year has been a silver lining of lockdown for many people, but it hasn’t been easy.
We’ve worked from our beds, sofas and from makeshift desks made out of ironing boards. We’ve done Teams meetings, Zoom (ZM) drinks and endless quizzes. And against the odds, we’ve learned to work alongside partners, housemates, children and pets.
Another big challenge has been sticking to our ‘office’ hours. When you’re working in an office, it’s easier to close your laptop at the end of the day and switch off from work. But when your workplace is your home, it’s far more difficult to mentally distance yourself from your deadlines and emails — especially if your boss has a tendency to message you out-of-hours.
So how can you set boundaries to separate your personal and professional lives when working from home?
“Our minds are complex and our mental health is rich and diverse - it changes constantly depending on our individual circumstances,” says psychologist Dr Nick Taylor, co-founder and CEO of Unmind, a mental health start-up promoting wellbeing in the workplace.
“The ‘biopsychosocial’ model explains some of these individual differences, focusing on the interplay between biological factors, psychological differences, and our social environments in influencing our wellbeing.”
All of these areas are interwoven and we must look at them as a whole to truly understand ourselves and how we have all been affected by the pandemic.
“As we continue to operate remotely, we need to be mindful of how we can nurture these areas and ensure we’re looking after our wellbeing,” he says. “But at times, this can become a bit more complicated as boundaries between work and life are at risk of getting blurred as we continue to work from home.”
Boundaries, however, are extremely important. They help us as individuals to switch off and focus on different areas of our lives, allowing us to ring fence our time, responsibilities and preserve our energy when we’re being pulled in different ways.
Ensuring we have these boundaries also enables us to stay focused on ourselves, to live our values and standards and to identify our personal limits.
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Create a working space at home
“Creating boundaries can be a hard task, but it’s a vital one,” Taylor says. “At home, ensuring that you create a working environment that is separate to your bedroom is important in helping visualise and set physical lines between what’s our working space and our personal one.”
And while to some this may not be a possibility, reconfiguring your bedroom to have a designated area for working is important to make these distinctions clear.
Have a clear structure to your day
It’s also important to have a clear structure to your working day with defined working hours. You don’t have to be too strict with yourself, but getting up at the same time, taking regular breaks and finishing at a reasonable hour is important.
It’s tempting to continue working throughout the night to finish something, but ask yourself if this is necessary — and if the work can wait until tomorrow.
“Be strict with yourself when it comes to clocking off,” Taylor adds. “As we continue to operate remotely, we need to be more mindful of our own wellbeing needs, and whilst setting boundaries in an uncertain world can be challenging, it’s important for us all to learn to switch off and dedicate time to ourselves on a regular basis.”
Communicate with your boss
“Communication with managers and colleagues will also help create boundaries,” Taylor says.
“Making sure that you set clear expectations on deliverables across your projects and have open communication channels with your teams will only improve your productivity levels and help to avoid presenteeism.”
If you are struggling with your workload, speak to your manager about how to address the problem. It’s also essential to set out your limits clearly. If you don’t want your boss or colleagues to contact you at all hours, be polite but firm and tell them when you will be contactable for work-related conversations.
And remember, responding to your manager’s out-of-hours requests all the time sends out the message that you don’t actually mind being contacted.