Boundaries

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We have been hearing from our team on strategies in working from home. This week, we’ve got another one of our team members, Sheila, to talk though how to keep your personal boundaries while having the flexibility of working from home!

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 7.22.41 AMI love working from home, but it does present a challenge managing work/life balance. I read an old proverb that cautioned against the moving of ancient boundary stones. Those ancient stones communicated, “This belongs to me and that belongs to you. No trespassing, please.” The boundary stones were of time, life rhythms, and space.

Although I am not ancient (contrary to my children’s opinion), I am old enough to remember a different kind of normal as it pertains to office work. When “going to work” involved a drive to the office, a desk, a phone connected to the wall, and paper files stored in a cabinet. When the day was finished, I left the office, the phone, and the paper and went home. If my phone rang after I left, the issue had to wait until tomorrow, as I physically was not present to handle it. It sounds like an ancient boundary stone, doesn’t it? “Work” stayed at work while “home” stayed at home.

The first boundary stone – time – is an important boundary now that I work from home. Technology has made communication much easier – phone calls and emails are now delivered to the handy phone in my pocket, sometimes during office hours and sometimes while I’m spending time with my family. On the other hand, a disruption at home during work hours can distract me from the task at hand. I try to check my thinking and my actions often. Have I moved the boundary stone? I will be healthier and happier, and more effective at work and home if I carefully respect the boundary of time.

The second boundary stone – life rhythms – takes a particular significance when working from home. Vacations, sick days, PTO, shutdowns, and holidays are opportunities to unplug! Last summer, I headed to the Northwoods for some much needed rest and family time. I mistakenly took my computer, and rather than fishing, I hunted for a good internet signal and answered emails. Upon my return a co-worker asked about my vacation – and I realized my mistake. I had lost the opportunity to unwind – and moved the ancient boundary stone of life rhythms. My lesson learned? Make sure my responsibilities are covered, communicate my status of OOO, leave my computer at home, and turn off email alerts.

This leads to the final boundary stone – the boundary of space. One of the joys of working from home is the flexibility! On a beautiful spring day, I can move my “office” (aka computer) to the back porch and enjoy some sunshine. Or I can work from Starbucks, enjoying a hot chai latte as easily as I can work from my office. One aspect I’ve learned about myself is I need an uninterrupted flow of work wherever I am working, to ensure I have my full attention on the appropriate matter. To do this, I’ve carved out a corner of my family room (mostly unoccupied during the day); the family knows that I am “at work” when I’m at my desk and on my computer and/or phone. Respecting the boundary of space creates a healthy balance in my life, making me more effective at both home and work.

There are no hard and fast rules to working from home. I’ve found intentionality that lends to healthy boundaries between work and personal life is integral to my success as a work-at-home employee.

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