When the pandemic shut down offices across the countries, employers sent countless employees home to work remotely. Many newly remote workers realized they needed strong work-life boundaries to find a coveted balance between their lives at work and home.
Now, as the world opens, some workers will head back to the office, others will continue to work from home, and many will split their time between the two places. In the hybrid workplace, some employees will clock out of a physical space at the end of the day while others will close their laptops. Having these options available can be a boon, but a hybrid approach also presents new hurdles for finding and maintaining boundaries between work and home. Keep reading to learn why work-life boundaries are important and discover tips for how to set them in a hybrid workplace.
Why Work-Life Boundaries Matter
Receiving (and responding to) work communications outside of office hours isn’t just annoying — although most of us would agree that it’s that. Failing to draw a line dividing your work life and home life can be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Keeping the line from blurring has plenty of benefits, both for workers and employers.
Reduction of stress and insomnia
Information communication technologies (known as ICTs) such as smartphones make some tasks easier, but research shows work-related ICT demands in the home can lead to increased stress and insomnia. On the other hand, reducing ICT intrusions can reduce those issues and may contribute to a happier disposition, both during and outside of the workday.
Enhanced wellbeing of employees and companies
The conflict between a person’s role at work and home diminishes with strong work-life boundaries, according to a 2016 study on maintaining those boundaries in the digital age. And when employees reduce role conflict, they experience enhanced physical and mental health with fewer addiction issues, mood disorders, and more. Burnout is less prevalent, and the same goes for turnover — and that means organizations also benefit. Companies may retain more talent, enjoy reduced health care costs, and see less absenteeism amongst healthier, happier workers.
The results are clear. Strong work-life boundaries benefit everyone involved. Now, you just need to know how to set them.
Tips for Setting Strong Work-Life Boundaries
Once you understand how helpful it is to have solid boundaries between work and home, you may assume it’ll be easy to set — and hold — them. However, if you’re the only one on board with reducing ICT intrusions, it can be difficult to maintain boundaries.
After all, it’s no big deal to turn off work notifications at the end of the day and avoid email if everyone on your team, including your supervisor, does the same. But it becomes a trickier proposition if the rest of your virtual office discusses projects on Slack after hours or your boss emails you with questions while you’re making dinner. Communication is key. Here are some tips to establish boundaries in a firm but respectful way.
Set and communicate boundaries early
Ideally, make your boundary-related intentions known during the interview process. Discuss when and how you’ll be available — for instance, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. via email and Slack — and make it clear you’ll no longer check messages once your workday ends. If you’re in a position where you may need to react to a true emergency, discuss how and under what circumstances your coworkers can reach you.
Meet with your supervisor
Have you worked with a supervisor for a while, but now realize the pace of work isn’t sustainable? Whether the job has changed, your life has changed, or you have some other reason, the situation can be tricky to navigate. But if you approach it in a way that shows the benefits of better boundaries for everyone involved, you’re more likely to have a successful conversation.
Remember, clear boundaries benefit employers because they help workers reduce stress, insomnia, and burnout. If you explain how these boundaries can help you perform your job better and work with your supervisor to come up with boundaries that work for both of you, you should be on your way to a healthier balance.
Allow some flexibility
Boundaries don’t necessarily equate to inflexibility. Flexibility can be a great thing. If the most important thing is for an employee to get their work done, it probably doesn’t matter if they take a break during the day to do the dishes or help their kids with school as long as they file their report by the deadline. And if you have a night owl who likes to respond to email after dinner, that’s fine, too, as long as the team understands you don’t expect anyone to respond immediately. Communication is imperative. Your team should understand when and how every member is available and set response expectations accordingly to reduce conflict and increase communication. Make sure a few hours overlap each day for meetings and urgent conversations.
In some fields, such as accounting, heavier workloads may come in cycles or seasons, so you may want to consider flexibility throughout the year. If a team pulls longer hours during busy times, it makes sense to cut out a little early during slow times.
Hold your line
Once you set your boundaries, don’t waffle! Breaking boundaries, even once in a while, sends mixed messages to your co-workers. The more you bend the rules, the more people will expect you to bend them, and the more frustrated they’ll be when you don’t bend your rules for them.
Remove work apps and notifications from your phone
If you struggle to stick to the boundaries you’ve set, consider removing the temptation by deleting your email, chat, and project management apps from your phone. If they’re not there, you can’t check them once you leave the office — just like it used to be when you worked in an actual office! If that’s not possible, turn off notifications for those apps so you aren’t alerted to new updates outside of work hours. And, if you’re in a position to do so, look into getting a work-specific device in addition to a personal one so you can leave work behind when you choose to.
Research suggests you’re more likely to stick to a goal if you have an accountability buddy. Most of the time, people need support to eat better or exercise more frequently. But there’s no reason you can’t recruit a trusted colleague to help you out with boundaries, too. Tell a work friend you’re trying to set boundaries, explain why, and give them license to call you out if you break them. Maybe they’ll want to join you!
Lead by example
Are you in charge? Normalize healthy work-life boundaries among your team by communicating yours and practicing what you preach. When employees see the boss stepping away from their inbox at 5 p.m., they’ll be more likely to follow suit and to communicate with you about their boundary needs.
At the end of the day —after we step away from our computers and shut off email and chat notifications — most of us want the same thing. We want our managers to respect the work we do, our ability to do it in the time allowed, and our lives outside of work. As much as we may love and believe in what we do, we all have personal lives, and it’s important to be present with our friends and family (or even our couch) outside of work hours.
Setting work-life boundaries is a fantastic way to ask for respect and show it to your team. When you all trust one another to get your work done, you can enjoy downtime after you clock out. Healthy boundaries lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive workplace for everyone.