Working from home or living at work? Boundaries & flexibility
Updated: Apr 11
Working from home gave many people the flexibility to review their daily routines towards more work-life balance, like a morning jog, family meals and being at home for kids' bedtime. However, for most people who primarily worked from the office, working from home also blurred the boundaries between the two.
According to a recent study by the Harvard Business School, employees in America, Europe and the Middle East have been attending more meetings (now by video conference), sending more emails and putting in more hours since the widespread shift to home-working in March.
Within my community, people report:
longer working hours and working during the time saved on a commute,
spending all day in meetings and starting to tackle your work only after hours,
reaching out to check work emails in the evening out of habit,
feeling obliged to do work sent after normal working hours because you don't feel you have 'left' your workstation or you are worried about not putting in enough hours compared to others,
sleeping longer in the morning but working later in the evening,
getting distracted from work by home chores, telly, using those distractions to procrastinate,
cancelling annual leave and not taking a break feeling you don't need a rest while working from home.
In the future, expect studies on how this work-life stewing pot affected people's mental health and productivity. In the meantime, it is for each of us - employees, managers, HR, leaders - to organise our lives in a healthy yet productive way.
From my experience of moving from 100% office work to flex work to 100% working from home, and from my professional expertise coaching professional women, you need two things to make working from home a success for you, your employer and your clients - Boundaries and Flexibility.
Boundaries are like a fence surrounding a field. The space inside the fence is flexible. But one should only step outside their boundaries in exceptional circumstances. For example, my boundaries are:
no work before 8 am
no work after 7 pm
min 2 hours without meetings a day and at least 10 min between calls
work only at my workstation which I can close/leave
breakfast, lunch and dinner together as a family, screen-free
no work/calls during school pick up / playground time
no checking emails after 9 pm
limits on social media (between 10 and 30 min per day)
in bed by 11 pm latest
no work on weekends
Many people think that boundaries are there to protect your space from others. Yes, but first of all from yourself, to define what space work takes in your life and your home. When I became self-employed, I was surprised that my new employer was a total bitch. I had to create very strict rules around my work to switch off and feel home at home.
Now that the boundaries are set, you can be flexible inside them. For example, start more or less early, move lunchtime around, increase/reduce your availability for meetings, organise your hours around kids school or business needs.
The secret is to never mix Boundaries and Flexibility by creating Flexible Boundaries.
Flexible Boundaries kill balance, they stop you from being present in both work and home life. Flexible Boundaries are confusing for your colleagues, your clients, your family, yourself to understand and respect. Flexible Boundaries is a path to an incremental shift to a frustrating disbalance.
It's a different feel however to mindfully choose to work overtime for a truly urgent matter or take a longer break during working hours to recharge. Because when you notice it, you start to value it. It's also normal to review your boundaries to reflect what's working and what's not.
Every person needs time to work, love and play for mental health and productivity. My strong belief is that it is your responsibility to yourself and as a parent to show your kids how to look after yourself and live a balanced life, and inspire the same in your clients and colleagues.