Oct 9 2020 Boundaries: How to Maintain Mental Well-Being While Working from Home
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and the subsequent work-from-home imperatives changed our way of life and whilst we are waiting for things to get back to normal, it is important to find out new ways to work and interact while taking care of our mental health and wellbeing.
The possibility of getting to work from home was celebrated by people at large, primarily due to added flexibility, shorter commute times allowing us to work more independently while finding additional time to spend with family and friends. However with changing workplace rhythm, some of us started to face some anxiety while adjusting to the new work environment.
Yes – remote work can become very challenging while we strive to find a good balance between increased work responsibilities and caring for our loved ones.
You are not alone
Many of us tend to keep telling ourselves that “we can do more” until we finally go into breakdown. We always want to believe that we are strong enough, we can do more.
Here are some of the common sources of stress that many work-at-homers face:
- Facing the mental stress of isolation and the physical challenges of new workspaces – kitchen tables, bedrooms and garages – that are far from fit from purpose
- Feeling isolated, lonely, or disconnected from other people — socially and professionally
- Juggling business commitments with increased childcare and home-schooling responsibilities and worries about older, immunocompromised or absent friends and family members
- Having difficulty staying motivated without the support of your team or manager while facing additional distractions at home
- Feeling the exhaustion and the stress that comes from the pressure to perform during a crisis (potentially impacting your business) while being uncertain about your work results
- Being unable to ‘switch off from work’
- Feeling anxious due to negative news and uncertainty around the future
- Having difficulties sleeping, resting and overall feeling sluggish
Adapting to new situations is difficult and uncomfortable, especially during stressful times. It takes time to adapt to a ‘new norm,’ so be patient and gentle with yourself.
We experience disappointment in direct proportion to our expectations, so lowering your personal expectations right now is OK. Don’t worry – You are not alone.
Many people are still struggling to separate their work and personal lives in what has become a boundaryless world.
Lunches with colleagues have been replaced by checking kids’ homework or raiding the fridge for a quick bite to grab in between meetings.
Breaks are just as likely to be spent randomly browsing social media switching from one device to another without allowing yourself some time off from your screens.
The commute that once served as the demarcation between work and personal time is gone for many. And the walk between the home office or makeshift workspace to the kitchen or living room isn’t enough time to decompress. So there is a pertinent need to set boundaries.
The word “boundary” can be a bit misleading. It conveys the idea of keeping yourself “separate” and you may feel you are not kind enough to others or/and feel guilty if you do so. But boundaries are actually connecting bridges, since they provide healthy rules for navigating your relationships – intimate or professional.
In the words of Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy:
“Boundaries are finding a way to be generous towards others while continuing to stay in your integrity. It’s staying true to yourself and grounded while also feeling compassion towards others. Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
Please remember that it is very important to set and keep “boundaries” in order to maintain your mental health while working remotely.
Tips for setting boundaries
Setting boundaries creates respect for yourself and for the people in your life.
A life without limits can be taken to rarely saying “no” and considering everyone else’s feelings before your own. Not only are these people-pleasing habits wholly exhausting, they put you on the direct road to burnout.
So, here a few tips on how you should set your boundaries while working from home:
- Set up routine and structure for your time:
Block times in your calendar for scheduled “heads-down work time” or for “DND (Do Not Disturb) family time”.
- Turn off notifications at night, and try a daily digital detox (in the evenings, at lunchtime..). Step away from your screens at your designated time thereby setting a crystal clear boundary between your digital and physical worlds
- Stay connected with co-workers by scheduling spontaneous catch-ups (virtual coffee, pizza & game night anyone?) BUT establish boundaries on when you will NOT be available
- Try to keep your work area separate from your ‘living’ area; avoid working from the bedroom as much as possible (only associate sleep=bedroom!) !
If you only have limited space (ex. your work table is also your dining table) try to pack up things at the end of the working day.
- Try to get up every hour and go outside at least once a day.
- Make self-care time the priority, and fit the rest around that.
Respect yourself first and foremost! There is much more to self-care than bubble baths or face masks. It’s an intentional and meaningful time you have to set aside for myself. You can maintain a journal, have coffee, meditate and go for a walk every morning.
How to communicate about your boundaries:
- Prepare a “Work with me” document outlining your working preferences.
For example, you can provide some notes on your preferred style of communication;“I turn Slack notifications off at night, so if someone needs to contact me for an emergency, please give me a phone call”. You can find our template here.
- Be OK with being direct and assertive. Boundary conversations should be open, honest and beneficial to both parties- be driven by the facts and the outcome required.
Invite others to do the same! Yes, it may seem cold at times, or even perhaps entirely out of character. But you need to do this to help your onsite colleagues understand your needs, wants, and goals, so you can be an efficient and contributing member of the team.
- Learn to say NO: once you establish your ground rules, it should be easier to decline anything outside your boundaries. Try not to feel guilty, and keep your response simple, direct and polite.
You can consider providing a compromise if it works within your boundaries.
“Sadly with a small baby I won’t be able to do dinners for now! Would you be free for a coffee catch up next Tuesday instead?”
“I’m honoured you thought of me as a speaker for this session! Unfortunately my hands are full with other projects at the moment, but I could make an introduction to my colleague Jo who would be excellent at this!”
These are just a few recommendations that can help people maintain boundaries and preserve their mental well-being between their work and their personal life and thereby avoid getting burned out in the long run.
Remember, as you are working from home, you have great privilege to experiment with how to make their circumstances work for you.
“The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.” ~ Tara Brach.
CHRO (Chief Human Resource Officer) at Active Connector.
Experienced professional with over 12 years of working experience in Finance Operations (Goldman Sachs) and Human Resources (Google, Koala Sleep, Crown Resorts) in Japan, Singapore and Australia.
Currently based in Perth and collaborating with international startups as an HR Consultant.
Passionate about Diversity and Inclusion and creating a healthy, happy and thriving workplace.
Fluent in Italian, Japanese and English.
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