Boundaries: work vs life

16 June 2022

In early 2020, the working world changed, potentially forever. We were told we had to work from home if possible and our working hours were filled with Zoom and Teams meetings. Many of us added into this mix responsibilities of caring for children and remote learning pressures. The boundaries and lines between home and work life, truly blurred.

We know many working parents worked in shifts, with some working late into the evening to get work done which couldn’t be completed during traditional work hours due to remote learning priorities. We had meetings with children sitting at our feet in order to multitask our way through the juggle. The flexibility offered to manage work and family commitments was life changing in many ways, but let’s explore the costs.

Now more than 2 years on, as we move back to a new normal, what impact has there been on the boundaries which should exist between our work and home life?

Pre covid traditionally, office-based employees would work until a certain time, pack up and start their commute home. Australia’s commute time was on average 25 minutes one way. This commute, although frustrating at times, would allow a clear break between work and home. Walking through the front door allowed the transformation from work persona to home persona. Nowadays, this distance is often negligible. We finish work, stand up from our desk and start our home life. It’s all too easy to still be thinking about work, to open up the laptop again, or quickly jump into that meeting after hours or on your non-working day.

Some examples of where boundaries might be pushed include: taking calls outside of working hours; taking calls days you don’t work; working evenings or on the weekend; reading work emails on your phone; updating LinkedIn at all hours; saying yes to a meeting which impacts on your time with family and friends; not being present with your family and friends; working from a traditional home space such as your dining room table or a desk in your bedroom; going for a walk and taking a work call (rather than listening to that podcast or calling a friend); or not stopping for lunch because you grab something from your kitchen and then sit back down at your computer.

While flexibility is wonderful and can be an amazing tool for both business owners and employees alike, it’s important to understand your work boundaries and how you plan to enforce them.

Some tips of how we can support good work hygiene practices:

  • Does your organisation have core business hours? If possible, try to only book meetings during these hours. If not, discuss options with the team first and make sure there are alternatives if people are unable to attend (such as offering a recording of the meeting).
  • Avoid booking meetings around the middle of the day when people might be wanting to break for lunch. Too often we are stuck sitting at our home desks for hours at a time with no break in the diary to walk away from the screen.
  • As a manager, verbally encourage your team to take breaks which do not centre around work. Rather than suggesting they take a “walking meeting”, encourage them to just go for a walk.
  • Implement a solid working from home or remote working policy outlining appropriate behaviours and environments when working away from the office.
  • Let your team know it’s OK to say ‘no’ to meetings which fall outside of work hours or on days they are not engaged with the business. Flexibility goes both ways. Employees and managers should work together to ensure that no one feels they have to break the line between their home and work lives without good reason.
  • Unless essential, limit use of email apps on your phone. If you’re not working or on call you don’t need to be checking your emails every few hours just in case something comes up. It’s ok to switch off and take a break.

Our two cents…. At the end of the day, write a list of the essential things you need to tackle. Next time you open your laptop, get it all down on paper. Then close your laptop and go for a walk around the block. Clear your mind of the day and allow yourself that “commute” time. Walk back into the house with a non-work mindset.

In summary, we all need to think about boundaries that work for us and our businesses in this new world of working from home and the office. Flexibility is encouraged and a two-way street. Remember, it’s OK to say, “Monday evening doesn’t work for me this week, could we move our meeting to Tuesday morning?”

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