‘Boundaries’ may be a word that we feel very familiar with; in this case we are referring to the ways we try to keep our work and home life distinct, so that we can maintain a positive work-life balance.

Although boundaries can feel somewhat of a buzzword, it may be rare that we pause to think about our own boundaries.

For lots of people COVID-19 has resulted in a change of working environment, whether that be a change from office to home working, a change in those who are around us during working hours, or a change in routine outside of work which impacts upon our daily life and how we manage work.

These changes may lead to the boundaries that we have between work and home life becoming more blurred.

We can be aware that setting boundaries around our work and home life is important for our health, wellbeing and productivity, but for some of us or at certain times, this can feel difficult to do for a number of reasons.

For example, it may be that we worry about how we will be seen by others if we implement boundaries or say ‘no’ to things, or we may find ourselves feeling the need to prioritise supporting others rather than protecting our own wellbeing.

It could be helpful to think about your own perceptions around boundaries, and how easy or difficult these feel to implement.

The comfort or discomfort we have around implementing boundaries may also differ depending on a number of factors, for instance, the situation, who is involved, and how we’re feeling that day.

In this article we’ll take a look at some things to consider around creating separation between work and home life, particularly when working from home.

Our working environment

The environment we work in can play a role in how we’re feeling about work and the way this may interact with our home life.

Each of us will have a different space where we work, and although ideally this would be separate to where we relax or sleep, often this may not be possible.

Little steps such as still packing away our laptop and notebooks at the end of the day can often be helpful in signalling the end of a working day, and make us less tempted to ‘just check one last thing’.

It’s also important to make sure that we are getting up and moving around where we can, including having adequate breaks.

  • Challenge: For at least two days a week, ensure that we are packing up our laptop at the end of our shift, and taking (at least) a lunch break away from our screen.

Work on our phones

Having emails and apps like Slack on our work phones can make things more difficult to switch off from. It can feel all too easy to find ourselves responding to emails outside of our working hours.

If turning emails and notifications off completely feels too much, why not first try having a period of the day when your phone is in a different room or switched off?

  • Challenge: For at least two days a week, ensure that our work or personal phones (if slack is downloaded on these) are switched off outside of working hours, and that we are not checking or replying to messages.

Working hours

When working from home, it can become easy to start a little earlier or finish a little later.

We may also end up taking less breaks as we find ourselves missing out on those ‘water cooler chats’ or feeling more pressure to be glued to our laptop screens, in case someone contacts us.

At other times, it may be that family life interruptions or those moments of having a ‘blah’ day and the procrastination that can come with that, mean that we may feel like we haven’t achieved what we would have liked to. This can also be difficult or lead to us feeling like we must do more.

During this period, it could be helpful to discuss with your line manager about whether there is any flexibility in your working hours, if this seems like something that would allow work and home life to be more distinct.

Things like having reminders in our calendars about breaks or finishing ‘on time’ may also help us to be more boundaried around our time.

  • Challenge: For at least two days a week, ensure that we are starting and finishing work on time.

Communication

If you are noticing that the separation between work and home life is becoming more difficult, then consider letting others know so that they can offer help and support around this.

It might be that you would like to share this with your line manager, members of your team or people in your personal life, so they can offer check-ins on how you’re doing and support around this.

  • Challenge: Take a moment to consider your own boundaries around work. Are there areas you would like support with? If so, think about who could provide support with this and reach out to them.

Remember our boundaries aren’t black or white

It can be easy to slip into thinking of boundaries as something that are fixed, and to become unrealistic about our expectations.

As someone once said to me recently, it’s about being “bendy not floppy”!

Sometimes it’s okay that we may have to stay a bit late or say yes when we really wanted to say no, but it can be helpful to think how we may address that in the future.

For example, it may help to try having a longer break on another day or taking a step back when something is asked.

  • Challenge: Think of a time when you have felt that you were unable to maintain your work boundaries – what would you like to be able to do differently in the future?

Try to remain compassionate

It is likely that we will all have times when we feel like our boundaries haven’t been as strong as we would have liked.

It can be easy to berate ourselves or feel like we ‘should’ have done something differently. If this is the case, try to notice these thoughts and be kind to yourself in how you respond.

What would you say to a friend if they have done the same thing?

  • Challenge: Think of a time when you have felt frustrated with yourself or noticed yourself using the words ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ in relation to maintaining a work-life balance. Consider how you could respond more compassionately to yourself if these thoughts crop up again.