Setting boundaries in your home office is essential to achieving a healthy work-life balance. Establishing boundaries can help shelter work hours from personal interruptions and ensure that work doesn’t infringe on your personal life. Below are some tips for setting boundaries that can help you strike the right balance between remote work and personal time over the long term.
Create a Dedicated Office Space
Setting up a dedicated office space in your home is the most important boundary to help you separate work from home life. Ideally, your office space would be a room with a door to close out the rest of your home.
If you don’t have a dedicated office room in your home, find a quiet place away from the main living areas. It is important to have such a space rather than working from the kitchen table or other high-traffic areas. A quiet area free from distractions will promote home office wellness and enable better time management.
Use Dedicated Equipment
Another boundary is to have a phone, printer, and computer dedicated to remote work. When your work equipment is separate from your personal equipment, it can help you avoid distractions during the workday. It is easier to keep your personal life at arm’s length when working. Plus, your work will less likely spill over into your home life.
Many companies with remote workers provide dedicated business equipment, including a laptop, office phone, cell phone, printer, router, and other equipment necessary to perform the job. Be sure to use that equipment for business purposes only and rely on separate equipment for your personal life.
Establish Regular Office Hours
Another important boundary is to maintain office hours. Many say, “If I worked from home, I could work whenever I wanted.” I am sure this is true for employees of some occupations who work at the time of day or night when they are most productive. However, we have found that most businesses must be available during normal business hours.
At our company, we serve clients that operate during such hours; thus, we must maintain similar hours of operation to be responsive. Also, because we often work on projects in virtual teams, employees must be available during the same work hours.
The final advantage of maintaining office hours is to keep employees on a schedule. If you do not maintain regular hours, there is more of a tendency for your home and work life to bleed into each other. Working from home can be very stressful without consistent hours because the work is always present. Having defined start and end work times is an important boundary to separate your home life from work and to prevent working longer hours than necessary.
Discuss the Need for Boundaries with Co-workers
I have found it challenging at times to maintain a healthy work-life balance due to the many after-hours communications I receive. Team members often expect an immediate response, and I definitely have been guilty of pinging co-workers after hours for less than urgent requests.
Our company has recently requested that we respect each other’s out-of-office time by limiting routine communications to business hours. All employees use the instant messaging app Slack for internal communications. Unless there is a matter that requires immediate attention, we communicate using Slack during business hours or schedule messages to be sent during working hours.
I’m an early riser and frequently do some work over my morning coffee…long before the sun comes up. I realize my co-workers may not enjoy receiving early morning messages, so I schedule them to be sent at the start of the business day. We have also begun pausing our Slack notifications after hours to help keep the boundaries between work and home clear.
This same practice can be performed for email. You can schedule email delivery during business hours, even if you draft the email outside of work hours.
Setting boundaries with co-workers is a part of keeping remote work from intruding on your home life.
Plan for Boundary Breakers
It’s also important to set boundaries to minimize interruptions from others living in your home. These “boundary breakers” can include children, spouses, roommates, and yes - pets!
For example, children need to know not to enter a home office without permission. No one wants the cringe-worthy experience of being on a work-related videoconference and hearing a participant's children in the background. A closed office door means "do not disturb." In common areas, headphones can signal that you’re in work mode.
While many of us enjoy having Fido curled up at our feet during our work day, employees should also put some controls in place for the home office dog. There will be times when your dog will have to go to his or her own quiet space while you’re working. This is especially true when you're conducting phone calls or videoconferences.
Try to walk your dog and take breaks with your dog around the same time each day. Your dog will more likely let you work in peace if he/she knows that some play time is on the horizon.
Set Boundaries to Take the Pressure Off
Have you ever felt pressure because your personal life is interrupting your work? Stressed because your work encroaches on your personal life? Establishing clear boundaries will help you improve productivity while also providing a healthy distance between working and personal life. This can take the pressure off.
When working from home, boundaries provide a critical buffer. When people are frustrated about working from a home office, it is usually because proper boundaries are not in place. When you commute to an office, you can largely dedicate your work time to your job. To be productive when working from home, discipline is needed to ensure that personal interruptions are minimized during the workday.
Having these boundaries makes it easier to close the home office door after work and enjoy free time without feeling pressured to work. Who wouldn’t want to take that pressure off?
Editor's note: a previous version of this post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated with new and relevant content.