While there are plenty of advantages to working remotely, those who do so also are aware of the unique issues that can arise. Achieving work-life balance becomes a challenge when you can send one more email from the sofa in the evenings, or take calls at your kid’s soccer game. That’s why it’s crucial for remote employees to set some boundaries at work.
Knowing when and where to draw the line is a critical skill that all remote workers need. Which boundaries at work are the most important for you to set, and how can you proactively communicate about them with colleagues, clients, and your family?
Let’s use the metaphor of a traffic light to help you set your limits and boundaries at work:
GREEN: Set and share your routine office hours.
You’re available during this time, but it is a specific window. (Just because you don’t work out of a traditional office doesn’t mean your time is continually up for grabs. You’re not on call 24/7—after all, you’re a remote worker, not a brain surgeon!) If you begin answering emails at 10 p.m. on a weekend, know that you’re setting a precedent for others on your team in terms of when you expect them to work, and what they can anticipate from you.
Instead, establish a routine that works best for your schedule and for those with whom you work. Let others know that you can be contacted within that timeframe via Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts, email, etc., and update your status when you need to be away from your computer during those hours.
Make it known that when this window closes, you’re only reachable for the most urgent issues (and even then, have an alternate contact available). Similarly, if small children or other family members are at home with you during the day, let them know when it’s OK to approach you while you’re working. An open or closed door usually does the trick, or consider adding a sign that says you’re on a call or in a meeting for times when a quiet environment is necessary.
YELLOW: Special events = a case-by-case basis.
During these engagements, others should take caution in approaching you. (Just because your phone has reception doesn’t mean every call must be answered!) Maybe you’re at your kids’ gymnastics competition, tennis match, or piano recital, and an important call from your boss, a top client, or a prospective investor comes through. Maybe you’re at a friend’s wedding, birthday celebration, or baby shower, or perhaps you’ve finally taken that spa day that you keep promising yourself. “It’ll just take five minutes,” you think, as your eyes begin darting toward the nearest exit.
Before responding, consider whether or not another team member could run point on this particular conversation. If not, gauge whether or not it’s socially acceptable for you to step out, and also, what you might be missing if you do. In some cases, these events will have intermissions or periods when your loved ones aren’t involved; if you absolutely must send an email, review a document, or have a quick meeting, it’s best to fit tasks into those moments. (Know that awkward interruptions can arise when you’re outside of a controlled environment.)
Aside from a high-level emergency that’d create catastrophic issues if not immediately addressed, remind yourself that you have options, and that you deserve this time to be with the people you care about or to decompress on your own.
RED: Holidays and vacations are off-limits.
On these dates, you’re nearly unapproachable and others should only proceed to contact you as a last resort. (Just because you can work from anywhere doesn’t mean you should!) There are plenty of reasons why you should guard holidays and vacations as sacred; knowing that as a remote worker, you need to recharge your batteries is just one. Imagine that as you begin carving the Thanksgiving turkey, you hear the familiar strains of your mobile ringtone. Or that you’ve just settled yourself on the beach and a notification pops up on your phone.
Before you leave, tie up as many loose ends as you can when it comes to your current workload. For those projects that require ongoing supervision, enlist an alternate work contact for your most critical items. This will help you from becoming preoccupied about your work when you should be living in the moment. (If not, what are you doing all of this work for, anyhow?)
Remember, too, that vacations don’t have to be a physical departure, as staycations surely count. What matters is that you are taking the time to observe a meaningful holiday, to be with family and friends, and/or to relax and enjoy yourself.
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