A recent facilitator in the Emerging Leaders Program shared the quote, “We no longer work from home. We now live at work.” Think about that for a moment. For ages, office workers have talked about work/life balance. In some instances, they’ve even made the case to their organizations that working from home would enable them to achieve better work/life balance while maintaining — if not improving — their productivity. And, now many find themselves in the strange predicament of “living at work.” How, then, do they establish and hold boundaries that support a healthy balance?

With Work — Begin by having a conversation with your supervisor to better understand the expectations. Even if the organization’s standard operating hours pre-pandemic were 9 am to 5 pm, it’s unwise to hold hard and fast to those workday bookends if the company has extended those a bit on either end. It’s better to work with your supervisor to create reasonable expectations, for example:

  • that you would be available for meetings and timely responses to electronic communications between the hours of XX and YY during the workweek;

  • to establish acceptable response times outside of that norm;

  • and, to discuss how emergencies will be handled.

These parameters allow you to better communicate with your key stakeholders — your peers, your clients, those you manage — so that they understand what they can expect from you. But, here’s the hard part, you then need to commit to these boundaries for yourself.

With Yourself — So, you’ve had all of these conversations, and you feel more in control of bounding your workday. But, then comes the slippery slope…

  • My computer is in my living room. I pass it hundreds of times in the evening and on weekends. I’ll just quickly pop on and see if so-and-so responded to my email…

  • I need a break from chores, let me just scroll through the company Slack channels to see if I’ve missed anything…

  • It’s my day off but I don’t really have any plans, so let me call so-and-so back. They said they’d be around.

Sound familiar? With each of these exceptions, you’ve effectively eroded the boundaries you’d established. And, in all likelihood, you’ve done it without even realizing the implications of each of these seemingly small acts until that is, you get the call on your day off, or the evening email with an immediate response requested. You get the picture.

How can you create healthy habits in this arena? Be honest with yourself. If it’s hard for you not to check your phone when you wake up in the middle of the night, leave it in another room. If it’s hard for you to walk by the computer without checking it during your “off” hours, shut it down at the end of the shift. Neither of these moves makes it impossible to slip up, but it does make you a bit more aware of the fact that you’re choosing to do it.

Another suggestion is to ask for support from and create accountability partners with those around you. By letting a peer know that you’re trying to stay off of Slack during non-business hours unless it’s an emergency, you stand a better chance of them not sending a message or, at the very least, of them not expecting a response from you. Share with a friend, spouse, or roommate, the struggle you are having maintaining boundaries. Ask them for their best practices. Ask them to check in with you. Give them permission to hold you to account where needed.