Working remote from colleagues is challenging, particularly for those who have never done it before. It takes time to adapt. It also takes time to understand what and how much should be shared. In effect, it takes time to determine the appropriate boundaries for the new way of working.
Practically every one of us will have started our lives in communal working environments, our schools are structured that way as are colleges, training centers and universities. So when we enter the workforce we have had a decade plus of communal working, it is what we expect and what we are used to. The majority of workplaces and most work is also structured in the same way, so unless you have had a consulting or gig type of role, it is unlikely you will have spent much of your career working in a stand alone capacity. All that has changed for enormous numbers of members of the workforce with the measures put in place to combat the corona virus pandemic.
Sensible boundaries, happy workers
The saying “good fences make happy neighbors” is as true in the workplace as it is in our communities. Knowing where to draw the line is crucial to establishing and maintaining a comfortable working relationship in a virtual and work from home environment.
Dress to impress
Knowing these boundaries starts with one of the most the simple things, how you turn up to work. Yes you will be working from home, but that doesn’t mean should be working in your pajamas or beach clothes. Even if you are never going to be participating in a video meeting from your home workplace I would still advise that you should dress at a business casual level when you are working from home.
Casual of course means different things to different people but there are definite boundaries between what most of us would wear in public in a work environment and what we would wear during our leisure time. Dressing for work, even working from home, is part of the ritual and sets a mental expectation of working rather than sitting on the couch streaming TV.
Find a place at home to dedicate to work
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a space in their home to set up a home office. Many people will now be trying to have home workplaces for several people in the one residence, parents and children will, in many locations, be fighting for use of the kitchen table. But, wherever possible try to have one place where you work in the home.
Once again, this is part of the ritual of ‘going to work’ but it also establishes boundaries between the work and non work environment, even if that boundary is very slim. Having such a place will mean you feel more like you are at work when you are there, it also means when you take a break you can leave your place of work, even if that means turning from the kitchen table to the refrigerator of kettle. It is a symbolic activity and will help with keeping that all important sense of balance.
Find sensible work/life boundaries
Working from home in a flexible structure such as I have advocated in earlier articles brings another balance challenge, and that is balancing doing the work needed/expected of you against under delivering due to external distractions and over stretching yourself due to, in many cases, working to alleviate the boredom of being home with maybe no more shows to stream and no family to talk to.
Working from home can be a big challenge for a lot of us. There will be periods when you simply can’t find enough time to spend on your work, such as setting up and supporting your children as they begin to study from home or supporting a sick relative. Then at other times, you may find yourself spending way more time on your work and delivering far more than planned as a way to keep yourself occupied and stimulated. Within sensible boundaries, such as those you will need to agree with your supervisor and colleagues, neither of these is particularly bad, as long as you ensure you are also maintaining your personal well being. Again, its a case of balancing over a slightly longer time frame, so working a short week one week and a longer week the next.
Do you really need to talk to everyone?
The final one of the boundaries for this article then is the challenge of compensating for your sense of isolation through constantly reaching out to colleagues. Its very easy when moving to a remote working situation to compensate for the reduction in human contact by filling your diary with phone calls and video meetings. I think many of us will have experienced a huge surge in the number of meetings we were invited to over the first few weeks of working from home.
This coping reaction is likely completely understandable as colleagues try to establish their new ways of working and staying in touch. But, it will become a major productivity challenge if it is maintained for the long term. Personnel will be unable to do their day jobs due to a constant stream of meetings, leading to extra hours of task work and growing fatigue. Once you have your new working arrangements established set some personal boundaries around the number of meetings you will call and those you will attend. Make sure you have sufficient time in your day for the tasks you need to complete alone as well as for the communications you need to participate in to keep your connections to colleagues and engagement with your workplace.