Protecting Boundaries in Remote Work Settings

December 21, 2022

Protecting Boundaries in Remote Work Settings

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”—Brene Brown

Remote work has given us plenty of benefits: better well-being because of flexibility; more time with our family or loved ones; less stress over having to commute to work; and even a lessened environmental impact by reducing our carbon footprint. But as with all good things, it comes with some cons of its own, mainly the blurring of work-life boundaries.

Our minds are wired to crave physical separation for seemingly unrelated things such as work and family time. 

The simple act of getting out of the house and going to your car, walking, or riding the bus or train to commute to work has profound effects on our mental health. One, you get to see the sun, and light triggers the necessary hormones that help regulate our moods, body clocks, and sleep. Two, you get some time to wind down and listen to a podcast, audiobook, or music; catch up with your friends or family; or just look at the scenery.

Although many people are also working during the commute, it occasionally provides us with the much-needed downtime to unwind and divert our attention from our stressors, whether they are at work, at home, or in our interpersonal relationships.

The rising adoption of working remotely has blurred those lines, confusing our brains. Studies also show that people who work remotely are prone to working nearly endless hours, checking work emails when they are already in bed, answering phone calls while taking care of their kids, or even sneaking a quick video call meeting while on vacation. One of the downsides of technology and being more connected is that we are accessible to anyone at what feels like any time. 

Setting boundaries is essential. It is an act of self-care, and it prevents you from burning out by overstretching yourself. Besides, we can’t show up 100% for the things that are important to us if we are stretched too thin or running on empty.

With remote work slowly becoming the norm, how can we better protect our boundaries? And how can we help those we lead to protect their own boundaries?

Identifying boundaries

We all differ in what we believe in, are capable of, and what we absolutely cannot let slide. Some of it is personal preference that comes in spectrums. That’s why it is important to identify your limits, your ideal settings, and your tolerance for all things in between.

Physical boundaries

A popular piece of advice for setting physical boundaries when you are working remotely is to have a dedicated office space. At home, you can set up your own home office (or desk), preferably with walls if your space allows it. 

For people who are on the go, a mobile office (a briefcase with the minimum supplies and references you need and a dedicated work laptop) might be the next best thing.

Having this dedicated space specifically for work helps put your mind at ease and sends a clear signal: when you are in that space, you are in work mode.

Time and energy boundaries

Others enjoy time blocking. During the specific hours set, they are going to focus only on these related tasks and will not stop until they (1) finish the task or (2) the time is up. There are plenty of other time-management techniques and tools that are popular, such as the Pomodoro method, “eat the frog” (doing the hard, unwanted, or time-consuming tasks first), or snowball method (getting the small, less energy- and time-consuming tasks out of the way first).

Pick what works best for you, taking into account the type of work you do and your energy levels throughout the day. Make sure to schedule your breaks too! Taking breaks is not lazy—it is a sustainable way of being productive.

Emotional boundaries

Being professional doesn’t mean throwing emotions out of the equation. We are humans. In a remote work environment, we all encounter various circumstances on a daily basis. When we are stressed or frustrated, we react, and that's okay.

We all react differently to situations, and we all have our own way of managing our emotions in a professional setting. It is imperative that you recognize your emotional boundaries at work and consider alternative, more beneficial approaches to handling stressful situations. 

Mental boundaries

We all come from different backgrounds and have been raised in unique environments. That’s why we all have our own set of thought patterns, personal beliefs, and value systems. No matter how diverse or homogenous our workplaces might be, we all think differently.

Know what your values are, and identify which beliefs and principles are non-negotiable for you.

Protecting boundaries

When you’ve identified and set your boundaries, it is time to protect them.

Communicate your boundaries clearly with your team. Be as specific as you can. This helps to avoid future miscommunications, improves accountability, and maintain harmonious relationships during healthy debates and dispute resolution.

Stick to your boundaries, and don’t apologize for them. Doing so tells people that it is okay to disrespect your boundaries, and there are a lot of people out there who will take advantage of that. Inversely, make sure to respect the boundaries others have set too.

When we communicate our boundaries clearly, we are able to find a way to co-exist and collaborate in a way that benefits each of us and the team as a whole.

Another way to protect your boundaries is by knowing when and to whom to delegate tasks. Sometimes the best person to do a task is not you, and it is okay to admit that.

Lastly, know your priorities. When opportunities come at work, it is sometimes difficult to say “no” to them. Always ask yourself whether this opportunity is something that drives you closer to your goals. If the answer is no, then it is just consuming precious time and energy that you could devote to your other priorities.

Respecting our boundaries helps us take care of our mental and physical health and our overall well-being. When we fail to protect those boundaries, we can suffer from burnout, which is more difficult to address and recover from.

Life is a series of choices. Good boundary management means making those choices and enjoying them. Yes, we all want to succeed, but it is better to do it sustainably, without sacrificing the things that matter to us. And protecting those boundaries is our personal responsibility.

Thanks for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”