Setting Work Boundaries in a Virtual Era

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Are you working from home?

There is a high probability that you are either working from home or doing some form of online communication and/or work. Prior to covid, many of us were already struggling to set boundaries with the constant general notion that email and text equaled 24-hour access to someone. We are all probably guilty of this, too. Have you emailed someone or sent a text and then got slightly frustrated when a few hours went by and you are still awaiting a reply?

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Somewhere down the line, the expectation changed to being constantly available with the introduction of more technological advancements. Sadly, you may be seeing your child more but you may also be spending more time staring at screens and saying:

“Not now, sweetie. mommy needs to respond to this real fast and then I will be free.”

If this has happened to you on multiple or many occasions, especially after the working hours, it may be time to implement boundaries. As someone who is an educator and in health care, I have started to set more boundaries with students and those I interact and work with. I am also trying to be more conscious of when I contact and expect a reply from others. Here are some tips that have helped me:

Set a schedule.

Set a schedule and try the best you can to stick to it. Sure, some deadlines occasionally pop up or maybe something that urgently needs your attention, but make sure these are few and far between moments. If you decide that after 5 p.m., you are switching to mom and wife mode, do it. Hold yourself accountable just as you would to get to work on time. We all know, even when it is hard, that those under our roof are the number one priority. If you work hard in your career, colleagues should understand and appreciate that, too. If not, it may be time to re-evaluate your career. Put the phone in a basket and step away; any issues that occur between now and the next working day most likely can wait.

Give others timeframes.

So you know you do not want to be spending the evening reading emails or taking on extra projects. Make sure to voice this to others. In my case, I make sure to let students know that when they send me an email they can expect a reply within 24 to no more than 48 hours (weekends not included in this timeframe). I tell them if it is more urgent than this, they may call me but to please be respectful concerning the hours they do call. Generally, nothing warrants a call at 10 p.m. I always make sure to have reasonable availability but also set some healthy boundaries. Most people are respectful of this when expectations are made clear.

Keep a time log.

Are you a salaried worker but now you feel you are putting in a lot of overtime? Start keeping a time log of your work habits. Responding to emails, staying up late or getting up to start early… these are easy traps to fall into when working from home. Do you feel there has been an increase in meetings on top of the same expected work? I know during this difficult time many are thankful to have a job and do not want to rock the boat. But we must remember, it’s a slippery slope and often the more you give, the more that’s expected of you. This is not to say to not put in your full effort or seek enjoyment of your career, but to simply know your worth and advocate when your mental health is declining and you are losing a good work-life balance.

Take breaks.

Do not forget to take breaks! I have listened to friends talk about working from sun up to sun down in their homes without stopping to step outside and get some fresh air. Take a break, take a step back. Make sure you are not being scheduled in meetings when you should be grabbing lunch. Working from home should not equate to eating your lunch at your computer. Walk away for a break. I know many of us struggled with this prior to covid. I see you, healthcare workers (and many other hard-working folks)!

Be assertive.

You can be assertive without being rude or disrespectful. You are simply advocating for yourself. Find the courage to have those difficult conversations if you feel the workload is compromising your mental health. If you are respectful and make it known that you want to give it your all, but need some flexibility during these times of working from home, schooling from home, or working in a public environment during a pandemic, there should be some level of understanding with your place of work. I know not all are understanding, this is when you self reflect and come up with a plan that will at least let you set some boundaries.

Implement self-care.

I know we are all stressed out, and the term “self-care” is pretty loose anymore. I mean, if a momma gets to take a shower, it’s considered self-care and a luxury versus a basic need. BUT we do need to make sure we are taking the time to take care of ourselves. Take your vitamins, drink plenty of water, take a nice warm bubble bath, read a book, or just try to get a moment of alone time to meditate. Whatever works for you, fight to get it. Because you have earned every moment of it.

Whatever you do during this time, take care of yourself and your family. It is a difficult time for many, so be kind to yourself.