It feels like everything that can be said about working from home been said at this point. We all know the drill: Establish a routine, make time for self-care, take advantage of free workout classes and meditation resources, and try to make every day not seem quite so like Groundhog Day. But what about the actual work part of working from home?
I don’t know about you, but at least for me, working from home has been an entirely different beast than working from the office.
I’m lucky enough to have a relatively healthy work-life balance. I don’t have my work email on my phone, so I quite effectively leave work in the office after an eight-hour workday and decompress on my commute home. But now, those boundaries that I’ve so carefully erected have come crashing down. My office is in my bedroom. My phone and laptop are my office phone and office laptop. And my eight-hour workday has become a twelve-hour workday.
My colleagues often contact me outside of work hours, and as one of the most junior members of our team—junior not only by age (I’m easily half the age of the youngest of my older colleagues) but also by education—I have found it difficult to establish boundaries. After all, if my mid-career colleagues with three children can find time for a 10 PM work call on short, ten-minute notice, what excuse do I, a relatively recent college graduate, have? But a large part of the reason I’m successful at my job is because of my strict routine and work-life balance. Without the latter, I wind up crawling into bed, anxious I may receive a call from my boss and wake up anticipating the emails I missed overnight.
After a week of this, exacerbated by my anxiety that a lack of sleep was rendering my immune system useless if I were to contract an illness, I decided that enough was enough. It didn’t matter that I was young—I deserved to have boundaries even while working from home and those boundaries needed to be respected. Specifically, the following three tips helped me establish boundaries with my senior work colleagues.
1. Make your working hours known.
I made two assumptions when I started to work from home. First, I figured my office hours of 7 AM to 3 PM would carry into the home, and second, I thought my colleagues and bosses would judge my work ethic at home based on my online availability. I don’t think either of these assumptions is unrealistic, but given that my team has never worked from home, I realized I needed to be more clear about when I was working.
Since each member of my team already sends out an e-mail every morning, I decided to add onto that by sending out a quick, “Good morning!” check-in, so people would know when I began working and followed it up by sending a message into our group chat that I would be logging off for the day, unless anyone else had any additional work I needed to complete. This allowed me to feel confident that I wasn’t missing any vital work once I logged off and allowed my colleagues to know when to expect me to be available for calls and meetings, as well.
2. Initiate one-on-one conversations.
Another key component was initiating one-on-one conversations with specific colleagues I worked with more than others. In these conversations, I would mention that I was getting into a routine while working from home by ensuring that I worked only eight hours a day and would even outline my schedule, talking about when I took a lunch break or a tea break so that my colleagues knew that I was still working eight hours, despite the additional breaks that came with working from home.
These conversations also allowed them to understand why a routine was so integral to my success on the job and better respect the boundaries I erected instead of overlooking them.
3. Be direct about your needs.
Finally, it became vital for me to broadcast my needs to my colleagues during this time, at least regarding news consumption. I work for a finance company, and part of my job entails staying on top of the coronavirus response that multiple countries are taking. At times, however, this led to a news spiral that only furthered my anxiety and stress. As such, I needed to establish boundaries regarding how much news was necessary for me to consume to do my job well while also keeping a distance from sensationalist articles. No one on my team had even thought about how news consumption may have been impacting our mental health and personal lives, and I found that speaking up allowed other colleagues of mine to come forward themselves.
Ultimately, it’s not easy to establish boundaries with senior colleagues. Especially when they control the purse strings and the current economic situation is precarious. But my mental health needed to take precedence if I wanted to be an effective member of my team, and luckily, my team has been open to my needs and respected my boundaries. It helps that I reinforce these rules every day with daily messages about my schedule and availability.
I hope these tips help others to work from home more effectively! I want to be clear that, ideally, people should not be expected to be productive during this time. If you are able to, take this time for yourself. Unfortunately, I know that there are many others in the same boat that I am, where this global pandemic has increased their workload and by working from home, it seems that work takes over every aspect of our lives. Moreover, there are many senior members of teams and bosses, like my own, who are effective while in the office but unfortunately do not have experience leading while working from home and are unaware they’re violating boundaries necessary for their employees. As such, if you are forced to be productive at this time, I hope it’s within the confines of boundaries that allow you to work most efficiently and safely.
Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.
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