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Boundaries for Working at Home

Written by: Stephen Walters, M.Div., M.A.
Boundaries for Working at Home

Before COVID changed everything in 2020, some people worked from home. Before COVID affected our work environment, many never wanted to work from home. Now, working from home is more common and accepted. According to the US census data, the number of people working from home in 2019 was roughly 6%. In 2021, it was more than 18%. Research also points to numbers that show roughly a quarter of companies are 100% remote. So, remote work has become more prevalent, and increases in technology should only continue a trend of increasing these numbers.

While working from home has many benefits (no commuting, saving money on gas and car maintenance, more schedule flexibility, etc.) there are a few drawbacks. We often ignore the “cons” because we feel we should only focus on the “pros.” Since we live in a both/and world, let’s talk about how to address the “cons” while being thankful for the “pros.”

The biggest con is that we lose a level of boundaries. Working at home can give us the impression that we can always work, blur the lines of taking breaks, and open the door to response to emails/phone calls 24/7. And yet, if we work in an office, we feel more comfortable with boundaries. So, let’s look at a few suggestions for creating boundaries at home.

One, schedule breaks. At an office, you likely would take lunch. Do not just make eating on your workstation the default plan. Schedule a non-negotiable time to eat each day. Block it on outlook and leave your workstation. Sit at the kitchen table, put on some music, or allow yourself to watch a YouTube video. Maybe take your meal outside if the weather is nice. No matter what, make a complete break from work lunch the norm. Also, schedule times for a 10-15 break to grab coffee, go for a short walk, or interact with others in the house.

Two, check out from work at the end of the day. When you log off for the day, turn out the lights and close the door to your workspace (if you can). Go outside and take a short walk or drive your car around the neighborhood. Then, when you come back into your house, imagine you are home, and not returning to the place where you work. Change your clothes as a way to signal you are in home mode and not work mode. That is an important boundary.

Three, set limits on after-hours work. Just because you can jump back on for a “few minutes” in the evening doesn’t mean you should or even that you need to. If that is something you can’t do when you work in an office, it should be something you don’t do when you work at home. I get that sometimes there are deadlines. But make events like that the exception and not the rule.

I think if you can be intentional with these three things (scheduling breaks, checking out, and keeping limits), you can experience the freedom that healthy boundaries provide. What ways have you found to manage boundaries that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to know. Please email me at swalters@summitcounseling.org so I can use your ideas to help others!