How to Set Work-Life Boundaries When You Work From Home
I’ve worked remotely on and off for five years—and our entire staff here at Skillcrush is remote. Our employees live all over the world and are scattered across timezones, but part of the culture here is about flexibility and working from wherever you want.
Working from home has plenty of perks: flexibility, an office designed specifically for you, more hours in your day (since you can skip the commute), and the ability to cook yourself a fancy lunch that would never survive the office microwave. For some members of our team, working from home is the key piece that allows them to have balance in their lives, especially when it comes to things like spending time with partners, friends, or kids. But without some serious boundaries, working from home means the office can easily seep into your life and make you feel totally unhinged.
In order to stay sharp and happy working from home, you’ll need to institute some home office rules and routines. These tips from the Skillcrush staff will help keep your productivity firing and make sure you actually get the work/life balance that working from home promises.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
Mark my words—if you don’t have a dedicated work space, your entire house will end up becoming the workspace. You’ll spend your time digging through the spice drawer for those contracts you misplaced, you’ll find invoices in your couch cushions, and you’ll reach for a hair brush but pull out a stapler from the drawer in the bathroom.
Treat yourself when it comes to making that office. Go for the standing desk and anti-fatigue mat now that you aren’t constrained by some department’s measly budget. The point isn’t to recreate a corporate office, but to create one that works best for you.
Conventional wisdom says to have a workspace completely separate from your life, but if you’re a person who wants to work on the couch or in bed—go wild. Work in the bathtub for all I care. (Don’t bring the computer. Please and thank you). The entire point of working from home is to have a flexible working environment, and maybe a desk isn’t for you. But the spirit of this is still the same—get some filing cabinets and shelves for the various working detritus that builds up. For all the technology in the world, I’ve never seen a person able to do their job with just a laptop and no accompanying buildup of random crap.
Also note that remote work doesn’t necessarily mean working in your house. You might find that working from home gets lonely after a while, so consider a long-term solution for working outside the house. It might mean trying out the local coffee shops until you find one with easily accessible outlets and comfy chairs or checking out a coworking space near you. It’s up to you to find your balance—maybe you only work out of the house one day a week. You do you.
Set Your Hours
Flexibility is obviously a key benefit of working from home, and no one is arguing that your hours need to be the 9-5 you’d see as a traditional workplace. But even if you prefer to work from 11:00 to 1:00, take a break, and start back up around 5:00 for another few hours, it’s a good idea to put that on your calendar—and stick to it. Otherwise, it’s simply too easy to have your work bleed into your home life.
If you’re a freelancer, this is super easy: Designate working and personal hours (and a decent night’s—or day’s—sleep) on whatever calendar you use. If you don’t tend to work during normal business hours, block out a few weekly hours of work time during daylight that you can reserve for client meetings.
If you’re part of a remote team, suggest your coworkers take their cue from the Skillcrush crew. We keep a spreadsheet of everyone’s hours, so we can schedule meetings when we’re all awake (this is especially helpful since we’re all over the world) and so we know not to bother someone when they’re off the clock.
And if you use a chat app like Slack or Hipchat, be sure to set yourself as away or unavailable when you’re off the clock (or better yet, sign out entirely).
Take a Lunch Break
On the calendar note: Schedule your lunch break. Without a group of coworkers heading out to eat or even a line at the breakroom microwave, it can be easy to forget to stop for a meal. Block out your lunch break (or some type of meal break), and schedule your work around it. Sure, things should feel relaxed and flexible at home, but feeding yourself is nonnegotiable.
Take Your Days Off Seriously
When your home doubles as your office, it’s easy to sit down on a weekend to “just do one quick thing” and suddenly your “day off” has disappeared. Yes, sometimes working on the weekends (whatever days your weekend consists of) is necessary, but taking time off to recharge can do more for your mental health—not to mention productivity and energy levels—than you might realize.
Try to find at least one day a week where you unplug from work completely. Don’t answer emails, don’t check in, and definitely don’t walk by your home office space.
It seems like the whole water cooler thing is a pop culture exaggeration, but as anyone who’s worked in an office can tell you, the coffee bar/flavored water jug/soda machine is the best spot to chat with coworkers.
The other benefit of water cooler meetups is that they remind you to drink water during the day. (I’ve never been as well hydrated as the year I worked with two utter gossips who invited me to twice daily summits in the kitchen.) In the absence of an office watering hole, keep a big water bottle on your desk and sip it throughout the day. Get the office gossip on Slack.
Put Some Clothes On
On that vein of separating your home and work life—put some work clothes on. Now, that hardly means a power suit and a full face of makeup. Your work uniform can be yoga pants, a slouchy tee, or a onesie—as long as it’s not what you slept in. In fact, more power to you if your wardrobe is filled with the world’s comfiest work sweats. Just make sure you own at least one decent looking shirt to wear for video meetings.
Find Your Work Rituals
At a typical office, you’d have your mug. Maybe one of your weird coworkers would try to steal it because it has the biggest handle and you’d have to awkwardly confront him about it. Dude. Give me back my mug.
While you probably don’t have to fight anyone for a mug when you work from home, a surprising tip is to have a designated work mug. It’s another way to set boundaries—if I go to grab just any mug from the kitchen, I’ll do the dishes. Then I’ll vacuum. I’ll notice the fridge could use a cleaning. There goes the morning.
This isn’t about a mug. It’s about a ritual that is work-specific, not house-specific. Maybe your mug is your pens or a hat you put on. For me, the mug signals that it’s time to get to work, not that I’m having my weekend morning coffee and reading the paper.
Fake a Commute
I do not miss my commute one bit. Weaving my car through traffic or cramming in with strangers on the subway were not to my liking. But I do miss having the dedicated time to read, listen to a podcast, or zone out.
I also realized that once I started working from home, I could easily go from my desk area to my kitchen to cook dinner to my table to eat to my couch to watch a movie to bed, and suddenly three days had gone by and I hadn’t left the house. (Don’t judge.) That made me feel like a total prisoner in my own home.
I have an easy solution: I fake a commute. I take a quick walk in the mornings before I sign online and a longer one in the afternoon once I’m done for the day. I might listen to podcasts or audiobooks or just turn my brain off for a bit while my legs take over. It also serves as the transition between work and my personal life. When I come home from my evening walk, I leave my work outside and switch into home mode.
Practice Saying No
Inexplicably, most people seem to mistake working from home for “funemployment.” Anyone who works from home is used to the endless requests for favors during the work day. Yes, your work-from-home job might be flexible, but you might also be expected to observe the exact same hours as the rest of your team, so practice the following: “No, I can’t pick you up from the airport/watch your kid/attend your community theater matinee. I’m happy to once I’m off work!”
Find Your WFH Community
Working from home doesn’t mean you have to constantly work in solitude. Try setting up coworking days with friends who also work from home—maybe once a month. You can even make an event out of it, like spending the first half of the day on usual work and the second half of the day taking an online course together, workshopping your portfolios, or generally investing in your careers.
Want more information on what it takes to work remotely? Check out the Ultimate Guide to Getting a Remote Job You Love for everything you need to know about landing that remote dream job.