Setting Boundaries for Your Work-from-Home Set Up

Where do you draw the line between your work and home life when working at home?
Check if you have these boundaries in place.

On December 20, 2018, Republic Act No 11165, the New Telecommuting Act was signed into law.  This is also referred to as Work-from-Home Act which seeks to protect the rights of
workers and promote their welfare.  This act allows employees to work in an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunication and/or computer technologies. 

Some companies have given their employees the option to telecommute as they consider it a viable option to avoid the daily Metro Manila traffic gridlock.  Most employers would agree that this new law could be beneficial to their companies and employees.  But since the passage of the telecommuting act on the last month of 2018 until the first two months in 2020, there has only been a gradual adoption from among the employers.  This was not much of an issue since the Department of Labor and Employment came up with the Implementing Rules and Regulations only on March of 2019.  Companies need to come up with their own company policies that would govern this new work arrangement in relation to the IRR.

Current Pandemic

While some organizations were slowly implementing this new work arrangement, an unexpected turn of events surprised the whole nation.  On March 16, 2020, the Philippine President declared the entire Luzon area in the Philippines under “enhanced community quarantine” (ECQ).  In effect, this is considered as a total lockdown, restricting
the movement of the population with exceptions, in response to the growing
pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country.

Companies in Metro Manila and some areas in Luzon were forced to implement the Work from Home arrangement as Employers needed to do their share in helping break the chain of
local coronavirus transmission by considering telecommuting, if and when possible, for their workers.  More employees were now allowed to continue working in their homes. 

With this development, two important questions came to my mind:  First, are companies prepared with their measures for the telecommuting arrangement? And most importantly, are the workers ready to work from home and be as productive as they are in their offices? 

Challenges

I am sure that many of us would agree that one of the advantages of working from home is the freedom to do our office tasks with our own schedules.   Now, don’t get me wrong,
this is not to say that we are pertaining to freedom to work less than the number of hours required by the company.  Freedom here can also mean working longer hours than we should because we do not have to leave the office and commute, thus we can continue to work
after hours.  

Staying home also give us the freedom to spend more time with our loved ones and give them the help and attention they need.  However, one truth that we should realize though is that whatever way we look at this advantage, it has always an accompanying challenge.

The challenge here is how and when to stop thinking about work. Yes, we can spend more time with our families, but admittedly, that freedom can be a source of distraction.  And
yes, there is no need for us to allot time for our daily commute which gives us more freedom to work longer hours, but that makes it more difficult for us to transition mentally to and from work.

Create Boundaries

So what do we need to do?  We need to create boundaries.  The boundaries are our rules.  No one will tell us when to stop working or how to do our work. Because we understand ourselves, we will be ones to create these rules. Boundaries about working from home not only help us to be more productive but also avoid the pitfalls of too much freedom.   As we come up with the rules, we have to make sure that everyone in the household, including us, are safe with the system.  After all, we are in the best position to know how to help ourselves to stay productive. 

So at this point, let me share with you a number of practices that I have learned over some time while working from home for several years.  I believe that before we set up our desks or workplaces at home, we need to condition our minds and bodies. And in doing so, I would like to start by specifically establishing some rules to help us overcome some challenges in a work-from-home arrangement. 

1. Create a clear beginning and end time.1.

One of the common issues that people experience while working from home is the inability to disconnect oneself mentally, emotionally and physically from work.  This particularly happens when we do not have boundaries.  We say that working from home gives us the freedom to spend more time with our loved ones, but for many people, rather than working less hours, they tend to work more, sometimes, even working endlessly. 

We need to have a change of mind-set.  We should not be running on a continuous treadmill, we need to get into the mind-set of a race, where there is a start and a finish line.  Working at home gives us flexibility of time as most of us are not given schedules by our companies.  So with freedom and flexibility, let us make a conscious choice about our working hours and then stick to them.  

2. Set up your transition time.

For many of us, scheduling and obliging ourselves to our work’s starting time may not be that difficult.  We can set a rule that we will start at 8 in the morning. We know how much sleep we need, we tell ourselves what time to wake up each day, have breakfast and prepare before we start at 8am.  We can be fairly consistent with our schedule in the morning.  This establishes when your workday begins. 

The more challenging step is creating your end time.  At what time should you turn off your brain and stop thinking of your work? Let’s say you end at 5 in the afternoon.  From 8 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon is an 8-hour work time which can considerably and legally be enough.   That means that after 5:00, you should no longer be any work-related activity.  However, this can be unrealistic.  You may find it difficult to stop.  At times, because you did not notice the time, or you say, anyway, there isn’t anything else to do, so what’s a few more hours. Until it becomes a recurring habit. 

Transition Time

You see, when we work from home, we lack the natural transition that those who travel to work have, a commute. As burdensome as the traffic may be in our nation, the travel time from the office to home gives us the ability to decompress and stop thinking about work. So, since we are working from home, we have to create our own mental travel time, which we call
our transition time.

For example, I start my work at 8:00 in the morning and have set my end time for work at 5:30 in the afternoon every day.  My transition time is 30 minutes before my finish time, giving me half an hour to detach myself from work.  During my transition time, I watch a Netflix
television series or go out for a brisk walk along the village. These activities give signals to my mind and body that it is time to stop work.   The most important thing here is to have 
control over my schedule. By establishing a transition time, you have greater focus and greater ability to be productive. 

3. Provide yourself with a haven.

Some people say that unless they’ve finished their tasks, they cannot afford to have fun.  Others would try, but would be left feeling guilty about it. But, how many of you would agree that having fun is one of the essentials to a work from home arrangement?   Science says that when individuals do something relaxing, our bodies release a natural dopamine that motivates and pushes us to do bigger things.  By taking fun, meaningful breaks, our performance improves over time. So we need to make it a top priority on a consistent basis.  Let us provide ourselves with a break each day, we can call it our haven, wherein we recharge ourselves. 

Haven

Provide a 15 to 20 minutes of haven once every 2 hours of work.  That will be 1 in the morning and another one in the afternoon.  A lunch break is a must since it is important that we eat for energy to be more productive.  While in your moment haven, do any meaningful activity, something that you can benefit from. Do not be guilty about it and do not take your havens for granted.  Strictly observe your schedules.  

4. Agree on a commitment with your family.

An additional challenge to a work-from-home set up, is when you have families or loved ones living with you. Some have children or parents living with them.  With the so-called extended families in one home as part of the Filipino culture, one can only imagine the number of people in one roof.  You care for them, you want to be there for them when they need you.  The freedom of working from home allows you to give them the time they ask from you.  Remember, though, that this can be a source of distraction.  Now, it is very important that when you set boundaries for yourself relating to freedom, you must be sure that you involve the members of the household. Start by discussing that work schedule with loved ones. Have a smooth conversation with them and be ready to make some adjustments to also accommodate their needs. 

Your goal is to come up with an agreement in terms of when you will start and stop working.  When you will be available to them.  And in sealing that agreement, make and honor your commitment.  When they see how much you respect the agreement you had with them, they will also do the same thing.

Conclusion

For employees, working from home is a great opportunity, but there could be a lot of challenges. With so many demands on our time and attention from our families, not to mention the twists of events everyday due to the current pandemic, it may be difficult for
most of us to stay focused.   It’s actually a complex balancing act to stay productive.  That is why, we have to remember that the solution to every challenges of having freedom is to create boundaries. That may seem restraining, but what is nice about these boundaries is that we create them ourselves.

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