Boundary Setting During a Pandemic

While the recent mass experiment in remote working has yielded many benefits in terms of productivity, it has also led to an increase in burnout, with many workers finding it hard to know when to stop working and start decompressing.

While many were already experiencing these difficulties thanks to always-on smartphone access, the absence of commuting has left many without a clear boundary between working hours and personal time. As many of us contemplate a hybrid working future, how can we establish new, clear boundaries?

Reframe the working day for everyone. The traditional working model is based on everyone being available at the same time – but for a hybrid model to work, we need to recognise that people will be available at different, overlapping times. To accommodate this, some organisations may wish to specify “core hours” where everyone is available for collaboration, or at a team level, people may specify their online and offline hours.

Respect others’ working hours. While hybrid working allows us to work outside traditional working hours, we need to respect the fact that others might not be doing the same. Calls, emails and meeting requests out of hours – especially if sent by senior team members – can put pressure on people to work at times when they should be taking time out. In light of this, it’s worth encouraging people to – especially managers – focus on solo projects when working outside core hours and leave collaboration and communication for times when everyone is available.

Give people permission to be unavailable. Encourage good rest hygiene by ensuring that people make full use of ‘do not disturb’ features and absence notifications. Employees should also be encouraged to uninstall work-related apps from their devices – or at least mute notifications – when on leave. If burnout is a particular problem, you might also consider more extreme measures like automatically deleting any emails sent during evenings or weekends.

Above all, it’s important to reward people for having healthy boundaries. Employees are unlikely to maintain their boundaries if your organisation routinely rewards those who have none. This means taking a long, hard look at any correlations between, for example, overtime and promotions and ensure that everyone sees flexible workers with strong boundaries rewarded and valued at all levels of your organisation.

Want to know more about how to maintain and role model boundary setting at your organisation? Contact Anna to find out more.