For many people, working from home has gone from a temporary fix in an emergency to something longer term, and which may even become permanent, at least some of the time. The potential benefits are obvious. It’s cheaper for employers, and for employees there’s less time travelling, and more flexibility and control over your time. It could also be very good for the environment.
Issues with working from home
However, there are a few obvious issues. For example, not having a proper separate place to do your work, and often then being disturbed by your partner also working from home. Or maybe your kids need help with school work, or just more of your love and attention. In addition to these, there is also a potentially serious issue with not setting boundaries with your employer.
From things that clients have said to me it seems that many employers are taking the fact that employees are working from home as a green light to expect them to be constantly available.
Those of us who have work are also acutely aware of how lucky we are, and therefore more reluctant to ‘rock the boat’ . If you’re freelance, that may mean you are reluctant to negotiate on pay and conditions. If you’re employed you may fear that your job will be at risk if you don’t bend over backwards.
But, particularly if this situation is likely to continue, it is essential that we stay balanced and conscious and don’t paint ourselves into corners that we may later find it hard to extricate ourselves from.
We often teach people how to treat us by what we allow them to do.
Of course, there’s a reality that if you need work, you may need to accept worse conditions, but it is usually the case that we teach people how to treat us by what we allow them to do.
If you respond to emails in the evening, people will assume that it is fine to email you then and to expect an answer, and this may then creep into expecting you to finish off work in the evening and so on. Before you know it you will be in a position that you resent and feel angry or guilty about.
This is bad news for your stress levels, bad news for your poor family if they’re cooped up with you, and even bad news for your working relationship because resentment has a way of sneaking out in little barbed comments and other passive aggressive ways.
Work out your ‘non negotiables’.
Work out in the most dispassionate way you can what your ‘non negotiables’ are. As I mentioned, you may feel you need to be more flexible at this time than you might be otherwise. That’s fine, but you still need to be aware of where the boundaries are or they are quite likely to get pushed beyond what you can cope with.
Once you’ve set your limits, you need to communicate them clearly. This is where it’s vital to not to be too passive, ‘I’m really sorry, but could we possibly not…’ or on the other hand too aggressive (or passive aggressive) as a result of all that resentment having built up.
Be polite, warm and friendly, but clear.
If you find it hard to say no, try giving yourself a bit more time to respond. Don’t answer the email immediately, or say you need to check your diary, or talk to your partner. Whatever will buy you enough time to measure the request against your non negotiables.
Expect some pushback
If you have always been a pushover, you can expect that people will push back and try a bit harder to get you to give in. This doesn’t mean they’re angry with you, or think you’re unreasonable, they’re just used to you always being available. Ultimately, they are likely to respect you more for setting boundaries, and you’ll be nicer to work with anyway.