How to Stay Happy and Productive While Working From Home
The key to working from home is mastering work-home boundary management tactics.
Posted December 17, 2020 | Reviewed by Matt Huston
Struggling to avoid disruptions while working from home? You're not alone.
Pre-COVID, 2.5% of U.S. employees worked from home. At the height of the pandemic, this number peaked at 42%. And now, many employers are implementing a permanent work-from-home option. This aligns with a recent study suggesting that 37% of U.S. jobs can easily be done from home. It would appear that work-from-home options are here to stay.
For some, this is the first time they’ve worked from home. For others, this is the first time they’ve worked from home full-time. Given this backdrop, it’s important to think about how well you’re doing at managing your work-home boundaries.
You can take an assessment called “Managing Work-Home Boundaries" to see how you stack up. This 12-question assessment is free, validated, and theoretically grounded. Your assessment will automatically generate your scores and a comparison to your peers.
Integration Versus Segmentation
The first step in managing work-home boundaries is understanding where you fall along the integration-segmentation continuum.
- Integrators enjoy the dynamic and fluid nature of going back-and-forth between work and non-work tasks. Integrators are better suited for working from home and feel more efficient as they simultaneously make progress in both domains.
- Segmenters prefer to keep clear boundaries between work and home domains. Without proactive work-home boundary management, segmenters struggle when working from home and commonly cite feeling frustrated and distracted when work and home domains are intermixed.
- Context-Dependent. Note that many will find themselves somewhere between these two extremes. This means that preferences for integration or segmentation are context-dependent. Those in the middle should pinpoint the domain-specific circumstances where they prefer one approach or the other.
There are several ways to manage your work-home boundaries to ensure that you maintain your desired amount of segmentation.
- Using Technology. Consider using separate email accounts (or email filtering), scheduling software that blocks off work and family time, automated responses (via text, email, Slack, or the like), and status messages to retain work-home boundaries.
- Disruption Allowance. Decide in advance for which activities in each domain you are and are not welcoming minor disruptions. For example, perhaps work meetings are the only time you won’t allow home-related interruptions. During family time, perhaps you'll only field calls from your supervisor, but everything else gets screened for urgency and importance.
- Physical Boundaries. Where we sit matters. To the extent possible, create spaces that are off-limits to family and, in the longer term, seek several locations outside of the home where you can comfortably get work done. For example, coworking spaces are becoming ubiquitous, and it might be worth the investment.
There are two time-related tactics that can help maintain segmentation preferences.
- Blocking Off Time. Experiment with blocking off days and timeframes where a specific type of work or home domain activity will be completed. Make it clear to colleagues at work, and family and friends at home, that those timeframes are non-negotiable.
- Maintaining Equilibrium. This tactic entails balancing out the amount of time you spend in the work and home domains across a longer period of time than the traditional 24-hour timeframe. Many employees, for example, accommodate for early morning or late afternoon childcare transitions by working during designated times on the weekends. Relatedly, may employees take extended vacations after dolling out extra hours during a spike in seasonal work demands.
All of the tactics discussed thus far are dependent on how well you communicate the rationale behind your decisions.
- Managing Expectations. Don’t assume that colleagues or family members will know your work-home boundary intentions. You don’t have to broadcast your personal situation to colleagues. Keep it clear and simple. When managing expectations at home, explain why you’re employing certain tactics. Make sure they understand that you’re managing boundaries so that you can be present and fully available during non-work hours.
- Discussing Violations. It’s inevitable that your work-home boundary preferences will be violated. It’s in these moments where you ultimately determine whether your tactics will flourish or flop. This is the hardest part of the process. Stick up for yourself, but be sure to be empathetic and reasonable while doing so.
In many ways working in an office is easier when it comes to work-home boundary management. The physical distance does much of the work for us. But now, as we transition towards more opportunities to work from home, it’s our responsibility to figure out how to do it right.
Start by thinking through your integration-segmentation preferences, and then start experimenting with the aforementioned tactics. Keep in mind that it’s likely to be an ongoing experiment, not a black-and-white, one-time solution. Continue to take ownership of your time and space. You deserve it.
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Kreiner, G. E. (2006). Consequences of work‐home segmentation or integration: A person‐environment fit perspective. Journal of Organizational Behavior: The International Journal of Industrial, Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Behavior, 27(4), 485-507.
Kreiner, G. E., Hollensbe, E. C., & Sheep, M. L. (2009). Balancing borders and bridges: Negotiating the work-home interface via boundary work tactics. Academy of Management Journal, 52(4), 704-730.
Rothbard, N. P., Phillips, K. W., & Dumas, T. L. (2005). Managing multiple roles: Work-family policies and individuals’ desires for segmentation. Organization Science, 16(3), 243-258.