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Telework — Managing Your Boundaries

As we start the Second Annual Telework Week today, it’s a good time to think about boundaries and the challenge of how we create a boundary between the professional and the personal when we work at home. The most obvious boundary can be created by the space in which we work. A home office, for those lucky enough to have one, can provide a separation from family activities. But we all need a psychological boundary as well, a way of keeping work time from bleeding into our personal time and crowding out the other part of our identity. If we don’t define these boundaries, the enhancements in employee engagement, performance, and productivity that we seek will not be realized. More than that, we risk creating discouraged, resentful employees who feel that they are always “on the clock.”

As a study by Dr. Carolyn Axtell shows, this is the “dark side” of telework. Her recommendations to help mobile workers minimize this threat to their well-being include:

  • Focus on non-work activities that allow you to really detach from work during downtime
  • Develop a strong work-home boundary
  • Find ways to relax using meditation, music, or whatever works best for you

And it’s not just the responsibility of the individual teleworker to address this challenge. It’s the responsibility of the organization as well. Her recommendations for the organization include:

  • Enhance employee control over how time is managed
  • Provide technology to support work processes and collaboration
  • Reduce expectations for long hours and endorse the concept of boundaries

Check out Dr. Axtell’s study, The Well-being of the Mobile Workforce here. And take a stand for your own boundaries: define them, communicate them, and commit to making them work for you.

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Lindsay M. Aaronson

Getting dressed in the morning and following my routine just as if I am going to work helps. And instead of commuting for an hour, I enjoy my coffee and the morning news. Then it’s onto my laptop and it’s like I am at work. I have a home office but if that is lacking, I used to sit at my kitchen table – away from bed, away from the tv, etc. I also set a time to go to the kitchen for my lunch break. It works well for me, and I love not having the commute!

My office is participating in a mass telework day on Wednesday of this week and I am really excited to see how it pans out.

Andrew Krzmarzick

As a seven-year, full-time teleworker, I can say with certainty that this is the most important issue for an individual to address in telework. It’s not being disciplined enough to get things done – I find it far harder to get stuff done in an office. The key is setting these boundaries.

One thing I’d add is that it’s important to stand up frequently and get the blood circulating in your legs. I find that I could be sitting for 2-3 hours at home (not so at the office), which isn’t good for our health. I’ve also started using a box on my desk to work while standing for about 45 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon. Good, related article on the danger of sitting too much:


Debbie Hopkins

Andy, I know what you mean. When I worked in an office I frequently got up and “took a lap” around the building to stretch my legs, but now that I work from home, I sometimes get so buried in my work that I don’t come up for air for hours. I have to remind myself to take a little stretch break.

One thing I try to do: when I’m on the phone with someone, I stand up as much of the conversation as possible.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Ah yes, Debbie, I’ve been going for walks during phone meetings when I don’t have to see something in front of me…helps me think more clearly and be less distracted, too!

Pat Fiorenza

Interesting post – although I am not a teleworker, my Brother-in-Law is just about to start. Going to share this post with him…thanks for sharing!

Naomi S. Leventhal, Ph.D.

My telework exercise approach? Eddie-cize. When I need a break, I take Eddie, my 8 year old border terrier for a walk. Chasing squirrels can really give you a good workout!