Agree boundaries with your household (when you work from home)

Agree boundaries with you household (when you work from home)

by Karen Adamedes

Unless you live alone, your home is not just your home. You might share it with family, friends or housemates. They might not be there all the time while you are working. But chances are they’ll be in the house at some stage when you are trying to work. And if you are living under stay-at-home orders they might be there ALL the time.

When you work from home, you know what you need from the people you live with. They need to be quiet, not interrupt you (particularly while you are on the phone), not play the TV too loud, and if they bring you the occasional cup of coffee, tea or a snack – that would be an added bonus.

The complication is that it’s their home, too, and it has to work for everyone. When anyone works from home there needs to be a clear understanding of how the two worlds can work together.

Have a discussion

It’s imperative to have a discussion and agree how work and home in the same place will work. Your children may not understand why they can’t burst in and tell you what just happened to Baby Shark, or ask for help with their homework when you’re paying a perfectly good babysitter to look after them. But they will (mostly) understand that a shut door means that you are working and shouldn’t be disturbed. It’s not foolproof but it can help. Having a discussion about when you need to not be disturbed and how you will let others know (like a closed door) is a good step towards successfully working and living with others.

Mind you, a closed door didn’t help Professor Robert E. Kelly when his children burst into his office while he was being interviewed live on the BBC about South Korean politics in 2017. Simply not locking his door before going on-air led to the family becoming an internet sensation. And much debate about the challenges of working from home.

When things go wrong – go with it

You may not be doing a live TV interview but things will go wrong from time to time. That’s when you really need to go with the flow of being at home.

You might not end up with your call being dissected in the international media like the Professor. But handling tricky situations, like unscheduled family appearances on a zoom call, with a sense of humor and a quick apology is often the best way to go. Particularly as so many more people are working from home, your colleagues will understand when your home life becomes part of a business call. It can happen to them too!

What else to agree on

Setting expectations about the hours that you are going to work can also be helpful. If the people you live with know when you are going to be available it will help them work around your requirements.

Another issue to be clear about is how much household work you will be able to get done in a day. An occasional load of washing or unstacking the dishwasher is one thing. Painting a room or a spring clean is another.

An upfront conversation with people who go out to work about what you need to do in your work day will help manage the potentially unrealistic assumption that when they get home from work you will have a three-course dinner on the table (with no involvement from a meal delivery service!).

You can help by how you work

On the other hand there are some things you can do that will help out your family or housemates and respect their needs. Staying in your dedicated office space when other people are home allows them be free to live in the rest of the house or apartment and not need to work around you. Save the walking while you are talking on the phone, or working in the living room for a change of scene, to the times when you are home alone.

IT Sales Director Richard Webbe, who mainly works from home, has some tips that work for him. Richard and his wife, who works from an office, have two small children and family life can be hectic. He works around this by not scheduling conference calls or work-focused activities during ‘high traffic’ times at home. Richard said to me, “Do not try to do both – work and home work – at the same time. Disaster”

It just makes sense that when children are going to or coming from school there is going to be more noise than when they are settled doing an activity. Telling them to ‘shush’ while you are talking to a client is highly unlikely to be successful. It can remove a lot of stress for everyone if you can schedule your work time or breaks around these peak events.

Be present when you are with your household

An adult is unlikely to react any better to children if they are ‘shushed’ and waved away because you are busy. Even if you only have other adults in the house be present when you are with them (i.e. do not be checking your phone every 2 minutes). Take a minute to say goodbye and send them off in the morning. Stop work and say hello when they return. Or stop for a coffee with them during the day if they are at home. These small gestures are nice ways that also help you keep the balance between work and home.

Agreeing the boundaries with the people in your house about how you will mix your work with their (and your) home life is important for everyone.

Enjoy your day





This tip is based on Tip No. 21 ‘Agree boundaries with your household’ from Professional in Pajamas: 101 Tips for Working from Home.


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Originally posted at Career Tips Togo