SETTING BOUNDARIES WHEN WORKING FROM HOME
Every morning I like to start my day by checking out Katie Couric’s FYI for a quick glance at what is going on in the world. In addition to current events, she provides interesting articles on just about every imaginable topic worth knowing about. This past Monday she included an article from the Science of Us website titled People Who Work From Home Get More Done.
The article discussed a recent scientific study in which employees who typically work in an office environment were split into two groups. The control group continued to work in the office. The other half were sent to work from home for 9 months. The results showed that those working from home increased their productivity by 13%, while those who remained in the office saw no significant change. It was theorized that the increased productivity stemmed from fewer distractions.
For the last couple of years I have worked from home. Reading this study made me say “hmmmm.” Since I began working from home, I have felt that over time I increasingly have to manage outside distractions. The biggest reason for this is that others seem to think that if you work from home, then you do not really work.
Most people understand that company rules either prevent personal calls all together or at least limit those calls. When you work at home, this assumption goes out the window. If there is no boss watching, then surely you are available at any time of the day to converse, pick up a friend’s sick child from school, and plan all the school, church, or club functions. It baffles me that these people are so tied to their jobs that they do not have time for these activities; yet, they find it perfectly reasonable to ask someone else to forego their job to do these tasks, because that person works from home. Yes, I am physically at home, but I really am at work.
By the end of 2014 I was becoming a complete stress ball. I have two generations of retired folks in my family. Being a close knit family, they spend every day making the rounds of phone calls to those retired and those who stay at home with kids. No one goes more than a few days without speaking to every member of this group. Once I began working from home, I was included in the rounds. At first I always answered. It was a real treat to get to talk to people that I had not been able to before. Over time it became more taxing and prevented me from making any headway. I did not want to directly tell my family I could not talk to them. I began to make excuses for cutting conversations short hoping that they would eventually realize that my work had to come first during business hours.
Another clue that I needed to establish better boundaries was when the school began calling me directly to pick up other people’s kids when they were sick. Some parents had asked me if I could be listed as an emergency contact. This made sense to me at the time. My home is much closer to the school than where most parents work, but I had envisioned that this would be a rare occurrence. I also imagined that should this come up the parent would leave work to care for the child, so my commitment would be a short distraction from my day. However, I learned from the school that the reality is it is very difficult to get in touch with many parents at all. If they do get the parent, it is not uncommon for the parent to request the school to handle situations that would be more appropriately handled by the parent.
The real test of my patience regarding other people’s kids and the school came when a parent asked me to attend a parent/teacher conference for them. I promise I am not making this stuff up. It was about lunch time when I received a call from a dad who said that the school had requested a conference concerning behavioral problems with his daughter. They scheduled the conference for 3:30 that afternoon, but he was so busy at work he just could not get away. He also said that he thought it was best if I attended, because the school was more familiar with me and would probably be more open to working with me. He was hoping to convince them not to suspend his daughter from school.
That was the last straw. It was glaringly obvious that I had to take control of my day back. I needed to set some rules for myself and stick to them. This meant I had to figure out what my needs were and find the guts to let people know that I have to meet my priorities first for the sake of my family.
First, I came to the realization that just because my personal phone rings that does not mean I have to answer it. After all, if I were not working at home, calls would go to voicemail. Most people do not expect a return call when a message is left at your home while you are at work. Well, I am at work, so the same applies to me.
Secondly, in our modern world most people rely upon their cell phone should something necessitate personal contact during business hours, such as a child’s school or urgent medical matters. Therefore, I only give my cell phone number to those who may need it for that purpose. When my cell phone rings during the day I glimpse to see who is calling. If it is not an urgent matter, I allow it to go to voicemail. I check those messages at my scheduled breaks. Important people know that if they really need me and I do not answer, a quick text will get my attention and I will respond immediately.
Those were the easy steps. The rest required me to have actual conversations with people that for me were unpleasant. Most took what I said the way it was intended, with love and consideration. Some did not get where I was coming from at all. They could not comprehend why this was a big deal to me. From their perspective they had only asked for my help a few times. They could not understand why “they” needed to have boundaries set. They understood that other people were taking advantage and agreed that I should set boundaries with those people. The idea that the collective here and there’s were a problem escaped them. At first this bothered me. I did not want anyone mad at me or think that I did not care about their problems. Over time the people that I really wanted in my life came to understand. Those who did not I discovered were a real distraction for our family as a whole and the distance their misunderstanding created was a blessing in disguise.
The conversation I had included some specifics points. Some may seem unnecessary, but I assure you that every point stemmed from ongoing expectations that needed to be addressed. My points included the following:
- I recognized that family members who did not work had flexible schedules and some found it easier to have an undistracted conversation with me while my family was gone during the day. I gently explained that I needed to get my work done during those undistracted hours. Once my family was home I then had to do all the things that everyone else does after work. Being on the phone while they were gone meant I had no time to get my work done.
- For others I explained that my business hours were similar to theirs. I asked them to please respect my work time by thinking of personal calls for me in the same way as they did for themselves.
- When it came to being the emergency contact for school, I decided to think of it as if I were still working in the city and the inconvenience it would cause. I asked myself if that were the case, would I still be willing to be the emergency contact for that child. In the case of family, friends, and parents who had not abused this, I remained the emergency contact. These people really did not require a conversation. Most of them were close enough to me to already know of my struggles with other parents and would not overstep. The tough part was asking some parents to remove me as the emergency contact. A friend who worked in the medical field told me that based on new laws I would not be able to get medical care for these kids should they need it. North Carolina requires a guardian to be provided service. I used this as the primary reason for my reconsideration. I implied that I did not feel comfortable having that kind of liability for their child.
- Another minor problem that arose frequently was picking kids up after school activities. It really is not a big deal for me to put an extra kid in my car that needs a ride to our neighborhood. The issue was not being asked in advance. I would receive a call or text as I was driving to the school. I had to explain that I do not talk on my cell phone or read texts while driving. If their kid needed a ride, then they just needed to have their kid at the pickup point with my daughter when I arrived. For some reason, there are a few moms who get crazy when you do not answer calls or texts while driving and their kid needs a ride. I heard one too many times, “but this was just one time and it was an emergency.” Your kid needing a ride from school is not an emergency. They can wait until someone gets there. When I was child I sat at school one day waiting for my mom from 2:30 until 4:30. She had forgotten me and there were no cell phones. I survived and your child will too. Worst case scenario, I go back to the school if I miss your call and they did not get in my car.
Since establishing these rules for 2015 I have become so much more productive. I actually do get a lot more work done than I did when working in an office. Most days I have a full day of work completed by 12:30. That leaves me a couple of hours to do housework, exercise, crochet, or read before my family gets home. I am much more relaxed by the time they arrive. There is no longer this sense of rush, rush, rush to get it all done in a day. I laugh more and my family likes that.