How to Set Boundaries With Family and Friends When Telecommuting

When you work from home, setting boundaries with your family and friends is essential. And it’s not just crucial to your success as a telecommuter- it’s much healthier for your relationships, too. When you start telecommuting it’s not just you who has to adapt- your friends and family are going to have to understand your boundaries. Because you’re at home, your friends might forget the ’working’ part. They might think you’re free to babysit for them or they might call to tell you about their problems. They might invite you out for lunch, drinks, to go shopping or see a movie. Sometimes you might be able to. Other times, you won’t. That’s why you need to be able to enforce boundaries- work means work, no matter where you’re working! Your family are likely to be even more distracting. Your partner might expect you to do housework and run errands. They might ask you questions. Your kids might make a lot of noise or run in to show you something just as you’re in the middle of an important phone call. However there are tips and tricks you can use to make setting and reinforcing boundaries much easier. An open door-closed door policy, a work schedule, talking with your family and, if necessary, paying for childcare will all help you set boundaries.

Close the door

A clear signal to your family that you’re not to be disturbed is to have an ’open door, closed door’ policy. This will set obvious boundaries. When your door is open, the kids can come in and talk to you- say, when you’re typing and not rushed. When you’re on the phone or working to a deadline, the door is closed, which means ’Do Not Disturb. Seriously. Just No.’

If your office doesn’t have a door, get one. Or at least get some sort of barrier which you can open and close, such as a curtain you can hang from the doorway, or a screen you can put around your work space. If your family aren’t too pleased about your open-door/closed-door policy, you can make the closed door the bad guy instead of you. Instead of saying "I’m too busy to talk right now", substitute "The door is closed, please come back later when it’s open". This also works on flatmates (and your partner’s and kids’ friends if they hang around the house a lot.)

Use a work schedule to reinforce boundaries

Setting regular working hours and sticking to them will help your family settle into a routine. This can reduce the friction that can occur if they don’t expect you to be busy. Otherwise, your family might feel that you’re emotionally unavailable and they never know whether or not they can talk to you. Set your working hours to fit around family activities. If your kids get home at 4:00 set up your working hours from 10:00 to 4:00 and 7:00 to 9:00. Your work schedule can change when necessary to allow for your children’s or partner’s activities and commitments. Make a work schedule and hang it on your office door so your family know when they can rush in to show you their paintings, and when to leave Mummy/Daddy alone.

With friends, tell them what your schedule is and make them aware that no, you won’t be available to meet up with them during your working hours. This will let them know that you also aren’t free to be on Facebook all the time and reply to unimportant emails and texts.

Talk to your family

Your family has to understand why they can’t just march into your home office. Reassure them that you’re not being mean, distractions really do mess up your work schedule. If your family expects you to do the housework during your working hours, it may be time to remind your partner and children that it might look like you’re chatting on the phone, but really you’re working. Give your kids clear expectations and let them know how things are going to change. 

Consider paying for services

If you’re busy with the housework during the time you could be working, consider hiring someone else to clean your house or babysit. A lot of newbie telecommuters think they’ll make a great saving on childcare, but that’s not always possible, especially if your children are young. After school care or childcare can help you maintain a professional atmosphere, and avoid distractions and interruptions. Screaming and kids’ toys and TV shows in the background aren’t just distracting for you, they’re annoying to potential clients if you’re on the phone or Skype chat. You’ll work most productively if you treat your home office just like any other office. After all, that’s what it is- a workplace.

Making sure that your family understand what’s expected of them, and that your friends respect your boundaries is very important to your success as a telecommuter. Setting boundaries can be difficult. But if you talk to your children and partner, reinforce your boundaries with an open door-closed door policy, and make sure your friends know they can’t distract you with idle gossip or expect you to hang out, setting these boundaries will be much easier.


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