6 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries at Work, Remotely

Working Remotely

Setting boundaries at work helps you gain respect and a healthier work-life balance, especially when remote. Follow these tips to do it right:

Setting boundaries at work is easier when you’re not working remotely. Once you clock out for the day and leave the office, you’re not expected to continue checking emails or answer customer calls.

But working remotely opens up an entirely new can of worms.

Remote employees often clock in flexible hours, making it difficult to know when you and your coworkers are “on” versus “off.” However, feeling pressured to stay connected or adopt an always-on mindset isn’t healthy or good for your productivity. And it will definitely lead you down the burnout spiral.

So in today’s guide, we’ll run through a few ways to set healthy boundaries when working remotely. Let’s break down what that means first.

What Setting Healthy Boundaries At Work Means

Boundaries are like barricades or limits you put up to protect yourself. Defining and setting your boundaries gives you a set of rules to operate by and tells others how you’d like to be treated.

In the workplace, you’ll come across three different types of boundaries:
  • Physical boundaries include tangible limits regarding your personal space. It’s like which side of a shared coworking space you call your own and keep tidy.

  • Emotional boundaries pertain to your identity and feelings. These cover emotional responses, such as whether you’re taking on extra tasks because you want to or because your boss is pressuring you and stressing you out.

  • Mental boundaries refer to your thoughts and personal belief system. They include whether you want to keep your weekends work-free, what you’re willing to take on outside of your job responsibilities, how you stay in touch with your team, etc.

While physical boundaries are much easier to see and set, having strong mental and emotional boundaries gives you more self-respect and confidence. So though intangible, encouraging these makes it easier to say no to unreasonable requests that breed resentment.

And that’s exactly why setting healthy boundaries at work is so essential.

Why You Need To Set Healthy Boundaries At Work

People-pleasers have the hardest time setting healthy boundaries at work. They have a difficult time saying no and want to feel loved and needed. They also crave approval from their peers and leaders, causing them to overextend themselves. 

Even if you don’t identify as a people-pleaser, you may feel guilty about “disappointing” your coworkers or managers if you say no. You want to be a team player, after all.

Taking on more than you can realistically achieve and overcommitting will cause the stress to pile up. You may then feel unappreciated, undervalued, or used.

Always saying yes is impossible to sustain for the long haul. And no matter what you do, it may never be enough for managers or coworkers who take advantage of your desire to help. 

Setting boundaries shows that your time, energy, and brainpower are valuable commodities. These resources only renew when you make time and space to recharge them. Boundaries tell others that you respect yourself and your time, and they should too. 

Think of it this way: every time you say no to something that crosses your boundaries, you get to say yes to something that makes you happy.

6 Easy Tips For Setting Boundaries At Work, Remotely

Follow these six simple tips, and you’ll have the confidence to set boundaries when working remotely and actually stick to them:

1. Identify Your Boundaries

During the virtual onboarding process, remote managers and employees should brainstorm and discuss what they’re comfortable doing and what will be expected of them.

No two employees or managers are the same, so they’ll each have different priorities, expectations, and boundaries. 

Managers should prepare a list of guidelines regarding:
  • Typical work hours/workdays
  • Vacation days/time-off policies
  • Clear job responsibilities 
  • Who will assign projects/work/deadlines
  • Communication standards (i.e., Slack for quick check-ins vs. Trello for project updates)

Remote employees should do the same. When you come prepared to your onboarding with a list of what you’re absolutely against and what may be allowed within reason, you can treat the process like a negotiation. 

So think about:

As you go through both lists together, you may need to prioritize those that matter most and be more flexible with others. Then you can agree on a happy middle ground. But you can’t have this mutually beneficial brainstorming session without being prepared ahead of time.

2. Communicate Your Boundaries Clearly and ASAP

Once you identify your limits, communicate them clearly to your team as soon as possible. This should give everyone a head’s up and help avoid miscommunication later on.

If you’d prefer to only work during the week, but are willing to break this boundary for an emergency, make sure to define what an emergency means. Outline what an urgent matter looks like and how you’d like to be notified.

If you have a specific Do-Not-Disturb window during the day, let everyone know you’ll be in the deep work zone between those hours. You should also give them a window of when you will be in reach.

Outlining details like these lets your team know where they stand, which creates more efficiency and productivity while reducing the chances of lines being crossed.

3. Stick To The Boundaries You Create (And NEVER Apologize)

If you say you’re not going to answer emails after 7 PM or during the weekends -- but then you do -- you’re telling people it’s okay to disrespect your boundaries. 

That’s why you must always operate within the boundaries you create. As you reinforce these, you’ll get others in the habit of following your requests. 

Even if you have a quick answer to the email or Slack message that came in after hours, it can wait until your designated work time. Remember, the next one that comes through may not be so simple, and others will expect a response then too.

What if coworkers or employees routinely drop tasks or projects in your lap at the last minute? If completing these will compromise the other to-dos on your agenda, or force you to work more overtime than you’re comfortable with, don’t be afraid to say no.

You can let them down gently by starting with a positive and then remaining firm on your decision. If you’re uncomfortable with a task your supervisor asks you to complete, you can reply with:
  • That project sounds interesting. How should I fit X into my to-do list, considering Y and Z on the schedule?

  • If I say yes, how do you recommend I prioritize this task based on X, Y, and Z I’m currently working on?

  • Great idea! But I have X, Y, and Z on my plate, so which should I park to start working on this new task?

Statements like these give your team leaders a chance to consider your current workload and schedule before pressuring you to add this unplanned task to your plate.

If you need to respond to a client or coworker who wants you to complete something over your time boundaries, try using:
  • Thanks for thinking I’d be a great fit for this task, and if I had the time, I would certainly help. But I must respectfully decline as I would only commit to a project if I could give it my full attention, and I’m currently focused on another project.

  • I’d like to help, but I don’t have the resources/attention the task requires right now, unfortunately.

  • That sounds like an interesting project, but then I won’t be able to complete XYZ project on time. So I must respectfully decline your request. Please consider me for your next project, and (hopefully!) I’ll be able to do it the justice it deserves.

Never apologize for sticking to the boundaries you create. As long as you’re giving your all during work hours (read: not checking social media or playing video games on the clock), you shouldn’t rack up an unreasonable (and stressful!) amount of overtime.

4. See What You Can Delegate

Team leaders and remote project managers are prime candidates for racking up overtime and overcommitting. Instead of doing the work of five people, always consider which tasks you can delegate to your team.

How will you know what you should take on vs. hand off? Ask yourself:
  • Is this a project/task I’ve wanted to do? Does it require my specific skill set?

  • Will it directly help me advance in my position/career? How will it affect my short- and long-term goals? 

  • Which of my team members is best-suited for the task/project based on their skills, experience, and schedule? 

  • Which team member has been looking to step up? Who would want to crush this project?

If you’re looking forward to the task, you can make room for it. But sometimes it’s better to let a strong, capable team member with fewer responsibilities do the job right than overwhelm yourself and ignore your boundaries. 

So trust your team. Let them impress you. And you’ll feel more confident in their abilities and less tempted to take on everything yourself.

5. Always Use Your Time Off (and Actually Disconnect!)

According to one poll of 2,000 remote employees, 70% admitted to working from home while feeling under the weather[*]. 

Stats also show that even when companies offer unlimited vacation time, nearly half of remote workers opt for just two or three weeks of time off per year. Surprisingly, 10% settle for one week, and another 5% don’t take any vacation time at all[*]!

Letting your vacation time pile up shows you have nothing better to do than work, making you more susceptible to taking on more tasks and projects. And never disconnecting from your work or devices is a surefire path to burning out.

You earned your time off, so use it. Take a mental health day, play hooky with your kids, or create a relaxing staycation if you don’t have the funds to get away.

Taking time off lets you separate your work and personal time, allowing you to replenish your mental reserves and physical energy.

So rather than feeling FOMO, embrace the JOMO (joy of missing out). Bask in the feeling of leaving the (virtual) office behind and finding happiness in doing exactly what you want to do.

When you’re off, really disconnect and unplug as if you were away from a physical office. Focus on being present, which is actually easy when you have technology on your side.

Set an out-of-office (OOO) auto-reply during your sick days, vacation time, or any other times you’re not on the clock. Leave a simple message to let everyone know you won’t be checking in until [enter date or time]. If needed, direct emailers to the correct resources if they can’t wait for your return.

Set status updates on your communication platforms like Slack. These go beyond Do Not Disturb or Away when you include a timeframe for when you’ll be able to respond.

6. Prepare For Boundary-Crossers

Whether people forget your boundaries or blatantly cross them, it’s best to have a plan for how you’ll deal with them when they occur. This helps you respond with a clear head rather than getting angry or feeling pressured to compromise your boundaries.

Boundary-breakers give you an opportunity to reinforce your limits and what you expect from your coworkers/managers. So when someone crosses the line, let them know immediately. Don’t wait until they forget.

Show compassion, and said person will appreciate hearing how they violated your boundaries and avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Now, if your coworkers or leaders routinely disregard your boundaries, you may have a toxic workplace on your hands. If no one respects your desire to create a healthy work-life balance, it may be time to look for a new remote job with a team that encourages prioritizing your mental and physical health.

Setting Boundaries At Work: You Got This

Setting boundaries at work and sticking to them isn’t an overnight process. But the more often you stand up for yourself, the more confidence and respect you’ll gain. And you’ll finally find a healthy work-life balance.

Don’t be surprised if you become extra productive when you’re less stressed and overwhelmed by others’ demands. 

If your boundaries aren’t being respected, don’t settle for less than you deserve! Check out the best remote job listings on We Work Remotely, the largest remote work community in the world, and find a team that truly cares!

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