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One of the many joys of working from home is avoiding rush hour headaches. Sitting for hours among honking cars in highway traffic. Waiting for delayed trains in the freezing rain. Circling block after block looking for parking.
But commutes to work have a purpose — they are cues that your work day is beginning or ending, and provide a clear separation between home and the office. The distance makes the divide physical and, although most of us are still checking emails and notifications after official work hours, there is usually some mental space during commutes to create your to-do list for the day on your way in, and close out thoughts about meetings and timelines on the way out so you can think about dinner plans and spending time with family.
Finding ways to recreate this kind of physical and mental space when you’re working from home is often a challenge. We ask in our publication “Welcome to the World of Tomorrow: Best Practices for Remote Work”: “What replaces the commute as a transition between work and home? Because you don’t have these natural breaks, you need to create your own.”
Social scientists call this “boundary work.” As noted by researcher Christena Nippert-Eng:
… by focusing on individuals’ boundary work–the constraints and negotiations that concretize classification systems and their categories–social scientists can gain a great deal of insight into how society, itself, might exist. We also can acquire unique insight about how individual members of a society create and understand their everyday lives. And at both these levels of analysis, we begin to see how it is that we mentally and practically accommodate what has been and what must be now as well as innovate for what might be yet to come.
Since we’re sure that remote work is the future, getting down to the details of this boundary work is key to understanding it.
Nippert-Eng found that people usually fall into two different categories:
- Segmentors: people who create clear boundaries between their personal and work lives.
- Integrators: people who blur the lines been work and home and have difficulty telling where their work life ends and their non-work life begins.
Neither segmenting or integrating is better than the other, according to the study, but if you’re a segmenter, or hope to be more like one, there are a few ways team members can create boundaries at home. You’ll find some of them in our publication, like if you’re lucky enough to have a whole room and a door to close between your computer and that pile of laundry you need to fold.
There are other rituals and routines that will provide little barriers between work and home. It might seem convenient to just roll out of bed, make coffee, and sit down at your computer to get started for the day. But one or two daily, boundary work rituals might help clear your mind and increase productivity when you’re actually in “work mode.” Here are a few ideas for little rituals or routines to signify the start or end of your day:
- Meditate for 5 minutes
- Take a shower
- Put on shoes
- Put on designated “work clothes” (yes, sometimes getting out of pajamas is worth it)
- Buy a desk lamp and turn it on when you begin work and off when you are finished
- Walk to a coffee shop to buy a coffee before you begin or after you end work
- Get your must-do “home” work done (making lunch for the kids, starting the dishwasher, mailing a letter) so that you’re not thinking about them during the work day
- Try to start and stop work at the same times most days of the week. You can set 15-minute alarms or reminders on your phone to let you know “It’s time to wind down work” or “It’s almost time to get to work.”
- If you use Slack, tell your co-workers good morning, good night, or that you’re stepping away during breaks (which is good communication about your availability and is also like a promise to yourself that you’re actually going to step away)
- Eat lunch at a place besides your desk, without screens and with notifications turned off
- Snooze notifications during breaks and during your personal, designated “non-work” hours
- Walk the dog in the afternoon sunlight
- Pet your cat
- Take off your shoes and change your socks
- Walk to get the mail
- Make yourself a cup of hot tea
- Light a candle or use a diffuser to change the scent
- Clean your desk to prepare for the day and clean up afterward
- Play a game or read a book with your kids
- Turn off your computer completely (seriously, not just letting it “sleep”)
For more tips on remote work and boundary work, see our publication “Welcome to the World of Tomorrow: Best Practices for Remote Work.”