Redefining Boundaries for Remote Workers

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Many workers have been eager to embrace the new future of remote working, hoping to see more balance between conflicting work and life demands. Keeping up on housework might be so much easier if you can throw a load of laundry in between conference calls. There’s just one problem, being connected 24/7 and working from a portable office set up at the dining room table begs for trouble when it comes to your boundaries.

As everyone is figuring out this new normal together, it’s up to employees to speak up and be an active part of the conversation in redefining the boundaries for remote workers. Both employers and employees can benefit from these arrangements if the expectations are clear.

Redefining Expectations for Productivity

Some employers are taking an ultra-invasive approach, using keystroke counters, live video monitoring, and screenshot software to make sure their remote employees are really working. This level of micromanaging can be pretty toxic. Rest assured that there are plenty of employers out there who are happy to trust their employees without photographic evidence of what they are doing every minute of the day.

Let’s be realistic; nobody is productive 100 percent of the time. Even when you work in the office and think you’re a productive employee, research shows a different story. In a typical eight-hour workday, most office workers only get three hours or less of productive work in. That’s not even half of the time that they’re paid for.

The rest of the time is spent reading news and social media updates, chit-chatting with co-workers, or taking other types of breaks to make food, get drinks, or use the restroom. This revelation was a hard adjustment for me and so I began really learning the value of productivity.

Here are a few tips:

  • Make a realistic to-do list every day.

  • Aim for at least one good stretch timed with your personal productivity window.

  • Limit your virtual meetings or conference calls to no more than two per day.

  • Structure time to check your emails instead of constantly switching back and forth between what you’re working on and your inbox.

Redefining Expectations for Time Commitments

Along with the hard realization of true productivity, it can be hard to feel like you are giving enough when you are no longer physically bound to the office. Keep in mind that this remote work gig is supposed to give you more flexibility, not take it away. Maintain balance with these tips:

  • Set working hours or at least a hard stop time at the end of the day.

  • Discuss communication preferences with your boss/team. Use email for general communication, project threads for project-related updates, and a text or call for urgent messages.

  • Do not—I repeat, DO NOT feel compelled to check messages or respond outside of working hours.

  • Use time blocking to dedicate working time and family time so that you can balance both.

  • Use strategies such as the Pomodoro Technique to make the most of your productive stretches.

  • Be realistic; if you’re working from home, you need the flexibility to take care of personal stuff throughout the day while managing your work time based on productivity and not minutes of butt-in-seat time.

Re-Defining Expectations for Personal Boundaries and Wellness

Working remotely takes away some of the built-in social support mechanisms that we’ve learned to rely on. In their absence, it becomes more important to be intentional about taking care of our wellness first. Unfortunately, adjusting to the reality of our own productivity limits can often cause a misalignment in our personal wellness. Try incorporating these tips:

  • Watch out for endless snacking. Just because you’re at home, steps away from the kitchen, doesn’t mean your eating habits should change.

  • Reconsider what you define as movement. Instead of trying to get 10,000 steps in every day, download a fitness app and do a five-minute stretch in between your productivity cycles or work in a 10-minute HIIT workout in your living room in between calls.

  • Be intentional about socializing with colleagues and friends using Slack channels our virtual team-building ideas.

  • Do regular check-ins with your boss/team and be open about communicating your needs. Nobody sees you in the office anymore, remember they wouldn’t notice a sudden change in your mood or appearance. You have to be open about what is going on.

The Takeaway on Redefining Boundaries for Remote Workers

Transitioning to remote work is an adjustment for employees and employers. It’s important to keep that in perspective. Instead of applying old rules to new situations, now is the perfect time to redefine those expectations. Instead of counting productivity by the number of hours that you sit in front of a computer screen, start basing it on what you actually get accomplished.

Instead of being connected and available 24/7, stick with reasonable working hours and simply check out for the night at the end of the day. And instead of letting life take care of your support needs, learn to be more intentional about self-care and wellness on a regular basis. The key to a successful and happy remote working arrangement is setting and enforcing the right boundaries.


Picture of Dan McCabe
Dan McCabe

Long time remote worker with the dream of enabling everyone to join the remote workforce. Owner and Editor of

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