As virtual teams, our personal and professional lives are more closely entwined than perhaps ever before. This can bring some positives, but also brings challenges that can be mitigated by maintaining healthy boundaries.
Establishing boundaries between work and personal life, when often these take place in the same physical and digital spaces, needs a careful and consistent approach. Everyone’s needs in terms of boundaries are slightly different, but some general principles can be helpful for all.
Here are some of the ways you might want to lead by example by setting your own boundaries as the leader of a virtual team and encouraging your team members to think about putting such boundaries in place for themselves.
Physical Space – dedicate a space in your home for your professional work, and as far as possible clear this space of anything else that might be distracting or appear unprofessional in your background. This will look different for everyone in terms of what is possible, but it can help you to focus and to create some physical sense of differentiation between “being at work” and “being at home”.
Routine – create a regular and disciplined routine that helps you transition from your morning time at home to being “at work” and to manage your time through the day so that you stay on task when you need to but also remember to take healthy breaks and finish at a reasonable hour. This is also helpful for others in your home to get used to your rhythms of being available to them and being focused on work. Finally, try to hold the boundary that you don’t connect with your work emails or message your team until you have completed your morning routine. You wouldn’t go into the office in your nightgown and then back home for breakfast and a workout!
Personal Life – be vigilant for your work-life taking up so much space in your day that your personal life suffers. Are you writing emails at the dinner table with your family? Turning down social invitations to work late on a presentation? It’s easy when you work at home to just carry on a little longer, or not make a clear transition into the time that is reserved for your family, friends, and hobbies. Consider leaving work devices in your workspace after a certain time or blocking out important time with loved ones in your calendar so no late meetings slip in there.
Communication – make clear agreements with both your virtual team members and the folks who live with you about your availability for communication. Friends and family bursting into your workspace during a meeting are just as disruptive as your colleagues calling you during a birthday dinner with loved ones. Naturally, there will be exceptions and emergencies, and part of the conversation should clearly outline these exceptions and contingencies. In general, however, managing expectations for when you can reasonably be expected to respond to emails, calls, messages will ease the flow of both personal and professional relationships.
Digital Security – as your work computer and other devices are more likely to be your own private equipment, or at least located in your home, as a virtual worker, you may want to consider some boundaries around digital security. Consider using separate password manager software, web browser profiles, or even virtual desktop profiles to separate your private activities from professional ones. This keeps company data secure and minimizes distractions and the risk of mix-ups.