With the dreaded coronavirus slowly but surely retreating, our days of working from the couch are numbered. While the pandemic has certainly changed the way the average office worker goes about their day, chances are that most of us will need to return to work in the office.
How do you feel about this? Some workers are excited, but others are definitely not looking forward to the change. Going forward, what boundaries should you set? Should you set any boundaries at all? How will your coworkers (and boss!) react? Let’s find out.
Back to the Office: How Should You Feel?
The pandemic has seriously impacted our working environment. Taking steps to keep yourself safe and comfortable isn’t unreasonable, and should even be expected. The idea of leaving your comfy home and flexible hours to work in an office again might make you feel nervous and even upset.
You might prefer working at home, and even feel that you’re more productive. However, if going back to the office is already planned, there are a few things you can do to set boundaries for yourself.
Tips for Healthy Work Boundaries:
Let’s briefly discuss six tips to set and maintain healthy boundaries at work. You might come up with a few tips of your own, which apply to your personal circumstances and work environment.
Set and maintain physical boundaries.
Possibly the most important post-pandemic boundary is physical boundaries. Hugs, handshakes, and more have been a definite no-no for the past year. Perhaps you’re not a particularly tactile person, and physical contact makes you uncomfortable. Or maybe you are tactile but want to stay safe and healthy at work.
Tell your coworkers that you’re planning to avoid hugs and handshakes, as well as maintain social distancing. Be polite, but firm. Stick to your boundaries, and your coworkers should respect your decision. Chances are, most - if not all - of your coworkers will be doing the same thing.
Keep a firm work-life balance.
Working from home can mess up our work-life balance. When you’re working, relaxing, and taking care of household responsibilities all in the same space, there’s going to be some overlap. This can lead to your working time and free time becoming mingled. You may feel that you need to keep up these hours when you return to the office.
It’s a good idea to set strict boundaries between your working time and your free time. For example, if your working hours finish at 4 pm, stick to that deadline. Try not to make exceptions, as this can make your boundaries seem optional. If you make an exception for one coworker, other coworkers will expect you to make exceptions for them, too.
Keep up your self-care.
Transitioning back to regular working hours can be stressful. You’ll still have other responsibilities to care for, as well as dealing with coworkers, commuting, and more. Don’t let your free time get eaten away by work and stress.
For example, you might have gotten into the habit of eating a leisurely, healthy lunch. Set aside time to prepare yourself a tasty packed lunch for the office - no more bland ham and cheese sandwiches!
Taking time to relax and destress is more important now than ever. If necessary, physically set aside time in your diary for self-care as often as you need.
Discuss the subject of boundaries and flexibility with your boss.
This tip should be used along with keeping a good work-life balance. For example, coworkers or even your boss might expect you to work early and late, and respond to emails and queries all around the clock.
If you’ve been allowing this to carry on, now is a good time to re-establish boundaries. Have a clear but kind conversation with your employer, discussing your boundaries. If your working hours are from nine to five, for example, make it clear that you won’t be continuing to work after that time.
You might also be able to discuss more flexible hours. Your employer might be happy to let you continue working from home for a few days a week, especially if you feel that you’re more productive that way. You won’t know until you have the conversation.
Update your schedule.
Working in an office or another kind of workspace is often more distracting than working from home. Take the time to reassess your schedule, taking into account the time it will take to travel to and from work, as well as possible interruptions and distractions.
However, don’t expect to have a distraction-free workspace. This usually isn’t possible, and it might take some time for you to readjust.
Don’t feel guilty about setting boundaries.
Returning to work is going to create some new issues, and it’s very important to be kind to yourself during this time. Don’t feel guilty about setting boundaries, and communicating those boundaries to your coworkers.
You might also feel as if you “should” be spending the same amount of time on work as you did at home. Chances are, commuting to work eats up a lot of time, as well as unavoidable distractions, meetings, and so on. Don’t feel obliged to be on call at all times. Once you’ve set your boundaries, stick to them. Your coworkers will respect you, and will likely have set some boundaries of their own.
Keeping Your Work Environment Positive
When we return to work post-pandemic, we’ll all be in the same situation. Returning to your workspace is going to present new situations and challenges, and it can be a bit of a learning curve.
You might need some time to adjust to your new working situation, but rest assured that your coworkers feel the same. On that note, remember to respect your coworker’s boundaries, too. This helps to promote fellow feeling and positivity in the workplace.
Taking the time to prepare now can help your return to work go smoothly. It can also help you relax, knowing that your back-to-work plan is taken care of. Take your time and don’t be afraid to adjust your boundaries as you go.