Setting boundaries at work is important. It’s important to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and it’s important to maintaining healthy relationships. In a professional setting, where you may not have control over some decisions and priorities, it can be challenging to define, set, and enforce your boundaries. For remote and hybrid teams, a culture centered on trust is crucial for getting work done and for supporting one another by expressing and respecting boundaries. Establishing and maintaining this culture is a critical responsibility of remote team leadership.
In this article, we walk you through how to set daily, goal-oriented boundaries for yourself, but also how leaders can ensure boundaries are used effectively for remote and hybrid teams.
Setting Individual Remote Work Boundaries
To start setting effective boundaries for yourself, complete the following steps:
Identify Areas of Your Life and Days that Need Parameters.
When working out of your home, it’s easy for work time to blend into personal time. Consequently, professionals must set daily time boundaries in order to avoid remote work burnout. As Capterra reports, burnout has gotten worse, and is especially prevalent among younger workers at 92%.
Identify start, break, and end times that allow you to get into routines and separate yourself from the work. Additionally, knowing when you are most productive can help you block time to focus on deep work, leaving other times available for virtual meetings or gatherings.
With increasing demands on your time and energy it’s also important to set your focus to those goals and tasks that you want to accomplish. Part of these are going to be the work product for your job, but an additional part might be more aspirational goals, such as growing your network, developing new skills, or giving back to your community. It’s nearly impossible to do it all, so it requires intention in learning to say “no” even though you might want to always say “yes.”
A prime example of how we manage this at Workplaceless, is for our CEO, Tammy Bjelland. A professional and company goal is for Bjelland to continue to speak at virtual events about effective remote and hybrid work. However, with the overwhelming number of opportunities that come our way she can’t always say yes. We’ve established a rubric for our event participation that allows us to objectively evaluate each opportunity and decide where to spend her time.
Document Your Work Boundaries.
The actual form of documentation can differ by individual; however, it’s important to document. For some professionals, blocking time on calendars may be the most effective and visible reminder. For others, it may be organizing, scheduling, and documenting tasks in a journal or daily checklist.
Communicate Your Work Boundaries.
This is the step that remote professionals most commonly overlook. Individuals take the time to reflect on goals and assess productive areas of their days, but then keep it all to themselves. How can a colleague or manager support, respect, and not infringe on your boundaries if they aren’t aware of them?
Communicating your boundaries can feel uncomfortable if the process is new to you. Ideally, your leadership encourages boundary setting and sharing, and provides frameworks and discussions to facilitate. If not, we suggest starting by sharing your calendar and blocking your time in segments aligned to your boundaries. Next, have a conversation with your manager about how these boundaries will help you to be more productive in your role and that you want to align on expectations. Once you’ve aligned with your management team, then share your boundaries with your broader team. Your sharing may even inspire others to do the same.
Hold to Your Boundaries.
Now, you’ve laid the groundwork for successful work boundaries and the challenge becomes sticking to them. You must build and practice the reinforcing habits and behaviors. This may mean learning how to decline virtual meetings, getting comfortable pushing back on new projects or assignments, and not letting requests infringe on the time you’ve blocked for deep work. You can also leverage device features to help enforce boundaries like time limits for apps or communication tools.
When others see the cues that your boundaries are flexible, they will treat them as flexible. However, building in clear parameters for exceptions to the rule can be valuable in holding to your overall boundary plan. For example, you may work in an industry that has a defined “busy season” and you stretch your boundaries for a defined period of time to accommodate. But after that specified time period, you must return to a work schedule and boundary routine that is sustainable—or you run the risk of burnout.
Unfortunately, leaders are often poor role models in setting boundaries at work. And when leaders don’t hold to their work boundaries it has a negative ripple effect throughout the team. Managers need to reinforce their own behaviors, but also support the development of team boundaries.
Setting Remote or Hybrid Team Boundaries
To start setting effective work boundaries for your business, complete the following steps:
Classify Business Priorities and Areas of Focus.
As with individuals, businesses and teams can take part in a limitless number of opportunities. The ability to execute across all these opportunities are often limited by budget and time. Remote and hybrid team members can often feel pulled in different directions as requests flow in from a variety of sources. It’s essential for leaders to clearly define and communicate strategic priorities and objectives so their team members can see how their work contributes to these priorities and to provide them with parameters to evaluate their workload and project requests.
At Workplaceless, we embrace creative ideas from every member of our organization. Unfortunately, like everyone else, we can’t execute all of the ideas brainstormed. Instead, we’ve clearly outlined and communicated our strategic priorities for each year. When new ideas arise we evaluate each based on how they align with those strategic priorities and the resources required. This provides everyone on the team with a clear understanding of why we decide which opportunities to pursue.
Identify How and When Team Members Work Best.
Learning when team members have the least amount of distractions, don’t have competing demands on their time, and can be most productive, enables leaders to dedicate segments of the day or week to independent work or asynchronous collaboration. As experienced remote-first teams know, allowing members to have time dedicated for autonomous work—that’s not interrupted by virtual meetings—is essential to achieve high levels of remote productivity.
Identify When Team Members Are Available for Synchronous Work.
As a remote-first team, we recommend leaning into asynchronous communication while streamlining and eliminating synchronous meetings. However, time spent together in discussion, collaboration, and relationship building is still important for remote and hybrid teams. Being able to clearly identify the best times for people to meet, without interrupting their daily work flow, is the ideal arrangement.
If your virtual team works across multiple time zones, it’s important to take into consideration time overlaps. For some organizations, this may mean particular days of the week are designated for team meetings or that team time blocks occur only during certain times of the day.
Establish a Team Boundaries Agreement.
A truly effective team boundaries agreement, cannot be a top-down executive-driven decision. It needs to involve collective input and open discussion from all team members affected. A team boundaries agreement should include:
Frameworks to prioritize work and support cross-team collaboration that aligns with business strategies and objectives
Aligned schedules that allow for productive asynchronous work and effective team meetings
Clear definitions for truly “urgent” demands and a protocol for who responds and how.
Guidance on how to react when boundaries are stretched
A team boundaries agreement is an iterative process. Some elements of your agreement may prove ineffective over time, as teams grow or aspects prove ineffective. It’s important to establish periodic check-ins with your team to ensure the agreement is being upheld or requires an update. You can access a DIY Team Boundaries agreement template in our Hybrid Team Toolkit.
We find that teams often need guidance when establishing a team boundaries agreement for the first time.
Take Action to Set Effective Boundaries at Work
Boundaries Sample Scripts
Prevent burnout by instilling effective team boundaries. Access the template in our Hybrid Team Toolkit.
Our virtual leadership training builds the skills you need to lead effective and inclusive digital-first teams.