Time to Talk About Boundaries

Work-life balance has been a discussion topic for at least the last twenty years as the availability of portable computers and internet tools opened remote work possibilities. The COVID-19 pandemic amped the discussion to a whole different level. The pandemic forced any business that could to immediately accommodate remote work to survive. To some people, this was a welcome change, to those who wanted to work in an office (away from home), it was not a happy change.  Regardless, no one had much choice, and home office supply and equipment sales soared as much as 400% year over year in 2020. Home-bound workers bought coffee and expresso makers, an absolute requirement in my opinion for productivity, and started to write-off a home office mortgage percentage as a work expense. In short, people social-distanced and muddled through. 

Fast forward two years later to 2022, and companies once again have the freedom to decide what the business needs in terms of workers and how and where jobs are done. Likewise, employees also have the freedom to decide what they want. Are there best-practices for navigating this work conditions change that help both employers and employees? Yes, and that is transparency regarding the work/non-work boundary options. People are more satisfied at work and at home when their boundary preferences align, which feels like common sense but is also backed by research in the 2022 Applied Psychology article  by Gleter, Cooman, Bogaerts, and Verelst examining work non-work boundary management fit and home-work satisfaction. People have unique needs; it is impossible for an employer to anticipate each circumstance. What can help improve the person-environment fit?

  1. Employers identify boundary management tools specific to each job such as remote work, flexible hours, time off policies, equipment availability, home office support, child-care benefits, sabbaticals, technology equipment allowance, or even paid transportation to work. 
  2. Employers clarify time and location expectations. What is the email response turn-around? Are there company business weekdays and hours, or is the expectation that people stay in communication 6 or 7 days of the week? What are the requirements for in-person vs remote work for any specific job? 
  3. Write boundary management policies and apply them fairly. What boundaries are flexible, what boundaries are set, and where does an employee have choice? Put in writing these expectations, options, and requirements and make it available to existing employees and perspective employees, and then hold managers accountable to fairly applying the rules. Equity and inclusion practices are under scrutiny and having written policies which are consistently applied avoids charges of favoritism or unequal treatment.

The work-life balance conversation isn't new, but perhaps the COVID disruption will help bring into common practice employers and employees talking about expectations and boundaries, for everyone's ultimate benefit.

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