5 Ways to Create Better Work Boundaries

With remote work so prevalent, 65% of people say they work more now than they did pre-pandemic. Some ways to set time away. 

It’s a common concern: how much remote work has blurred the line between office and personal time over the past two years. Workers say they’re trading the flexibility of working from anywhere for being “on” all the time.

In a recent survey, 65% of employees said they work longer hours now than they did pre-pandemic. Some employees want to stand out and demonstrate their abilities since there are no face-to-face interactions. “We’re in a state where it’s somewhat self-imposed by ambitious employees, and where there are managers who can take advantage of the situation,” says Ron Porter, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry’s Human Resources Center of Expertise. Even if people aren’t spending extra time online for work, operating hours are spread throughout the day, which can make employees feel as if they’re  working all the time.

Some expert tips on how to reestablish boundaries:

Work on your mindset.

Figure out the root cause behind the loose boundaries. Is your manager imposing extra work? Or have you fallen into a self-created trap where you can’t completely log off? Part of the problem is that workers are setting these expectations for themselves; it’s not always the bosses, says David Meintrup, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. You have to know when to take a step back. “Become aware and take charge of your inner critic,” says Val Olson, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. You deserve to take breaks, even if your brain tricks you into thinking otherwise. During busy season—when it’s hard to maintain boundaries—think about the purpose and meaning behind your work so you don’t feel overwhelmed, says Olson.

Communicate expectations.

Start an open conversation with your boss and colleagues. Outline your personal needs and off-hours within reasonable limits, says Porter. For instance, establish that you’ll respond to any emails you get past 8 p.m. only during the next day. If you’re a manager you should proactively lead these talks, experts say. Set realistic deadlines and be clear about what is required. “People fuel your success, so be kind to them, and lead by example,” says Frances Weir, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.. You can also set up a system where email signatures are used to communicate your specific working days and hours, says Weir.

Improve time management.

Often it’s all about managing your time better. You need to prioritize daily tasks and meetings, experts say. For instance, if your job involves high email volume, respond to immediate requests and flag non-urgent messages for a later time, says Meintrup. Similarly, see if there are meetings you don’t need to attend and opt out of them. And when you’re working on a big project, Meintrup suggests, use time blocking to avoid working overtime. For example, set aside two hours per day to focus solely on that one task and move on afterward. Doing so will force you to be more productive.

Seek help.

If you’re unable to set boundaries despite all your attempts, it could be a workload issue. In such cases, talk to your manager about hitting pause on non-urgent projects or adding more hands-on- deck, says Meintrup. “Sometimes you just need more soldiers to wage the battle,” he says. Depending on the company, some duties can be delegated to other employees or the headcount might be increased, says Meintrup. But beware of delaying projects too many times, as it has potential to create trust issues, he says.

Raise visibility.

You can prove your skills to the boss without working overtime. Showcase your expertise through other avenues, says Olson. For instance, display thought leadership by publishing your ideas on LinkedIn or on companywide digital platforms. “Your uniqueness makes you successful,” she says. So build your reputation by strategically branding and positioning yourself. Lastly, Olson suggests strengthening your presence through body language and demeanor, even during online meetings. Small actions can make a significant difference.