Covid Is Eroding Our Boundaries: Reset Them With Colleagues, Family, and Yourself 

We all know the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. The Covid-19 analog is setting clear boundaries and expectations. Establishing clear boundaries and expectations is essential to building better relationships with colleagues, family, and even ourselves. Doing this well is also easier said than done, especially now.

Six months into quarantine, boundaries, and expectations are still a work in progress for many of us. This reflects the fact that we were thrown into our current work situations overnight. There was no time to clarify our needs or establish clear boundaries and expectations with family. 

Setting boundaries and expectations, especially with family, can feel selfish, elusive, and even futile. It’s not. When you fail to do this work, you’re selling yourself short and doing a huge discursive to those you love. 

Be Firm and Feel the Love

If fences make good neighbors, clear boundaries, and expectations build happy families. After all, all, most people crave clarity and certainty as much as they crave kindness. Clear boundaries and expectations can also help us optimize our own work and engage in purposeful work sprints. This, in turn, increases our capacity for flow

How to Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations

Few people set good boundaries, because few people know what they want or need to be at their best. Clarifying one’s needs takes time. With limited bandwidth, this work is often put on the back burner. Even those who engage in this work often fail to keep checking in with themselves and reassessing their wants and needs over time.

During the pandemic, setting clear boundaries and expectations faced another curveball. Ideally, one sets boundaries and expectations upfront. The pandemic made this impossible. Most of us had no time to set ground rules before we found ourselves working remotely. Five months in, many of us are still improvising, but this doesn’t mean it is too late to restart the clock with clearer boundaries and expectations.

  • Look in the Mirror

First, take time out to ask yourself what you want and need to be at your best. This is a time to put you first. Think about what type of space you need to do your best work. Consider how many hours of the day you need without interruptions to get through your work. Also, consider your other needs (e.g., time to meditate or workout). If you’re both working and homeschooling remotely, you will need to make compromises. Before you do, get clear on your ideal remote set up. The compromises can come later.

  • Say It Loud, Clear, and Often 

If you set clear boundaries and expectations but don’t communicate them, they won’t work. Of course, different people in your life may find it easier to understand and honor your boundaries and expectations than others. Be clear on your needs but flexible on how you share these needs. After all, a toddler will understand much less than a teenager. Likewise, you may need to take a different approach with the older generation. If you share your life with someone who spent decades clocking in to work on-site, they may struggle to understand remote work.

  • Assume Disappointment 

With or without boundaries, some people in your life will be disappointed. First, don’t fret. It is likely because you’re loved, and your family wants and needs your time and attention. Second, open up the lines of communication and ask why different people feel let down. It may be difficult to live with this disappointment, but having clear boundaries and expectations will serve you and your loved ones better in the end. 

  • Separate What You Need from What You Think You Need

As you set boundaries and expectations with family, open your mind to new ways of working. Without endless meetings clogging your schedule, do you need an eight-hour workday? Can you do all your work in six hours? If so, what would be the best time or times to work? Could you start as early as five in the morning and stop working by midday? If you compress your workday, what would you do less of, and what opportunities would it open up?

Also, clarify your ideal work set up. If you love working on your sofa, do you actually need a dedicated desk or would you be better served by finding a cozy place to curl up with your computer? 

The pandemic has been a crash course in crash landings–a course that never seems to end! Learning to set clear boundaries and expectations is just part of this ongoing crash course. For additional tips on how to make remote work effective, explore AIM Leadership’s remote work resources.