Full-time employees have suddenly found themselves working remotely - something that they were not prepared to handle. And neither were the companies who have to now communicate with people virtually. Now we don't have coffee breaks and cooler talks, but more than that, we don’t have fixed work timings. Since we can’t make plans, go out, take vacations and have weekend getaways, there has been a shift in work expectations. We’re working more, taking fewer breaks and eating meals in front of the computer. If it continues, there will be serious mental health implications.

So, whether your manager has set these expectations, or you’re struggling to say no, or you’re stressing yourself out without any explicit instructions, there are some things you need to do to set boundaries. Here’s how.

Implement Fixed Work Timings

Like you would in an office. Make a schedule for yourself, or your team, and share it with your colleagues, so everyone knows when to expect a reply. Of course, there would be days when you’ll work extra hours, but it shouldn’t be an everyday practice. Don’t reply to an email after working hours if it’s not urgent (ask your manager to help you prioritise this). Even if your bosses are emailing/texting at odd hours, you don’t have to reply and it’s most likely that they don’t expect you to. Sometimes, they share something they may have chanced upon before they forget it, but it doesn’t mean it needs to be actioned at 2 in the morning. Start and finish your work at the same time and help your subordinates do the same. If you are being pulled into meetings late in the evening, it’s okay to say no (as you would if you had plans). Mention that you have planned a family activity/Zoom calls/dinner plans if you’re asked why.

Maintain A Work-Life Balance

Memorise this: waking hours are not working hours. You don’t have to be available 24/7 and you’re not expected to be. So, if you want to get away to have lunch or have coffee, go ahead and do that. Don’t feel pressured to do more, now that you’re not commuting to work. Finish your tasks for the day and log out to have a personal life. It’s important not to buy into this idea of taking up more because working longer hours decreases productivity, and others may feel obligated to follow your lead. So, cook, clean, hang out with friends virtually, video chat with parents, read a book, sleep well, manage other household chores and think beyond work.

Have A Conversation With Your Manager

These are difficult times and you don’t want to add more stress by overtaxing yourself. Working longer hours isn’t a sustainable practice and you will get burnt out. Give yourself a breather and talk to your manager or the HR if you’re feeling pressured into doing more, or if you need a clear idea of your daily and weekly targets. It may not be a company-wide expectation; it could just be your own miscalculation that you need to work harder. If you raise these concerns, it might actually help others who are feeling this way and motivate the management to make clear rules about what’s expected. If your output is what it should be at the end of the day, it won’t matter to your manager if you’re cooking lunch for your elderly parents, or taking your own away from the desk. For moms and dads who are juggling childcare and work, it is also worth having a conversation with your company and coming up with a flexible schedule that suits you best. This is an unprecedented situation and we have to make our own way around it, so throw the conventional rulebook out the window and set your boundaries.

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