Working from Home? Be Sure to Establish Boundaries


Working from home is now a reality for more than 26 million people. It can be part-time or full-time, for an employer or as an entrepreneur. Generally, working from home is seen as one of the choice benefits that companies can bestow on employees, or as one of the perks of being self-employed.

How do you envision the typical day of working from home? Freed from a daily commute, do you perceive it as a leisurely day, complete with jammies and bunny slippers? Or maybe you think it entails flexibility to set whatever hours you want to in order to accommodate your loved ones’ schedules and your own preferences? Are those of us who work in home offices blessed with a better work/life balance because of this set-up?

Consider the downsides:

 The constant interruptions from family members, pets, neighbors who drop in without notice.

  • The expectation that you will be able to promptly complete a variety of household chores (laundry, dishes, cooking, etc.) during the day because you are home.
  • The belief that you are more available to be a chaperone for your child’s field trip than someone else who has an outside office to go to.
  • The fact that work is always there!
  • (You can insert your own sticky points here.)

Recently, I participated in a discussion on an elist of career professionals about one other challenge to working at home – BOUNDARIES! Some of my colleagues had great suggestions on working around this particular issue with loved ones.

The signs are clear

Pat Schuler, the creator of KickButt Sales Training, had one suggestion for a client involving red, yellow, and green cardstock. “The color posted on the door of her office carried a clear message,” Schuler explained, “Red – no interruptions unless there was fire or bleeding involved. Yellow – knock first and don’t enter until you have permission. Don’t keep knocking, and don’t yell through the door. Green – okay to open the door and walk in.”

Another suggestion Schuler gave was the use of a clock sign that would indicate when the work-at-home person would be available. She advised, “If you expect you’ll be done at 8:00, you may want to put one of those clocks on your door so you won’t hear plaintive cries every 15 minutes.”

Motion detector

Lisa Parker, CPRW, retold her situation: “Closing the hallway door did not help, closing my office door did not help (barge in), and locking the office door resulted in the ‘door handle wiggling’ approach. The constant interruptions were making me crazy!”

Relief for Parker came in the form of a motion-activated wireless alarm. “My husband hooked it up in the hallway that leads to my office,” she explained. “If the hallway door opens, I hear a low key ding behind my desk and know someone is coming. If my office door is open, the person can come in but give me a moment to complete the task at hand. If the door is closed, I am off limits. Still, the ding lets me know something is needed, so I can pop out a few minutes later to resolve the problem.”

Working around everyone else

Lisa Rangel of Chameleon Résumés chooses to conform to others in her life. “I aim to write when everyone else is sleeping,” Rangel said. “If I need to work outside of the school schedule, I get up at 4:00 or 5:00 am some mornings or just work once everyone goes to bed. I don’t do this every night/day, but often enough to have uninterrupted time.”

Becky Felix of Felix Résumé Group agreed. “I have two little ones at home and a teenager. I work a little bit during the day, but the bulk of my work is completed between 3:00 pm and 1:00 am. This is the time that my teenager comes home to help with the kids for an hour before my husband is home. I catch up on my oldest daughter’s day, chat with my husband, and off to work I go!”

Realistic expectations

Rangel has also modified her working style to reflect her environment appropriately. “If I go into a document thinking, ‘I am getting this whole document done’ or ‘I am finishing this first page before I get up,’ I am essentially setting myself up to fail, because I will be interrupted,” she pointed out. “I write in 10-20 minute snippets, setting mini goals like, ‘I am just going to write this summary’ or ‘I just want to get these two bullets down.’ If I am interrupted after those are done, I still feel like I accomplished my goal.”

Having realistic expectations is something I work toward, as well. Given the schedules in the Cooley household, my husband is the one to pick up our daughter from school. When they both hit the door, they want to talk. Making them wait until I’m done working has failed terribly, so I’ve built it in to my schedule to give them each 15 minutes to talk about the most important parts of their day. That seems to give them enough “face time” so that I can continue my day and finish catching up with them at dinner time.

Hitting the coffee shop

Sometimes, the best solution to getting work done is to remove yourself from the situation. Rangel explained, “If everyone is home and I just need to work, I leave. I don’t tempt them to interrupt me by being in the house…Starbucks, here I come!”

What other methods do you use to handle the boundary issue?