Setting Boundaries in the Virtual Workplace

By Carla Delgado

The challenges and risks that we face during this pandemic are no laughing matter. People often joke that they’ve already run out of healthy coping mechanisms, but it’s a painful truth clouded with humor. During this time, it is crucial to prioritize our health at any given moment. Aside from staying physically safe to the best of our abilities, we must also ensure that we are mentally secure in the environments we work in.

Many individuals found that working remotely has infringed on their boundaries in more ways than one, which led them to sacrifice their needs. Establishing personal boundaries in the virtual workplace will prevent you from ignoring your well-being. However, some find it challenging to communicate their limits on the off chance that they offend someone. More often than not, the key is in the delivery. Here are some ways to respectfully communicate your boundaries to your boss:

Refusing from being contacted out of work hours

Working from home seems to give the impression that everyone’s easy to contact. It’s not fair to expect an employee to be on call 24/7 and continuously get in touch through e-mails and phone calls. All this digital noise is not to be underestimated because it negatively affects your mental health. To manage expectations, set a virtual meeting with your supervisor and clarify that you just want to avoid miscommunication down the road.

It will do you good to ask if their correspondence outside of work hours warrant an immediate reply, or if it can wait until work hours. This way, you’ll know what they are expecting and you can react accordingly. If they need an immediate response, be firm and let them know that you prefer not to address work concerns during personal time. Inform them that if they do reach out, you might not be able to respond immediately.

In case you don’t instantly reach a solution, negotiate some terms to come up with something you both agree on. Maybe they’ll let you start working earlier so you can finish earlier. Perhaps you can work more hours but with additional pay. Meet halfway with your supervisor to resolve the issue.

Negotiating flexible hours

Many companies established flexible work arrangements during this global health crisis. Still, some offices refuse to change their rigid rules in place. If you’re sharing space with a roommate or family members, there are so many factors of remote work that aren’t under your control. In such circumstances, it is important to negotiate remote work arrangements.

To go about it, gently explain your situation at home and how it relates to your work productivity. Outline the tasks that you do and describe how it would help you and the quality of your work if you could have more flexible working hours. It’s best to propose a way to regularly report on your work progress because showing your willingness to be accountable makes flexibility appear less of a risk.

If you’re feeling bold, ask what holds them back so you can defend your terms better. You may also propose a new performance criterion to be more output-oriented for now. This way, you’ll be able to accomplish work goals during your own time.

Declining additional assignments

Most people almost always agree to extra work because refusing comes with the risk of appearing lazy or uncooperative. This will end up hurting both your personal and professional life because you’ll be forced to multitask and pay less attention to each individual assignment.

If you’re being offered an assignment and you’re not yet sure if you have the capacity for it, sometimes all you’ll need to do is ask, “Can I get back to you on this?” You can take the time to assess your current workload and give them a definite answer later on. Most individuals feel awkward saying “no” because it sounds so dismissive, but here are some steps you can take to soften the delivery:

  • Acknowledge how interesting or engaging the opportunity is.
  • Express appreciation that you were specifically chosen for the job.
  • Show respect for the person who offered you the assignment.
  • State the reason why you’re declining.

Some people only decline because of imposter syndrome, but reframe your thinking and believe that you are very capable. In case you’re actually interested but you just can’t accommodate it, talk it over with them and discuss if there’s some wiggle room on the deadlines involved. Being honest with your intentions keeps up the quality of your other assignments while maintaining assertiveness in the workplace.

Expressing that you’re overwhelmed with projects

If your overwhelming workload is already invading your personal life, you have to do something about it. It’s fair to ask your coworkers for assistance, and if they have the capacity to do so, they might help you. However, you must also set aside time to discuss your current projects with your manager.

Objectively lay out all your responsibilities and be careful to avoid sounding your concerns as a complaint. Ask for their advice to let them know that you’re collaborating with them to come up with solutions. The fact that you’re approaching them for help lets them know that you already have a lot on your plate. Most likely, they will respect you for being so on top of your work and place more trust in the outputs you’re bringing in.

Communicating your boundaries might be hard, but it’s a necessary discomfort that does get easier to do over time. Unapologetically prioritize yourself before work to improve your quality of life and avoid burnout. Work-life balance isn’t a myth. It may be difficult, but it’s absolutely attainable.

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