Setting yourself up for success while working remotely is a process, whether you’re a WFH evangelist or have been itching to return to an office since March 2020. One of the toughest parts is figuring out how to establish clear boundaries between work and life when you live where you work and vice versa.
Prioritizing boundaries will help you develop a sustainable routine and prevent burnout in the long run. And it’s worth it, because remote work is here to stay; roughly 60% of the U.S. is working from home all the time, a 2022 Pew survey found.
Of course, boundaries are about more than just saying “no” more often or keeping regular working hours (although, those things definitely help). So, we asked members of Codecademy’s remote-friendly team what they do to keep the lines between work and life clear. Here are five tips to try if you WFH and want to set better boundaries.
Normalize camera-off meetings
Most people understand when you need to take a virtual meeting without your camera turned on. But you might feel like you owe your teammates an explanation each time you do it so that you don’t seem rude or disengaged.
A handy trick that helps communicate that you’re staying off-camera: Change your Zoom profile picture to an image with text that says something like, “Camera-off meeting, thanks!” or “I’m keeping my camera off today.” Zoom automatically displays your profile photo when you select “stop camera” on a call. This way, the other people on the call will see your message without you needing to give a spiel every time you log into a meeting.
And a helpful reminder if you’re in charge of scheduling meetings: There are times when a meeting can be a phone call, email, or Slack message instead.
Set your status
Think back to the days of AOL instant messenger: When you left your computer to do something, you’d post an away message so people knew what you were up to (or the lyrics to your favorite emo song). Nowadays, smartphones and workplace instant messaging platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams make us feel like we need to be active and available all the time.
A good way to stop feeling “always on” is to keep your status updated, whether you’re in a meeting, going to a doctor’s appointment, eating lunch, or picking up your kid from daycare. In Slack, for example, there’s an option to sync your status with your digital calendar of choice (like Google Calendar or the Clockwise app) so people can see how long you’ll be away from the computer. There’s even a feature that pauses your Slack notifications while you’re in meetings.
Carve out “me time”
Time boundaries tend to get blurred in the remote workplace. If you’re expected to participate in lots of meetings, it can be easy to work into the evening because you didn’t have enough time to put your head down and focus during the actual work day.
Sarai Fernandez, Curriculum Manager at Codecademy, sets a one-hour “focus time” event on her Google Calendar each morning that simply says, “Please ask before scheduling.” This ensures she has a reliable chunk of time for uninterrupted quiet work. There’s even an option to automatically decline any invites you get during a specific timeframe.
Have a power-down routine
Taking an action to signal that your workday is over can help you transition out of “work mode.” It doesn’t even have to be elaborate. For example, Sarai closes out all of her web browser tabs and clears her download folder when her work day is over. Maybe you could go on a walk, change out of your work clothes, or simply clear your desk and put your laptop away. Research has shown that keeping a routine like this allows you to psychologically detach and separate from one role to the next.
Set the tone
An upside to working remotely is having the flexibility to adjust your schedule and get your work done when you’re most productive. But everyone has different preferences; you might be a night owl while your colleague is most productive first thing in the morning. (Not to mention, you might have remote colleagues who live in different time zones as you.)
For example, an email sent at 3 a.m. without context could come across as urgent or time-sensitive to the recipient — even if you were just sending it at that time because that’s when it was convenient for you. Consider using an extension like Boomerang for Gmail, which allows you to draft an email and schedule it to send at a later date or time. Or make a point to communicate when the recipient needs to respond to or take action on an email. One way to do that is adding a line to your email signature, like: “Please respond to this email during your regular work hours.”
You can also enable “working hours” on Google Calendar, which will let people know when you’re officially on the clock. If someone tries to put a meeting on your calendar outside of those hours, Google Cal will give a heads up that you might not be available.
Tonia Blair, Senior Software Engineer at Codecademy, tries not to send Slack messages after hours unless it’s an emergency. “This is a small thing, but it really helps prevent a ‘working late at night’ culture I think,” she says. This is particularly true for folks who are in management positions. Ask yourself: What kind of behaviors or boundaries do you want to model?
It can often feel like you’re siloed when working remotely, but remember that your habits can have an impact on the way that your team works and help build a realistic and healthy work-life balance for everyone.
Still searching for a remote position in tech? Check out our career center for interview advice, portfolio projects, and more tips that will give you an edge in the job-search process. And if you’re not sure what types of roles you can do remotely, here’s a guide to finding freelance or full-time remote positions in tech.