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Working at home? Set some boundaries

Having a desk in the middle of the living room is not conducive to setting boundaries.

Women at Work - Kristen Asleson column sig

Boundaries; a word I was not really familiar with until approximately 10 years ago. Growing up we had rules, and as a young adult, I interchanged the words rules and boundaries. It was not until my middle daughter entered and completed three treatment programs did I discover the true meaning of boundaries.

Boundaries are important as they serve as the guide for how one wants to be treated. Once one has boundaries, and they are expressed out loud, people will know how to behave and act in your presence. In the process of setting boundaries with one child, I have discovered my boundaries can be different with other children.

If you are wondering why I am talking about boundaries and children, when I should really be focusing on the topic of work, allow me to share. Currently, boundaries, or the lack of, have moved to the front of the line for thousands of women who find themselves working from home. The combination of working from home, having a child or children and the start of summer, can spell out disaster real fast unless boundaries are set and respected.

Although working from home might have a few perks, such as flexibility, no commute, being able to microwave fish for lunch or not having to wear clothes, boundaries still need to be set.

First and foremost, if you are able to have a room to yourself that serves as your office, boundaries are easier to follow. A sign on the door that states, “Do not disturb” works well if children can read. However, if you are in my shoes, as many are, having a desk in the middle of the living room is not conducive to setting boundaries or having boundaries respected 100% of the time.

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Unfortunately, I discovered the hard way the necessity of one of the most important boundaries. When on Zoom (or other video calls), my clients do not need to see a 6-, 10- or 15-year-old hovering on the screen mouthing, “Mom,” over and over and over. Now that school is out, homework cannot be worked on simultaneously, but locking them outside is close to the only option when quiet is needed.

Be assured that should you need to mute or turn off video mode, most employers and co-workers know exactly what is happening in the background. A child is being talked to sternly or being served their 100th lunch for the day. So, set the video call boundary first. Trust me, once that one is set, it’s almost smooth sailing! By now, all others on the video call have become accustomed to a head popping onto the screen, a shriek in the background or an occasional slamming door.

Boundaries surrounding food and snacks are also important. Kids would eat all day long with no discretion as to what they ate if allowed. There are now specific times when meals are eaten, and there are guidelines as to what constitutes a snack. It needed to be understood that I was not a short order cook, and the kitchen was not a restaurant. In addition, chores have monetary amounts assigned to them, and in order to have a snack it has to be purchased.

Only two boundaries have been described, but let me tell you, once these two very basic guidelines were expressed and in turn, understood, the environment of having kids and working from home has changed incredibly. So start with basic boundaries and watch your productivity increase and stress decrease.

Kristen Asleson is owner of Midwest Virtual Assistants. Send comments and ideas to news@postbulletin.com .

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