Brene Brown says, “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” There has been a lot of talk about maintaining boundaries between work and personal life during this pandemic, but how is that possible when there is no separation?

The best practice prior to COVID was to have a defined space and a timeline for work so that it was separate from, and wouldn’t blend into, your home life. But for many, myself included, all of that has gone out the window. We’re working, teaching, caring for elderly parents from afar, being a support system, etcetera, and we’re all doing it in the same space and at the same time. So how do you set boundaries when there are none?

Well, as with everything else, just do your best. Cut yourself some slack and do what works for you and your family.

Here are just a few things to keep in mind:

For the Managers and Leaders:

It’s not business as usual so it shouldn’t be business hours as usual either. Just because people are working from home doesn’t mean that they can be available during the regular 9-5 business hours all of the time. Many are trying to home school, work a full-time job and manage their own well-being and mental health, all of which is a struggle right now. Be flexible and realistic. Some days are easier than others and some people adapt differently than others.

Now more than ever, as a leader, you need to show your support and give your team the permission to work as they need to, taking their other responsibilities into consideration. This includes taking a hard look at how you conduct yourself. Are you expecting employees to be responding all hours, just because they are working from home? That’s not realistic and that’s not fair. We all operate differently; you may be a night owl who is most productive late into the evening and if that works for you that’s great! Just don’t expect your team to function exactly as you do. If you’re sending messages late at night make sure that you aren’t expecting immediate responses and communicate to your team that, while you may be working at night, you don’t expect them to respond at that time.

For Team Members:

How are you building your own boundaries into your day to day? First off, figure out the schedule that will work ideally for you and try to work towards that. BUT, recognize that nothing is going to work perfectly right now. And you know what? That’s okay. Give yourself permission to be messy right now. We’re all just doing the best we can. That might mean working while helping your child with his or her math homework or not working and heading out for a walk because you need some fresh air and family time. My biggest piece of advice would be don’t worry about being perfect – THIS IS A GLOBAL PANDEMIC – nothing will be perfect, not as an employee, a parent, a child, a partner or a friend, and that’s okay.

Only you can figure out what’s right for you in your situation. If you want to create boundaries around when you respond to emails, then designate hours, communicate them and only respond during those hours. Remember that behaviour is learned and it goes both ways.

I was sharing some of what we’ve been doing at Blakely, on a recent webinar, and someone asked:

“What should I do if my boss has no boundaries? They think because I’m working from home, they can contact me at all hours and I should be responding.”

That is a really hard position to be in and I’m sure there are many people in the same boat. The best advice I can give is to set your own boundaries and if your manager does not respect them, have a conversation with him or her. Hopefully they don’t even realize what they are doing and simply mentioning it will be enough to help them see your point of view.

The one thing I hope we’ll all take away from this experience is that finding balance is key, and that you are the only one who can do that for yourself. The bottom line is, it’s hard right now. WE ARE ALL STRUGGLING to find that work/life balance. Cut yourself some slack, give yourself permission to just be, not to excel, not to push, but to be happy with getting by, right now.

In the words of my 7-year-old daughter, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, “sometimes you just need to take a belly breath.”