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Blurred Lines: Working from Home and the Erosion of Boundaries

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It’s World Mental health Day today. We all know in the last year COVID anxiety is real and the lack of being outside, not being able to exercise /socialise as we normally would has had a great impact on us all….Not to mention the financial stress…But I wanted to talk about the real elephant in the room: The creeping erosion of the boundaries between work-life and home-life and how Covid has accelerated this.


Working from home has become the “new normal” .Technology has allowed this and helped many companies to keep to stay afloat during this pandemic, when 20 years ago before Whats app and Zoom they may have just closed. However, there is a down side: The accelerated switch that the pandemic has caused has not allowed us to establish boundaries about how and when we can be contacted by “work” outside of “working hours”. It used to be that once we left the office, we left. Our bosses would only contact us in some sort of emergency.  Now, the constant connectivity means they never separate work from home.

The fact that Whats app is “pinging” at us at all hours or the email alerts on our phones are going off at 8pm when we are trying to spend time with family means we feel the need to look…and once you look, you are removing your attention from you loved ones and your brain is again  thinking about work – even if you don’t respond to the message then and there.

So often people will say “Oh yes I sent you that whats app or email but I didn’t expect you to respond then – I just had to message you in case I forgot” This is wrong on so many levels! The noise is intrusive and alerts our brain to more work, even if we don’t respond. It also, rather annoyingly, absolves the sender of all responsibility for remembering what it is they needed to tell/ask us during working hours. Now it puts the onus on US to remember instead!

Even worse, the colleagues or bosses who can see you have read the whats app and therefore are expecting a response to a non urgent message out of hours.

Or, someone who has your personal cell and sees you are “online” so thinks it is therefore OK to message you as you are up anyway…At 6:30 am or 10:30pm when you are using your personal time to talk to family abroad in a different time zone maybe.

Bright lights on our phones/emails/tablets are directly hitting the back of our eyes, the retina, and this breaks down our natural sleep hormone Melatonin, which means we struggle to fall asleep.


What Can we do? 

1.Silence Alerts

2.Silence your ringer

3.Consider separate personal and work phones although in my experience in a small country there is so much overlap it just means another device to worry about!

4.Consider coming off Whats App/Messenger service. – It isn’t in your contract to be available on this is it?

5.Talk to HR about a policy about contact from the office/colleagues out of hours

6. Agree no phones/devices at the table during mealtimes.

7.Never reply out of hours, unless urgent – that just gives positive re-enforcement.

8.Consider answering very late phone calls sounding alarmed and breathless with “Oh my god whats happened? What’s wrong”

Ultimately we have to bring back “Phone Etiquette”! 

Remember when our parents went mad when the house phone rang after 9pm? “My God it must be an emergency for someone to dare to ring so late!”

….Or before 10am on a Sunday – how un-civilized of them to wake us up!

…And God forbid anyone called my house between 2-4pm on a Sunday when my Father was having a siesta!

We need to bring back good manners, boundaries and respect. The reason they exist is for us to live in harmony as a community, and ultimately avoid impinging on others or causing stress!