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Blurring WORK – HOME boundaries: Creating your new world at home

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

When a change is gradual rather than sudden, it is easier to adapt to it. Due to the global COVID crisis, most of us have gone through a sudden change. In a matter of a few days, people felt restricted as they could not get out of their homes whenever they wanted.

Most of the companies had to move a majority of their people to work from home. While some organizations had work from home (WFH) practices already, a complete WFH on all days of the month was an unprecedented change, not only for the organizations but also for the individuals. What this has done is, not only created a new world at work, but also a new world at home.  

Long before COVID, when I would leave the office, the thought of going back home evoked a feeling of relaxation within me. Home is seen as a place of restoration and to mix work and home activities together in the same location may well have an impact on well-being. Today, with a majority of people working from home, the boundaries between work and home are blurred in terms of time and space.  In this context, there is a need to re-configure our lives at home.

A year ago, I transitioned to remote work – coaching people through digital platforms. What I have learnt from my experience is working, dining, watching television and doing a host of other activities in the same space made me feel cluttered.  I tend to get irritated as a result of that cluttered feeling, and it was not possible for me to allocate a separate room for setting up a work space. Hence, I decided to create specific spaces within home – a space for yoga, a space for dining, a space for entertainment and a space for work. Research points out that creating such distinct spaces helps to ameliorate the spatial overlap of work and non-work life.

What still remains unaddressed is the temporal and mental overlap of work and non-work life. What can help to minimize or remove such overlaps? Symbols and Rituals can help to create such mental boundaries and prevent or minimize such overlaps.

Symbols are there all around us. A child associates uniform with school, adults associate a grand dress with a party and sports players associate jersey with their team. Wearing a particular type of clothing helps to get into a mental space for that activity. Studies have shown that wearing those clothes helps professionals to do better. Whatever professional wear we are used to, there is a symbolic meaning that we attach to them and that can help create the mental boundary between work and home.

Rituals need not always be religious. Studies have shown that such rituals in our lives help us to regulate our emotions and get into better performance states. Football players and Cricket players do a set of exercises and team huddles on the match day. This helps them to prepare their body and mind for the match. In fact our lives are filled with rituals – a set of actions that we repeat everyday – morning coffee chat, daily exercise routine, getting dressed up for work, daily lunchtime chit chat and a gentle stroll with colleagues, evening game time with friends, dinner together and an after dinner walk with the spouse. There were many sets of actions which we did everyday diligently, around a similar time until the COVID-19 crisis struck us. Each of these actions had meaning for us but we may not have consciously thought about it in our busy lives. These rituals help us to maintain or create better physiological, emotional and mental states.

As the new world emerges around us in our homes and outside, some of these rituals would not be possible at least for a few more days, some for a few more months and some of these may not be possible at all. It is important to re-configure those meaningful rituals or discover some new ones that are relevant for the changing times. Here are few examples from lives of my loved ones and my coaching clients, who have managed to re-configure the rituals that they value:

  1. Back then, a working professional in her mid-20s finished work and played badminton with friends at office almost every day.  Now, she finishes work, goes for a walk in the terrace at home, chat with family and plays games with her friends online.

  2. A couple, who are working professionals, finish their work and enjoy quality family time with their 10-year old son playing board games, watching movies and shooting funny videos.

  3. A working professional, who did not have time for an evening walk, is now finishing his work and enjoys an evening walk with his wife around the community that they live.

  4. Back then, a home maker used to enjoy chat with her neighbourhood friends every evening.  Now she has taken to yoga, meditation to regulate her emotions and rejuvenate her mentally. In addition, she has found the time to get back to her professional work, which she always wanted to do.

  5. A working professional had at least 60 minutes of walk in a day including his journey to office and back home. To overcome the back pain due to long hours of sitting at home, he has started morning yoga along with three short walks of 10 minutes each during the day.

  6. Back then, a university student in his early 20s, who played outdoor games after his classes, is now exploring cooking new recipes along with his friends.

As physical boundaries are getting blurred, it is important to create mental boundaries using symbols and rituals. With a new world at home, we need to re-configure those rituals or create new rituals which have meaning for us and help in maintaining our physiological, emotional and mental well-being.

What we re-configure today in our lives may not be practical tomorrow! These are the times we are living in. Change is ever pervasive. Be it the spatial boundaries or the mental boundaries that we create in the new world at home – the important thing for us to remember is – as long as we know what has meaning for us and contributes to our well-being, re-configuring our world at home is just a few iterations away.

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