Setting up guard rails

Whether you’re a leader with a title or just someone working remotely trying to do your best, odds are you have a hard time disconnecting from your work. Remote workers, especially those who are new to it (which is an LOT of us since March), report that their biggest challenge is constantly being sucked into work-related emails, text messages and projects when they should be off the clock. A lack of boundaries around our personal time is one of the leading causes of burnout among remote workers.

Why do we struggle with boundaries?

There are plenty of reasons we do this to ourselves. Some stem from positive intentions like being a good teammate and providing great customer service (internal or external). Sometimes our inability to safeguard our work-life balance comes from a much darker place:

  • If I don’t respond right away, my teammates will think I don’t care
  • If I’m not constantly connected, my boss will think I’m slacking
  • If I don’t give up my personal time for this, they’ll find someone who will and I’ll be out of a job

You get the idea.

How can you be both a committed team member and create a firewall around your precious, limited, personal and family time? Try some of these. And if some of these ideas make your head ache, you may just have more of a problem than you think.

Talk to your manager about expectations.

Odds are the person with the most unreasonable expectations about your response time and connectivity is you. Just because the boss sent you that email over the weekend doesn’t mean it has to be responded to right away. Actually, they are probably just cleaning out their own inbox, trying to get some control over their own schedule.

As a team, talk about expected turn around times and the importance of down time.

If you’re the manager, have this discussion during one of your meetings so everyone gets the same message at the same time in the same way. If you don’t set up team norms intentionally, they will form in the shadows.

Turn off message notifications, especially audible beeps, dings and buzzes.

Because we carry our phones with us 24/7, we are constantly bombarded by reminders that no matter what we’re up to, work awaits. Most of us find it difficult to ignore the sounds of incoming messages. Turn them off during non-work hours. You can separate incoming work emails from personal messages in your settings. If you don’t know how to do it, ask your kid.

That’s another thing— just leave the phone behind or turn off the computer.

Do you really need your phone in your pocket when walking the dog or playing tag with the kids? You can rationalize it, but the truth is, nobody has ever been physically harmed by not having the phone with them on a grocery run. Turn off the computer when you’re off the clock.

The more time you spend not tethered to the outside world, the more you realize that those bonds are largely self-created. While there are some very real (but very few) reasons to be super-responsive when on your own time, we should be jealous of our personal time, and we have every right to guard it.

If this makes you feel jealous, remember that a burnt-out, cranky,  physically exhausted employee is less productive and useful to the team than someone with energy and focus.

Being a great remote teammate first of all means being a great teammate to yourself and those around you. Then you can be the remote co-worker that everyone on your team will value. We’ve got a great program to help you accomplish that goal. Take a look.



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.

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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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